The Roots of the Left

From Scholz Garten to 'The Daryl Herald,' four slices of progressive Austin life

Billy Lee Brammer
Billy Lee Brammer

Scholz: Texas Before Deodorant

"The Germans had bought half the block years before and built the bar and clubrooms. During the hard times of the 1930's they had begun leasing out the front part as a public bar, an arrangement that had proved so profitable that it was continued through the war years and was now apparently destined for the ever-after."

That's how Billy Lee Brammer sets the scene in The Gay Place, his true-fiction account of Texas politics and the boozy courtin' and lawmakin' that went on under the trees at Scholz Garten (now casually renamed "Garden") in the Fifties. It was the one place in town where an under-21 Eddie Wilson could score a beer without getting hassled. Scholz was destined for the ever-after indeed. The German-owned gathering place on San Jacinto was the watering hole of choice for every liberal politician, writer, musician, and artist in town.

Wilson practically grew up at Scholz and even ran the place for a while in the Eighties ("a miserable, failed effort"). He and his former partners dumped a bunch of money into renovating the historic building -- and then went broke. Wilson prefers talking about the earlier days -- beginning with the early, early Sixties. "This was still the beatnik era," says Wilson, founder of the Armadillo World Headquarters and now owner of Threadgill's. "We were eating peyote and having psychedelic experiences before that kind of stuff was even popular."

Wilson's warmest memories roll off his tongue in a series of fleeting flashbacks -- Bob Eckhardt, the beloved state and U.S. representative parked at a table drawing cartoons ... future Gov. Ann Richards with her husband Dave (he was a law student; she was a teacher at Fulmore) ... Willie Morris and The Texas Observer gang repairing to the garden after tapping out peerless prose on manual typewriters ... writer Bill Hilmer ... the list goes on. "We're talking about the mavericks," says Wilson, "the sharpest of the sharpest."

Wilson believes the culture began to shift "when they started advertising deodorant on television. Suddenly, we weren't supposed to be wet under the arms anymore, and here all this time we'd just been sweating and suffocating in the goddamn heat."

The Eighties brought Wilson's disappointing Scholz business venture, but he brightens when he recalls: "I had the temerity to tell the fraternity boys that they couldn't just come down and take over the place," he said. "I told 'em, Scholz is for the people, not the sons of the rich, white bullies of Texas."

More recently, the Garden hosted political Austin blasphemy: Last August, the Travis County Republican Party kicked off its 2002 campaign season at Scholz, packed with elephants grinning from ear to ear in anticipation of sweeping the Legislature and all the statewide offices.

But prog Dem and former state Rep. Glen Maxey is doing his part to recapture the old Scholz: It is now the regular meeting place for supporters of presidential contender Howard Dean. Addressing the Dean rally at Plaza Saltillo a few weeks ago, Maxey vowed: "We're going to take back Scholz Garten; we're going to take back the state of Texas; and then we're going to take back the White House!"

A few days later, Maxey elaborated: "I intend ... to give a whole new generation of progressive activists the ability to reminisce like I do -- now that I'm old and bald -- about political gossip they shared over beer and nachos at Scholz's."

Godspeed.

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