Ginny Kalmbach of tiny Austin honky tonk Little Longhorn Saloon has died
Ginny Kalmbach, former owner of the storied Burnet Road dive Little Longhorn Saloon, has died. She was 85.
The club announced her death on Facebook on Wednesday.
"It is with great sadness that we have lost one of the most special people on the planet today. Our Honky Tonk Angel Ginny Kalmbach... You will be dearly missed. Our hearts go out to your family. RIP Miss Ginny," a post to the club's official Facebook page read.
“She was an amazing gift to all of us, our community, our bands, everyone she met because she meant so much to so many people in different ways,” the club’s current owner, Terry Gaona, said Wednesday.
Gaona described Kalmbach as a true-hearted soul with a “beautiful aura,” a lovely smile and an encyclopedic knowledge of country music.
Kalmbach began her career as a longtime bartender at the club, which operated for years as Dick’s Little Longhorn Saloon. When the original owner died in 1982, he bequeathed the club to Kalmbach. Kalmbach rebranded it Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon and, with a deep passion for music, she used her tiny club to nurture the careers of countless artists.
She radiated a maternal warmth. “Everybody called her Mama Ginny. Everybody. Even if you didn't know her when you first walked in the door, it's like you've known her all your life,” Gaona, who started out as a bartender at the club, said.
Longtime Austin honky-tonker Dale Watson began playing the saloon in 1993.
"Ginny helped me out," Watson told the Statesman in 2013. "She gave me my first gig in Austin."
To drive up Sunday business at the saloon, Watson hosted his Chicken (expletive) Bingo there every week for years. Kalmbach was the chicken master while Watson accompanied the fowl entertainment.
When Kalmbach retired in 2013, Watson, along with Gaona and her husband, took over ownership of the beloved honky tonk. (Watson later sold his share of the club.)
For a while, Kalmbach continued to host the bingo games.
Watson told the Statesman Kalmbach was like "a chicken whisperer."
"She makes a little sound and the chicken follows her from the pen all the way to the pool table," he said.
On Wednesday, Watson described Kalmbach as “another irreplaceable Austin icon gone and for those of us lucky enough to have been touched by her, never forgotten.”
In recent years, Kalmbach was treated like a celebrity on her occasional visits to the club.
“Everyone would just, like, get in the line and go up to her and greet her and it was just so touching to watch. It was just amazing,” Gaona said.
Gaona said she and her husband are “humbled by Ginny taking us under her wing and showing us how to share the love and passion for the music scene and make (the club) the honkiest tonkiest beer joint in town.”
“We have her portrait that's always, you know, hung on the wall with pride,” Gaona said. “It will forever be watching over the Little Longhorn.”
Although Gaona said the club has allowed bands to livestream sets from the property, the Little Longhorn Saloon has been closed since the pandemic hit in March. Each Sunday, the Little Longhorn streams Chicken (expletive) Bingo to help raise money for the club.
“We've been doing our part to honorably keep our doors closed for everyone's safety. You know, as Ginny would have probably done the same thing,” Gaona said.