Chronicle Live Music Venue Guide

Broken Spoke

"We're the last of the true Texas dance halls and damn sure proud of it!" So says Broken Spoke proprietor James White, and he's got a point: Country fans have been two-steppin' around this legendary joint since 1964, and not much has changed in that time. The parking lot is still dirt, the ceiling is still low, and the beer, well, it may not be 25¢ anymore, but it sure is cold. White puts a lot of stock in cold beer. "Cold beer, good whiskey, and good-lookin' girls to dance with," he will tell you when asked the secret of the Spoke's success. "Plus we got good country music." Do they ever.

Photo of the outside of the Broken Spoke.

photograph by John Carrico

Country legends from Bob Wills to Ernest Tubb to Dolly Parton have played the Spoke; Willie Nelson was damn near a regular there. Even a young buck by the name of George Strait got his start there. Nevertheless, the heart of the Broken Spoke has always been the locals, and these days you'll find the likes of Don Walser, Alvin Crow, and the Derailers up on that storied stage, warbling waltzes and two-steps for the regulars as they shuffle 'round the room. Here, on the skating rink-type dance floor, cowpokes mix with city slickers and good ol' gals gather with alternachicks -- with lots of intermingling going on -- all of it accented by 10-gallon hats, Pearl on tap, and the what boom? mentality of White and his wife. It's enough to have landed the club in the pages of Entertainment Weekly and National Geographic, described as a gen-u-ine Texas honky-tonk in a city inclined to forget its roots. (For a closer look at those roots, check out the Spoke's "Tourist Trap," a memorabilia room that includes, well, Johnny Bush's boots, Bob Wills' beer can, and chicken-fried steak plate signed by Randy Travis.)

When White set out to build the Broken Spoke, he chose a lot not a mile from his childhood home and got to work: 35 years later, that work has paid off; the club is an Austin landmark and shows no signs of slowing. While his wife Arnetta ("the working half of the family") handles the daily business now, White still comes down on Friday and Saturday nights, and when he does, he's damn proud of what he sees. "On my headstone I told my wife to just put, 'He provided a place where people could have a good time, and when he got it built, he named it the Broken Spoke.'" --Jay Hardwig