Texas Hill Country – Day-3 (Saturday) – Part-3…Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar Saloon…

After dinner at Mac & Ernie’s, I headed back to the Double U Barr Ranch to get cleaned up for my last night in Bandera.  My destination was Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar Saloon, and I brought my DSLR camera, because I had stopped in the night before, and saw photo-ops all over the place.

The owner, Arkey Blue, is still around, and according to my host, Gil, he is an incredibly generous and supportive man, particularly with his employees.  He pays his barmaids and waitresses in cash after their shifts every night.  Gil said that one time, Arkey noticed that one of his employees needed new tires and told the employee to go to the local tire shop and tell the owner to put a set of tires on his/Arkey’s tab.  Gil’s daughter even worked at the silver dollar for a while.

The Silver Dollar has a door on Main Street in Bandera, but the saloon is actually in the basement.  It’s a little dark (like all true honky-tonks should be), and there’s memorabilia plastered all over the walls.  There is even sawdust spread across the small, concrete dance floor.

As I got to the bottom of the stairs from Main Street, and was paying the nominal cover charge to the hostess, I asked her if it would be okay if I took some photos of the band (showing her my DSLR).  She called over to the lead-guitarist (they were between songs) and asked him.  Jessie, the guitarist, said, “Sure! Take all you want!”

That’s how friendly it is at Arkey’s.

Here are some photos of the band that I was able to capture:

Now, I haven’t mentioned this, but before my trip, I had a travel-blog card made up, to give out to people to help break the ice, and let them know, I was only on vacation and was photographing and writing about this adventure.  That card has already come in very handy, and was particularly helpful in navigating Arkey Blue’s.

First, when I am actually photographing, I’m moving all over the place, trying out different angles, crouching to get low angles, etc.  This activity naturally draws a lot of attention.  And as I’ve said, Texans are not bashful about looking you over, or even approaching you to ask what you’re doing.

So, as I began moving beyond photographing just the band, I began introducing myself to people and asking them if they’d mind me photographing them…behind the bar…shooting pool…whatever.  And when I felt it might be helpful, I’d pull out a card, give it to the person and explain my road-trip.  This went a long way to dispelling any potential misinterpretations of what I was doing, and actually triggered my making a bunch of new friends.

Here are some photos of some of the folks at the Silver Dollar:

At one point an entire table of about eight people were watching me, and one gentleman from the table finally approached me.  I gave him a card and explained my trip.  Then, another man from the same table joined the conversation.  Before I knew it, the first gentleman offered me a drink…a whiskey and Coke on the rocks.

You see, at many bars and restaurants in the South and Texas, there is a term called a “Set-up”.  I always wondered what that meant, but could never find a definition on the internet.  But, as Brett at the ranch explained, a Set-up means that patrons are allowed to bring their own bottles of liquor…whiskey, tequila, rum, whatever…into the bar or restaurant, but they have to buy the soda, water, etc., from the bar.  They can even bring in their own ice buckets and cups.

So, this gentleman was offering me a whiskey and Coke that he made for me himself, from his set-up.  To me, that meant that he knew I was on-the-level, and was almost an apology…or a “no hard feelings” kind of thing…for looking me over.  He also invited me to his table, where I met everyone and just hung out for the rest of the evening.

Here are a few photos from this group of new friends:


Another older couple also approached me…very friendly.  They were from Oklahoma and drive their RV to Bandera…about a ten-hour drive.  We chatted, as well.  Here’s a nice photo of them:

So, this is how it goes.  I realize I’m going to get looks when I really start getting in my photography zone, so I do everything I can to reassure folks around me…and ask permission…so, that we can all have a good time.  I am in heaven on nights like this.  It’s an honor to meet everyone I meet, and to be given the opportunity to photograph these slices of honky-tonk life.

Texas Hill Country – Day-2 (Friday) – Part-3…Bandera and the Double U Barr Ranch…

By the time I finished the hike at Enchanted Rock, I needed a meal…a late lunch or early dinner.  My original plan was to stop at the Hilltop Café, just north of downtown Fredericksburg.  I had read about the Hilltop Café in my research for this trip.  It sounded like a very cool, funky place.  Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that it is closed from 2:00pm to 5:00pm, and it was now about 3:00pm.

But, I was headed that way, anyway, so I stopped in.  It was closed, but as I was confirming the closed sign on the door, a very friendly woman came to the door and asked if she could help me.  I briefly explained my trip and my interest in seeing what the Hilltop Café was all about…and she invited me inside, not only to show me around, but to give me the history of the place and of the blues-guitarist owner, Johnny Nicholas, who has played (and still does) with many well-known musicians, like Bonnie Raitt.

I was actually too tired to take any pictures, despite Kayla, my guide, telling me I could take as many as I’d like.  So, this is one of those situations where I know I’ll have to come back.  If you are in the Fredericksburg area, you should definitely check it out.  It’s one of the coolest places in the Hill Country.

I was still looking for somewhere to get a good meal, so I asked Kayla.  She suggested Hondo’s on Main Street in Fredericksburg, so I headed there.  Now, I didn’t make the connection at first, but Hondo (reading his abbreviated bio on the Hondo site), was the self-proclaimed mayor of Luckenbach, TX, among many other things.  Hondo was a character, according to everything I’ve read.  And his spirit lives on at Luckenbach and Hondo’s On Main, and many other places in that area of the Hill Country, I suspect.

Hondo’s is another stop you should try to make if you get the chance.  The vibe is very funky…and the food is great.  I opted for the pulled pork tamales.  Here’s a photo of my nearly half-gone half-dozen:

And by the time I was done with my dinner, I was too tired and it was getting too late for any more scenic drives, so I decided to skip the latter plans on my turn-by-turn directions and head straight to the Double U Barr Ranch, just outside of Bandera (cowboy capital of Texas), where I’d be staying for the next two nights.

The Double U Barr is a guest ranch, but they have quite a few animals…half a dozen longhorn steer, chickens, dogs, cats…along with the armadillo that was rooting around the front porch of my little guest cabin…and deer all over the yard.

Here are a few random snapshots I captured:

Here is the main house and my cabin…the Cowboy cabin (there are two.  The Texan being the other), as well as the main driveway with pecan trees to the right.

And here are my hosts…owners of the Double U Barr, and two of the kindest, nicest, friendliest and most helpful people you’ll ever meet…Brett and his wife, Gil:

Whether alone or in a group, Brett was extremely sociable and loved conversation.  Gil was more reserved in a small group, but one-on-one, she had as much to say as Brett.  I learned so much about them, how they bought and renovated the ranch over the past twenty years, Bandera and the Hill Country…from the inside.

There were two last stops in downtown Bandera that I wanted to at least briefly check out this first night in Bandera, so as soon as I got settled and freshened-up in the Cowboy Cabin, I headed out into the pitch black night (have I mentioned that outside of any town (and minimally in small towns, for that matter), there are absolutely no streetlights in the Hill Country?  The Hill Country is as dark as pitch at night.  It can be very disorienting.  You really have no idea what direction you are heading in, driving at night, unless you live there and gradually get used to how to get here and there.)

So, the two downtown Bandera destinations were, the 11th Street Cowboy Bar, and Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar (I could not find an official website), a true sawdust-on-the-dance-floor old-school honky-tonk.  Both were one easy walking block from each other, so it was easy to get a glimpse of both at one time.

I knew I was going to be in Bandera for another night, so I did not bring my DSLR camera, and only took a couple of snapshots with my cellphone.  Here is one from the ceiling of the indoor bar of the 11th Street Cowboy Bar that I’ll leave you with, just to give you an idea of what you are in for when you go: