The Austin Chronicle

Day Trips

By Gerald E. McLeod, March 11, 2005, Columns

The Knot in the Loop Saloon is one of the worst-kept secrets in the Hill Country. The road bicyclists know about it. The motorcyclists know about it. The wildflower gazers know about it. And now I'm going to tell you about it.

The saloon could be described as a neighborhood bar, but the neighborhood is one of the prettiest in the Hill Country. Most of the neighbors walk on four legs, except for a wild turkey or two.

The scenic Willow City Loop begins two miles east of the saloon. The 13 miles of county road winding north from Willow City and then bending west to meet TX 16 is gorgeous any time of the year and spectacular during wildflower season. The narrow, two-lane road travels through hidden canyons cut by placid creeks. The views from the top of the hills are stunning before the road drops into tree-shaded valleys with a picturesque stream. In between are lost meadows filled with colorful flowers and deer.

"It's going to be a phenomenal year for wildflowers," predicts Robin Nichols. This August, it will be three years since she and her husband, Wayne, turned their barn and workshop into the Knot in the Loop Saloon. The name comes more from their lack of insight into the gossip of Willow City than it does from their location, she says.

The Nichols' barn has become more of a clubhouse than a saloon. The 13-foot Texas granite bar that Wayne built gives the hall a touch of class. Four pool tables offer entertainment as do the friendly locals who drift in and out. Or visitors can sit at the tables on the front porch and watch the world pass by. It will cost you a dollar to find out how they got the bills to stick to the wood ceiling.

Besides offering visitors to God's country cold refreshments, the saloon provides two essential elements to enjoying a Sunday ride in the Hill Country between Fredericksburg and Llano – the only parking lot and the only free public restrooms in the area.

To understand why these items are so important, you have to know a thing or two about the Willow City Loop. The 75 residents of the city receive no compensation for all the tourists passing through their fair city. They all seem fine with the visitors as long as they keep moving. The area ranchers just don't appreciate cars blocking the road while the kids trample through the pastures to have their pictures taken in a field of bluebonnets. The no-parking signs along the road are enforced.

The Nichols don't mind visitors using their facilities. With the exception of the artwork in the men's restroom, the powder rooms are clean and well maintained. A tip jar near the door is there so potty inspectors don't feel obligated to buy anything. "We made $17 off the can one day during bluebonnet season," Robin says with a laugh.

During wildflower season, which usually begins in mid-March, the field in front of the saloon is filled with color. It offers photographers a safe place to snap next year's Christmas card. Bicyclists like the field because it is about the only place in the area where they can leave their vehicles while they ride. One winter, Robin and Wayne rescued a group of bike riders stuck on the Willow City Loop when a norther blew in. "No matter which way you go from here," Robin says, "you're going to have some big hills to climb."

It's also not uncommon to see clusters of motorcycles parked around the saloon on any pretty weekend. "The back roads around here are great for motorcycles," Robin says. A popular route is a big circle beginning at Luckenbach and heading up to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, 10 miles west of the watering hole.

Knot in the Loop Saloon is about 70 miles west of Austin and 13 miles north of Fredericksburg at the intersection of FM 1323 and TX 16. The bar sells candy, soft drinks, and water as well as beer and wine. For more information or to check on the wildflowers, call 830/685-3591 or visit

717th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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