Gruene Hall: Daytrip to this timeless Texas treasure

By: Mauri Elbel
April, 2021

Time tends to stand still and some of the sweeter things in life seem to unfold within the iconic white lap siding walls of Gruene Hall. Inside Texas’ oldest continually operating dance hall, you’ll find some of the best live Americana and Texas music playing every day of the week, ice cold, cash-only beer, and a timeless Texas charm that spills out from the open-air side flaps into historic Gruene.

This legendary dance hall built in 1878 remains a requisite stop for any musician playing the Texas circuit and it’s been the birthplace of dozens of now-famous singers and songwriters spanning George Strait to Lyle Lovett. In a way, I owe my existence to it, too. My grandparents met here in 1955 during a Gruene Hall Saturday night dance when my grandpa led my grandma onto the dance floor, stepped all over her feet and fell madly in love. For the next three Saturdays, he waited patiently outside of Gruene Hall until he finally caught sight of her again. They were married within the year––a union that led to four children, 10 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren and counting.

Each time I’m back here listening to acoustic guitars and wailing fiddles reverberating off of the time-worn wooden walls and singers baring their souls from the small lighted stage, I think about their love story and wonder about all of the others that must have unfolded inside this 6,000-square-foot dance hall.

Like stepping back in time, Gruene Hall is one of those Texas institutions that seems impermeable to change despite all of the transformations happening around it. Sure, this creaky-floored, un-air-conditioned dance hall has, like the rest of the world, made some adjustments due to COVID-19––staffers wear masks; face coverings are recommended for all guests and required for ticket-holders; wine barrel table seating is now staggered across the dance floor; all tables, inside and out, are set up for social distancing; and ticketed show capacity is roughly 25 percent what it used to be. But despite these safety modifications, you’ll still find an unwavering timelessness flourishing here.

“Gruene Hall’s timeless feel really is because it hasn’t changed,” says proprietor Pat Molak, who has owned Gruene Hall along with Mary Jane Nalley since 1975. “It’s pretty much as we found it––just some new wiring and a little bit of new plumbing. The floor, the backdrop, the flaps, the chicken wire on the windows and the front of the hall are all the same.”

Ever since Molak and Nalley found the classic old gem, they have made an effort to keep it the same––today Gruene Hall has a Texas Medallion from the Texas Historical Commission and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Advertisements from the 1930s and 1940s hang in the hall and around the stage, and black-framed pictures of celebrities who have played here since the mid-’70s adorn the walls, adding authenticity to its throwback feel. But no matter how famous the person playing on stage might be, a big draw to Gruene Hall has always been the intimate experience it offers that allows artists and fans to interact.

“It’s a priceless set-up that ended up being almost perfect,” says Molak. “It’s small enough that you get to see the artist and you’re not lost. The artists love it too.”

As a result, now-famous musicians who launched their careers at Gruene Hall decades ago still possess a loyalty to the place.

“They started here and love the joint,” says Molak. “They feel the same thing we do. Lyle, George and Robert Earl––it means a lot to these guys. Jerry Jeff was there the first spring we found the Hall.”

Molak says a big reason behind this is due to the fact the artists know what a priceless place Gruene Hall truly is.

“You walk in and feel like you’ve never left,” Molak says. “They feel the spirit like everyone else.”

Internationally recognized as a destination tourist attraction and major music venue for up-and-coming as well as established artists, Gruene Hall has played host to many now-famous musicians spanning Willie Nelson, Tanya Tucker and The Chicks over the last 45 years.

Gruene Hall also has a storied history that predates its popularity. Back in the 1800s, Gruene Hall held its weekly dances and hosted events spanning high school graduations to badger fights. In the outdoor beer garden, there’s a basketball goal that Hal Ketchum built. There’s also a “Willie door,” which, according to Molak, was crafted by moving the homemade stair steps up to the side flap by the men’s room so Willie Nelson could crawl in.

But whether you’re listening to multiple-Grammy-nominated artist Pat Green perform “Take Me Out To a Dancehall” or swaying to the sounds of an up-and-comer that might be tomorrow’s next biggest star, there’s nothing quite like taking it all in from this quintessential Texas dance hall.

This month, take the short day trip to this Texas institution to tap your boot-clad feet to the tunes of Kody West on April 3, Wynonna Judd on April 16-18, and Eli Young Band on April 24. Find more upcoming shows at www.gruenehall.com/calendar.

If You Go

Getting there:

Gruene Hall is a 1-hour drive south of Austin.

Stay:

Rest your head at Gruene Mansion Inn (www.gruenemansioninn.com), one of the first buildings in Gruene built in 1872. The property, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a Texas Historic Landmark, began as Henry D. Gruene’s historic Victorian home and cotton plantation. Today the bed and breakfast’s rustic elegance accommodations are restored century-old barns and homes outfitted with fine fabrics, antiques and hand-crafted furniture. 

Do:

Gruene Hall features live music every day, year-round. Most shows are free Monday through Thursday evenings and Saturday and Sunday afternoons, while Friday and Saturday evenings are generally ticketed cover shows.

Eat & Drink:

One bite into Gristmill River Restaurant and Bar’s juicy half-pound burger, complete with a side of original round cut fries, and you will be a big fan of the food served from this former cotton gin that has been cooking up South Texas favorites since 1977. Or traipse down a few feet to the Gruene River Grill, a rustic restaurant overlooking the Guadalupe River for a plate of country fried steak smothered in homemade cream gravy.

Insider Tip:

Before you go, familiarize yourself and impress your friends by looking up some of the famous talents who have played at Gruene Hall over the years at www.gruenehall.com/famous-artists. 

Follow Austin Travels


Austin Travels is a women-owned, Austin-based travel magazine committed to highlighting destinations in Texas and beyond through the lenses of diverse and talented writers.

Subscribe

@austintravelsmag

20 Texas pumpkin patches ripe with fall fun

20 Texas pumpkin patches ripe with fall fun

October festivals: 10 top Texas celebrations to check out

October festivals: 10 top Texas celebrations to check out

Falling for Fredericksburg: Sample all this Hill Country haven has to offer

Falling for Fredericksburg: Sample all this Hill Country haven has to offer

Central Texas Camping Guide

Central Texas Camping Guide

A fall paddle down the Devils

A fall paddle down the Devils

5 nearby parks perfect for an RVshare road trip

5 nearby parks perfect for an RVshare road trip

September festivals: 10 top Texas events

September festivals: 10 top Texas events

Texas Glamping Guide

Texas Glamping Guide

Women, wind and waves: Surfing for adventure

Women, wind and waves: Surfing for adventure

Dive in: 7 swimming holes and natural spots to splash into near Austin

Dive in: 7 swimming holes and natural spots to splash into near Austin

Girls getaway: 24 hours in San Antonio’s Historic Pearl District

Girls getaway: 24 hours in San Antonio’s Historic Pearl District

A downtown Houston hotel reimagined –– plus 5 things to do nearby

A downtown Houston hotel reimagined –– plus 5 things to do nearby

Texas 2021 Beach Guide

Texas 2021 Beach Guide

A true escape: Domovina Ranch in Smithville

A true escape: Domovina Ranch in Smithville

Royal treatment: 24 hours of spa bliss at one of Houston’s poshest hotels

Royal treatment: 24 hours of spa bliss at one of Houston’s poshest hotels

7 magical things to do with kids in Big Bend and West Texas

7 magical things to do with kids in Big Bend and West Texas

Photo Essay: The missions of San Antonio

Photo Essay: The missions of San Antonio

Becoming a birder at Galveston’s FeatherFest

Becoming a birder at Galveston’s FeatherFest

Seminole Canyon’s world-class rock art is a lens to history

Seminole Canyon’s world-class rock art is a lens to history

Need a break? An Archer Hotel Austin staycation, plus Domain shopping guide

Need a break? An Archer Hotel Austin staycation, plus Domain shopping guide

Discovering Surfside Beach, a Texas Gulf Coast treasure

Discovering Surfside Beach, a Texas Gulf Coast treasure

Nature and nurture: Hill Country wellness retreat offers a salve for the soul

Nature and nurture: Hill Country wellness retreat offers a salve for the soul

Gruene Hall: Daytrip to this timeless Texas treasure

Gruene Hall: Daytrip to this timeless Texas treasure

Everyone’s an artist at Amarillo’s Cadillac Ranch

Everyone’s an artist at Amarillo’s Cadillac Ranch

Get away while giving back to foster children at stunning Hill Country glamping spot

Get away while giving back to foster children at stunning Hill Country glamping spot

Plan Your Outdoorsy Adventure

Plan Your Outdoorsy Adventure

Discover history and simple pleasures in Baffin Bay

Discover history and simple pleasures in Baffin Bay

Texas bluebonnets are back! 10 wildflower hotspots

Texas bluebonnets are back! 10 wildflower hotspots

8 Great State Parks for Camping with Kids

8 Great State Parks for Camping with Kids

Fishing and Sea Turtles and Birding, Oh My: A weekend at South Padre Island

Fishing and Sea Turtles and Birding, Oh My: A weekend at South Padre Island

Relax and relish the coastal charms of Rockport

Relax and relish the coastal charms of Rockport

Social distancing in sleepy Sonora: Escape to a luxury ranch resort 3 hours from Austin

Social distancing in sleepy Sonora: Escape to a luxury ranch resort 3 hours from Austin

Lessons in life and death on the beach in Port Aransas

Lessons in life and death on the beach in Port Aransas