Day Trips

Port A Beach Lodge in Port Aransas

photograph by Gerald E. McLeod

Port A Beach Lodge looks like a beach shack or maybe a rundown honky-tonk from the beach. Looks can be deceiving, but in this case, not by much. What the Lodge lacks in haughty ambiance it more than makes up with authentic character.

Built in 1959, the T-shaped compound a hundred yards from the crashing waves of the Gulf of Mexico has weathered three hurricanes and countless storms to become an icon of old Port Aransas. The Lodge is part beach bar, part seafood diner, and part youth hostel. It is all about enjoying the beach.

The bar and restaurant is not the kind of place you would take a first date, but it is the type of place you could spend hours with your best friends in your wet and sandy bathing suits playing pool and feeling the burn of too much time in the sun. The walls and ceiling are decorated with stuff washed up on the beach. The floor has a decisive lean toward the beach. The pool table's felt is faded and marked and the pinball machine doesn't work. Still, the drinks are cold and the food is inexpensive and good. No shirt or shoes are required to get lots of friendly service from Edna "Mom" Fortenbury, the Lodge's manager and bar matron.

"When people first get here they think, 'Oh my god,' " says Mom, "but after they stay here they realize what makes it so neat. It's like having a home on the beach." Most of her business is from customers who have been in before.

The day at the Lodge starts early when islanders start showing up for the inexpensive breakfast. The lunchtime crowd is a mix of tourists wandering off the beach and locals looking for a quick bite to eat with a view of the waves. Late in the afternoon it's the after-work crowd and more thirsty and hungry tourists off the beach. The evening crowd is a mixture of locals and visitors looking for cold beer, a pool table, and a good jukebox. "We stay pretty busy all day," Mom says.

The kitchen serves fresh seafood and burgers. Just about everything on the menu is fried, but as good as you'll get for twice the price at some of the restaurants on the wharves in Port Aransas. The kitchen stays open from 8am to 8pm (until 11pm on weekends) with breakfast served from 8am to 11am. The bar stays open until 2am or until everybody goes home, whichever is first, Mom says with a laugh.

Originally from Arkansas, Mom Fortenbury is very good at her chosen occupation. Quick with a smile and easy with a laugh, she looks to be in her late forties or early fifties. She prefers the Lodge to be busy because she enjoys taking care of the customers.

Her favorite part of working at the Lodge, though, is the view of the Gulf from the windows behind the bar. She came to Port Aransas on vacation a year or so ago and fell in love with the island. "I asked for a job and have been here ever since," she says. The best part of the job "is the great view every day. I just love it here."

"The worst thing about living on the island is there is no Wal-Mart," she says with a matter-of-fact grin. Once a month she has to leave the island and go to Corpus Christi or Aransas Pass to stock up on supplies. It is like leaving paradise to her.

The 15 rooms in a cinder block building behind the bar are basic beach accommodations that cater to students and families on a budget. Guests have come from as far as Europe and Canada; many of them have returned to enjoy the proximity to the water's edge. Each room has basic cable, air conditioning, a shower, and a short walk to the beach. The five double rooms rent for $70 during season and $55 during off season. The single rooms rent for $60 and $45. The tourist season runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

The Port A Beach Lodge is a no-frills, make-your-own-fun kind of place. No other bar or restaurant on the beach has as good a view, better prices, or a more relaxed atmosphere. On the beach at mile marker 8 with a parking lot cut into the tall sand dunes, the Lodge can be reached at 512/749-5713.

Coming up this weekend ...

Scarecrow Festival in Chappell Hill reaches a climax on Oct. 10 &11 when the historic town is guarded by several dozen "Scarecrow Sentries" for the annual arts & crafts festival on Main Street. Besides being a wonderfully scenic area, the imaginative scarecrows decorating the yards and businesses add a humorous twist to touring the backroads during the entire month of October. 409/836-6033.

Mesquite Art Festival at Market Square in Fredericksburg displays the work of craftsmen who produce a variety of products out of mesquite wood. 830/997-8515.

Harvest Fest in Georgetown's San Gabriel Park honors the Swedish pioneers who founded the local St. John's United Methodist Church in 1882 with a day of arts & crafts, ethnic foods, and entertainment, Oct. 10. 512/869-4771.

Gospel Music Festival at Wimberley's Lion's Field features musical groups from around the area, Oct. 9-11. 512/847-9916.

Bluegrass Festival & Antique Tractor Show in Medina at the Apple Festival Grounds combines family entertainment and farming demonstrations, Oct. 10. 830/589-7224.

Coming up ...

Bocktoberfest at the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner thanks everyone around the state who has helped the little brewery survive another year, Oct. 17. 512/594-3383.

Texas Rose Festival in Tyler, the rose capital of the world, decorates the whole town for a show of museum proportions, Oct. 15-18. 800/235-5712.

Haunted Texian Ghost Town turns historic Independence into a family Halloween happening with an arts & crafts fair, Oct. 17, 23-24, 29-31. 972/542-2805 or 512/440-1025.

Beachcombing Tour of Matagorda Island State Park and Wildlife Management Area takes visitors in an open four-wheel-drive vehicle around the island to see the areas not normally accessible to visitors, Oct. 15. 512/983-2215.

Day Trips, Vol.2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is now available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, P.O. Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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