Archive photos show a very different Austin bar scene at dawn of the 1980s

7:56 p.m Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017 Austin360 Home
Ken Geiger / American-Statesman
It WAS a different era when it came to bars. The photographer' caption of this 1982 scene at Punch's Lounge on South Congress reads 'the young and the old are all part of life in the bars in the 200 block. While mom or dad drink and socialize, the kids play in the alley behind the bars.'

When I stumbled upon old clips of John Kelso’s Barbecue Trail articles, I knew I had a story. And it was popular, particularly here in the office where the former columnist’s recent passing has feelings and memories freshly stirred up.

So when old-timer Gardner Selby mentioned to me that Kelso also did a series called “John Kelso’s Bar Trail,” I figured to tap that well, too. 

Sadly, the “bars” file in the archives only contained seven reviews from that series. Not enough for a decent sampling.

There’s a little to share. Kelso critiques the “flashy” Hamm’s Beer sign at Adeline’s in Round Rock. He shares Aggie jokes from “Snuffy’s Place” in Hutto, where the beer was a cheap 75 cents in 1982. And he describes the jukebox at Flossie’s at 1920 S. Congress Ave. … Moe Bandy! Red Steagall! 

Kelso even paid a visit to emmajoe’s, about a year before it closed, and pointed out the place named after radicals Emma Goldman and Joe Hill was the kind of club “that would make a Republican itchy.” Must have been the “Stripmining is Forever” bumper sticker.

The best of what I did find was photos. Lots of photos all taken around the early-80s era of Kelso’s Bar Trail column. B&W printed photographs, spilling out of a half-dozen folders. Some were marked that there were intended for use with Kelso reviews, some not. 

Here are 10 of the best that I found ...

Paul Dunn / American-Statesman
We don't know when this shot of Knebel's Tavern in Pflugerville was taken (tha's owner B.L. Knebel behind the bar), but the calendar behind the bar displays Nov./Dec. 1980. But you' be forgiven if you thought this scene was decades prior. Floyd Smith is drinking beer from an old-style shell glass and that's Joe F. Mokry and Hub Kuempel behind him.

The May, 1983, edition of Texas Monthly has a much more flattering shot of Knebel’s Tavern in its “89 Greatest Texas Bars” article.

Bob Daemrrich / American-Statesm
The bar is not identified in this August 1980 photo. It only notes that it was featured in Kelso's Bar Trail and is filed under 'Piano Bars.' But it's a good guess they are singing 'The Eyes of Texas' and a ready for football season.

I felt a great kinship for many of these places, but as an Aggie, this wasn’t one of them.

Bob Daemmrich / American-Statesm
This is what a Sixth Street bar looked like in 1980. The bar is not named, but it was featured in Kelso's Bar Trail and was at 525 E. Sixth Street, where Esther's Follies stands today. That's owner Joe Joseph, pausing from drinking a Schlitz beer to pose near his Willie Nelson picture.

Willie Nelson and Schlitz beer. I haven’t been to Sixth Street in a long time. Things are still pretty much like this, right?

Kit Brooking / American-Statesma
It seems unlikely that there would be a topless bar outside Luling called the Log Cabin, but that's how the photographer wrote it on the back of this photo in 1980. Entertainers in front are ID'd as Ann and Lillia while the pair in back are ID'd as Bobby Faas and 'Squeekee.'

All those electrical cords in a wood building is giving me the heebie-jeebies. 

American-Statesman 1982
An unknown photographer identified only'Tripod' the German Shepherd in this photo from the Rodeo Bar in Bastrop in 1982, although the dog has all four legs. Perhaps the name was ironic.

There are probably places across the state that look much the same as this today.

Larry Kolvoord / American-States
It wasn't all honky-tonks in Austin in the 1980s. Here, Ralph and Pat Thompson sing along with the pianist at the Living Room Piano Bar just before Christman 1982.

It’s a safe bet that they are not singing “Convoy” or “Redneck Mother.”

David Kennedy / American-Statesm
Pardners, on 2237 E. Riverside Drive, was featured in Kelso's Bar Trail in 1982. From left are Debbie Tanguma, Penny White and Kimbra Craig. Do they look too young to be drinking? Tanguma is 20 and even at 19 years of age, White and Craig are legal in 1983. The drinking age in Texas was raised from 19 to 21 in 1986.

The bar scene in Austin seemed to skew much older back then. But not always.

Zach Ryall / American-Statesman
This undated photo featured in Kelso's Bar Trail shows 'regulars' at Donna's Club. The club was on South Congress where C-Boy's now stands. From left are Howard Taylor, Betty Hughes, Slim Coats and Joe Hughes.

It is a serious bonus that the guy in the “it’s Miller time” t-shirt is indeed drinking a Miller.

David Kennedy / American-Statesm
The Austin Outhouse was featured in the Kelso Bar Trail series in 1982. Identified from left are Rodney and Joan Fuller, E. Gray Richardson and Paul Escamilla. The Outhouse was open from about 1981 to 1995 and welcomed musicians such as Blaze Foley and Townes Van Zandt.

Remembered for the live recording by Blaze Foley, the Outhouse lasted all the way into 1995.

Ken Geiger / American-Statesman
It WAS a different era when it came to bars. The photographer' caption of this 1982 scene at Punch's Lounge on South Congress reads 'the young and the old are all part of life in the bars in the 200 block. While mom or dad drink and socialize, the kids play in the alley behind the bars.'

About a decade after he shot this, Ken Geiger won the Pulitzer Prize for news photography. He ended up at National Geographic. 

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