Celebrate the fourth, Bandera Tavern where food, music & service echo location's history
By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer
Ceslie Armstrong wants people to think of the Bandera Tavern as a restaurant that has a bar in it, "not a honky tonk... not a bar that serves a little food." Not that she sees anything wrong with honky tonks. But Armstrong has a different vision for the BT.
"We're a family-oriented place," she said. "Kids are always welcome."
Decades ago, when the location was home to the Ranch House Café, Isabelle Stokes served up tasty hamburgers and fries to Coach Waldrum's Bulldogs. Today, "I love it when the kids stop by after practice and have a burger or a cold soda on the front porch," said Armstrong.
Years after Mrs. Stokes, the location was transformed into one of Bandera's most unique and popular hang-outs - the Bandera Forge - operated by Joe Reidy and Kenneth Stroud. The combination beer joint and blacksmith shop drew locals and tourists alike, with double and quadruple lines of bikes parked out front on weekend afternoons.
People bemoaned the loss of the smithy when Kerrville builder Gene Rhodes did an extensive remodel that added a big dance floor and a second story for the pool tables. The Forge was reborn as Blue Gene's.
After closing due to some management problems, Blue Gene's was purchased by Armstrong, determined to re-create the kind of community place she remembers from her growing up years. "I want the Tavern to be a place where the locals and tourists feel welcome, where people will just want to come in a sit and talk to their neighbors and relax," she said.
Her homestyle menu tips the hat of memory to Mrs. Stokes, while a piece of cowboy art by Reidy and a photo of Stroud flank the fireplace, honoring the history and tradition of the place.
Out back, Armstrong has cleaned up the big patio, cooled by over-arching hackberries and a nice cross breeze. The big barbecue pit for the briskets and ribs send aromatic smoke up to the sky, while the little pit readies the hamburger patties and sausages.
"People love it out here," Armstrong said of the revitalized patio, which brings back memories of The Forge gatherings. "They sit back here and have a beer and dance on the small dance floor."
The BT is planning to host an old-fashioned 4th of July next Wednesday. Lanette Pennell from the Almost Patsy Cline Band will perform a set of patriotic songs in the afternoon.
There will be plenty of great old-school country music to enjoy, too.
The BT has jumped right in, getting involved with the community. "I do a radio show with KKYX and broadcast the Memorial Day parade from the upstairs balcony," said Armstrong. "We have the best place in town to view a parade!" The BT is also a sponsor for this weekend's River Fest where they will be operating the bratwurst and hotdog concession. They also hosted the semi-finals for the Bandera Idol competition Wednesday night.
Sunday afternoons, patrons can dance to the old time country and western sounds of either Gary Wright or Pennell, who alternate Sundays. From noon to 3 pm, Kathy Bauer hosts the Pickin' Circle, an impromptu jam session.
Drop in on Fridays at 6:30 and you can get yourself some free dance lessons, ably taught by Bob and JoAnn Moore. And enjoy the catfish dinner or a catfish po-boy.
The Hill Country Texas Hold 'em Poker League meets at the BT every Tuesday and will hold their annual tournament there on July 15.
Three pool tables upstairs keep the amateurs and hot shooters alike clicking the balls around the felt.
Tournaments are occasionally scheduled.
"This is the real deal," said Armstrong. "When people come to the Tavern, they're getting the Bandera Experience."
If you work up a hunger with all that dancin' and pool shootin', enjoy a selection from the extensive menu, "all fresh, and handmade."
Armstrong buys her supplies from local vendors as much as possible, featuring quail from Diamond H Ranch in Bandera, and Broken Arrow Ranch's angus beef, pork, venison and wild hog. Satisfy your cravings with appetizers, main dishes, barbecue and desserts.
Call 830-796-7144 to ask about upcoming concerts and entertainment, daily lunch specials or to order to-go.
The Bandera Tavern is located at 807 Main Street.
Pictured: Bandera Tavern owner Ceslie Armstrong cut the ribbon marking her membership in the Bandera County Chamber of Commerce Thursday, June 21. Her staff, builder Gene Rhodes, members of the Chamber, customers and friends joined her for the celebration.
Photos by Carolyn B. Edwards
The Bandera Tavern house burger features an 8 oz. angus beef, pork and wild hog patty on a white or wheat bun, served with the house chipotle mayo sauce and a side of chips.
County Commissioner-elect Bob Grimes chats with Dawn Smith and Jenny Williams from Wells Fargo Bank on the little dance floor overlooking the spacious and shady patio at Bandera Tavern.
A piece of welded cowboy art by Joe Reidy and a photo of Kenneth PeeWee Stroud flank the fireplace, tributes to the memory of the owners of the iconic Bandera Forge, which once operated at the location now occupied by Bandera Tavern.
Photos by Carolyn B. Edwards
Bartender Shannon McKnight and the rest of the friendly staff at Bandera Tavern will greet you when you come in the door and thank you for coming when you leave.