by Michael Corcoran, 2008
The classic Texas dancehalls are treasures, and they’re buried right in your back yard. We all know about Luckenbach and Gruene Hall , the most famous dancehalls in Texas. And though it’s not technically a dancehall, Floores Country Store in Helotes is a fave way-back venue for the college country crowd. But there are several lesser-known dancehalls in the area which will make you feel like you’re stepping into 1956, or even earlier than that if a polka band is playing. Here are 15 classic hardwood havens, all built before World War II (and many before World War I), where you can get in your car and, in less than a 90-minute drive, transport yourself to a simpler, more innocent time.
(Many are open to the public only occasionally, so call first.)
1. Sefcik Hall, Bell County. Sefcik Hall has a downstairs bar that’s open nightly, but the real attraction is the upstairs ballroom, where regulars dance every Sunday night from 6 to 10 p.m. (Tonight, sax-player Alice Sulak’s band Jerry Haisler and the Melody Five play.) Just off Texas 53 in Seaton, eight miles due east of Temple. (254) 985-2356.
2. Buckholts SPJST Lodge, Milam County. Rebuilt in 1934, after bank robbers set the original SPJST Hall on fire to create a diversion, this octagon-shaped structure hosted all the big Texas honky-tonkers and Western swing guys from Ernest Tubb and Webb Pierce to Bob Wills in the early ’50s, when Taylor station KTAE used to broadcast live shows. The biggest attraction these days is ‘Hee Haw Night,’ coming Jan. 25. Former Texas Ranger Milton Wright leads a country and polka band, which plays around rural-themed skits. 600 E. Texas 36. (254) 593-2222.
3. Taylor SPJST, Williamson County. Downstairs is a bar where the men watch sports and the women play dominoes. Upstairs is one of the grandest banquet halls in the area, where many a wedding and quinceañera (sweet 15) party have taken place. These days, the classic country bands play downstairs. On FM 619, near Texas 79. (512) 352-9139.
4. Coupland Dance Hall, Williamson County. The former La Casa Grande Ballroom (circa 1936), which was built in 1904, is just 25 minutes north of Austin off Texas 95, but it’s a whole other world away. Featured in the films ‘Lonesome Dove’ and ‘A Perfect World,’ Coupland Hall is a two-stepper’s paradise. 115 Hoxie St. in Coupland. (512) 856-2226.
5. Kendalia Dance Halle, Kendall County. A German singing society built this 1903 hall. Gone is the chain around the oak tree out front, where drunk customers used to be restrained until they sobered up, but everything else is just about the same as it was back in the 1930s when oom-pah bands played on the weekends. Located 8 miles south of Blanco at the junction of RM 473 and FM 3351. (830) 833-4902.
6. Anhalt Hall, Comal County. The best dancefloor in Texas? This wonderfully preserved 1908 hall boasts 6,300 square feet of boot-polished hardwood. The original hall was built in 1875 by the German Farmers Association, who met to discuss ways to stop the horse and cattle rustling that had become rampant after the Civil War. It’s mainly used today for private parties and weddings, though there are big public dances the third Sunday in May and during Octoberfest. 2390 Anhalt Road off Texas 46, 28 miles west of New Braunfels. (210) 414-1477.
7. Twin Sisters Hall, Blanco County. Opened as a ‘gentlemen’s club’ in 1870, this hall on U.S. 281 South (14 miles south of U.S. 290) hosts public dances on the first Saturday of every month. (830) 833-4808.
8. Fischer Hall, Comal County. Originally called Fischer Store, this quaint hall was used for some of the live music scenes from the movie ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ in 1980. More prominently, this is where Adolph Hofner, one of the all-time great German band leaders, got his start. Located in Fischer, the hall is near the intersection of RM 32 and RM 484, about 20 miles west of San Marcos. Currently open for private events only, though the nine-pin bowling alley next door is open for bowling on Saturdays. (210) 935-4800.
9. Club 21, Caldwell County. Don Walser loved playing ‘the oldest continuously operating dancehall in Texas’ so much that he shot the cover of his ‘Rolling Stone From Texas’ album here. Built in 1893, Club 21 is on Texas 21, eight miles east of San Marcos. (512) 398-2901.
10. Watterson Hall, Bastrop County. This is the cavernous hall where Charlie Robison’s band played during the obligatory country dancing scene of ‘Hope Floats.’ Tucked away in the farming community of Red Rock, about 15 miles south of Bastrop, this place is hard to find, but well worth the U-turns on FM 535. The address is 1179 Watterson Road. (512) 321-2010.
11. Kovar SPJST. You drive eight miles south on Texas 95 out of Smithville, then take a right turn where the sign says ‘Kovar’ and about half a mile down the road you start to feel like you’re part of a film-opening pan shot of rural reflectivity. There’s a cemetery next to one of those great ‘painted churches’ of the area. And then down the road is the Kovar SPJST (a Czech fraternity that translates to Slovanic Benevolent Order of the State of Texas), built by Czech Catholics in 1926. Kovar is one ghost town where the spirits are mighty strong. No phone.
12. Swiss Alp Dance Hall, Fayette County. Built in 1900, this spacious hall at 6940 U.S. 77, 10 miles south of La Grange, was reopened last year after 20 years. Country dances every Saturday night. (979) 247-4536.
13. Fayetteville SPJST. Built in 1897, this was the very first SPJST lodge in the state, and it’s kept up like a treasure. Public dances are rare, but it’s worth seeing, along with the rest of this quaint Old West town, if you’re driving to or from Houston on Texas 71 and you’re not in a hurry. Turn off at FM 955 and go five miles.
14. Braun Hall, Bexar County. Built in 1893, this Hermann Sons Lodge still has dances every Saturday night and most Sunday afternoons. (210) 588-9241.
15. Martinez Social Club, Bexar County. Founded in 1912 and pronounced ‘Martinis’ by most regulars, this club is open every day, with country music dances on Wednesdays and weekends. Take the Converse exit off Interstate 10, go three miles to FM 1346 and take a right. (210) 344-4747.
If you feel like driving a little farther….
* Cat Spring Agricultural Society Hall (Austin County), on FM 1094, 10 miles northwest of Sealy.
* Schoeder Hall (Goliad County), 15 miles north of Goliad on FM 622. (361) 573-7002
* Nordheim Shooting Club Dance Hall (DeWitt County), seven miles west of Yorktown on Texas 72.
* Round Top Schutzen Verein (Fayette County), just off FM 159, 18 miles northeast of La Grange.
* Quihi Gun Club Hall (Medina County), nine miles north of Hondo on FM 2676.
The most famous,
the most popular
* Gruene Hall (Comal County). (830) 606-1281
* Luckenbach Dance Hall (Gillespie County). (830) 997-3224
* Floores Country Store (Helotes). (210) 695-8827