Lunch at Threadgill’s (Old #1) in Austin

29 03 2011

After Brian (my former boss/lifelong photography mentor) finished teaching a wildflower photography workshop on Saturday morning, we went to lunch at Threadgill’s, a local eatery in Austin. That’s Brian holding the menu in the collage below. He founded the Austin Shutterbug Club over a decade ago and teaches digital photography at the University of Texas a few times a week. He and his wife, Shirley, have published two books, Texas Cacti and Grasses of the Texas Hill Country. They are currently working on a coffee table book about Texas wildflowers. Check out his work here.

Excerpted from Threadgill’s website (http://threadgills.com/)

Perhaps country music lover and bootlegger Kenneth Threadgill had more in mind when he opened his Gulf filling station just north of the Austin city limits in 1933, for the day that Travis County decided to “go wet ” in December of the same year, Kenneth stood in line all night to be the first person to own a liquor license in the county. Soon, the filling station became a favorite spot for traveling musicians since it was open 24 hours for drinking, gambling and jamming. Kenneth would sing songs by his beloved Jimmie Rodgers nightly. Musicians who came to play were paid in beer. Such was the atmosphere at Threadgill’s, it was only when a curfew was enacted in 1942 that its owner had to get a key for the front door, before that it had yet to have been locked. The quintessential Austin beer joint continued to flourish into the sixties, and changed with the social climate of the era by inviting the folkies, hippies and beatniks to his Wednesday night singing sessions with open arms. Threadgill’s love for people and music smoothed out the conflicts that usually occurred when longhairs met with rednecks at the time, and because of this, a new culture tolerance emanated from the club, which had a profound effect upon its patrons and the music that came from it. It was here that Janis Joplin developed her country and blues hybrid-styled voice that would blur the lines between country and rock n’ roll.

In 1974, when Austinites and the nation were extolling the benefits of living in the heart of the Lone Star State, and the “Cosmic Cowboy” movement, which had its roots directly planted in the history of Threadgill’s and Armadillo World Headquarters, was at its peak, tragedy struck Kenneth Threadgill when his wife Mildred died, and he decided to close his club.

After nearly succumbing to the city of Austin’s desire to demolish the original Threadgill’s site which had become an eyesore, it was purchased by Eddie Wilson, owner of the Armadillo World Headquarters, a sister venue of a kindred spirit. Wilson’s idea, however, was to make Threadgill’s a Southern style restaurant, based on the success of the menu that he offered at his kitchen at the Armadillo. So, on New Year’s Eve 1980, the Armadillo closed, and on New Year’s Eve 1981, Threadgill’s opened as a restaurant. It was an instant success.

Photos © Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.