Janis Joplin, The Police, Van Halen, Jimmy Buffet, Journey, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Bob Seger, and Fats Domino are just a few of the thousands of musicians who developed their talents and whose memorabilia grace the walls of Threadgill’s Restaurant and Threadgill’s World Headquarters, in Austin, Texas. Threadgill’s restaurants, museum, and live music venues have been the soul of Austin, Texas since 1933, when bootlegger and music lover Kenneth Threadgill stood in line all night to receive Travis County’s first liquor license. Yes, the county went wet in December of that year, and soon Threadgill’s Gulf filling station became the hot spot for traveling musicians.
The station was open 24 hours and offered drinking, gambling, and jamming. Kenneth sang every night, never locked the doors, and paid his musicians in beer. Despite a curfew law enacted in 1942, Threadgill’s continued to provide Austin a music-loving culture for rednecks, longhairs, beatniks, and hippies. Somehow, this business changed the social culture of the times, and in the 1960’s, it was peaceful at the party when the rednecks met up with the longhairs. During this otherwise tumultuous time, Janis Joplin attended the University of Texas at Austin, and it was at Threadgill’s where she exploited her hybrid country and blues style that would begin the movement to cross country and rock n’ roll.
My husband, who was born in Austin and was one of the longhairs during the 1970’s, says, “In those days, before the big musicians became big, you might see Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Winter, Leon Russell, or The Charlie Daniels Band for $3.00, along with 1,500 other people. It didn’t matter that you were a cowboy or a hippie; you just showed up to see who was going to play their music that night and jam with other musicians.”
In 1974, Austin patrons were devastated when Kenneth decided to close the venue following the death of his wife, Mildred. Eddie Wilson, owner of the famed Armadillo World Headquarters, wanted to combine the soul of Threadgill’s and the spirit of the Dillo, so he purchased the original Threadgill’s site. On New Year’s Eve 1980, the Armadillo closed and on New Year’s Eve 1981, Threadgill’s opened as a restaurant in North Austin. In 1996, Threadgill’s World Headquarters opened in south Austin. The two locations have become landmark museums and stores, with the north location sporting memorabilia from the 1930’s to the 1960’s and the south location offering it’s legendary southern comfort food and memories of “The Decade of the Dillo.”
Threadgill’s World Headquarters serves up the best Chicken Fried Steak and fresh vegetables ($8.95) in all of Central Texas. While eating mother Beulah’s special family recipes, you can gaze at the piano hanging from the ceiling that was once played by Jerry Lee Lewis. Banquets, rehearsal dinners, reunions, and fund-raisers are popular events at Threadgill’s. They make the home cooking experience even better for group guests by hiring the friendliest wait staff in Austin, and serving every meal on Blue Willow china. Catered meals can be served in their backyard beer garden or rock n’ roll club with your choice of five different menus, a breakfast menu, or a custom menu that you create.
The regular dinner menu includes appetizers from $2.95 – $6.95. My favorite is the Vegetarian Cheese-A-Dillos ($6.50): flour tortillas stuffed with mixed cheeses, diced green chilis, fresh spinach, mushrooms, and black beans, served with roasted corn salsa. There are a dozen burger dishes from $6.25 – $7.95. Their homemade salads, chicken, beef, pork, and seafood dishes are all delicacies ($7.95 – $16.95), but what really makes Threadgill’s special is the huge selection of fresh home-cooked vegetables, including old south butter beans, okra, squash, turnip and collard greens, spinach casserole, and red beans and rice. When you visit Threadgill’s, be sure to save room for their homemade Pecan Pie, Buttermilk Pie, Banana Pudding, or Strawberry Rhubarb Pie – sheer southern comfort!
Threadgill’s Restaurant is located at 6416 North Lamar in Austin, Texas. (512) 451-5440
Threadgill’s World Headquarters is located at 301 West Riverside Drive in Austin, Texas. (512) 472-9304