Singers like Waylon Jennings and Jerry Jeff Walker may have made Luckenbach Texas, a world-famous tourist destination, but the beer hall at Luckenbach has nothing on nearby Devil's Backbone Tavern. Ever since hearing Todd Snider’s “Ballad of Devil’s Backbone Tavern,” I've wanted to have a beer in this bar, and this summer I was finally able to make that happen.
(If you’ve never heard the song, and more importantly, Todd Snider tell the story behind the song, do yourself a favor and listen to it now…)
From the outside Devil’s Backbone Tavern looks exactly how you’d imagine… An old faded sign hangs over a building with more than one bullet hole in the windows and walls. With all the pickup trucks in the parking lot, I wondered if stopping in by myself in a MINI Cooper was inviting myself for a real ass-whooping by some ranchers or bikers or both, but hey, I’d been dreaming of visiting this place for years, no turning back…
The doors swung open and there I was right in front of a table full of Texans throwing back beers and telling lies. “Where the hell did you come from,” one man asked immediately.
“Big Todd Snider fan,” I said, not knowing if they appreciate people like me stopping in because of the song or if I had just given them cause to take me out in the parking lot and punch me in the face.
“Well, come on in and have a beer,” they all said. Whew. A Texas-sized beating seemed unlikely now. (Although they did make fun of me for ordering a Lone Star. No real Texan actually drinks that crap, so they say.)
I pulled up a stool and started talking with the other patrons as they told me all about the different beer halls in the area and their unique histories, and behind the bar I spied a picture of Todd Snider and Miss Vergie, the lovable inspiration for his song & the woman who told Todd, “F*ck Luckenbach. Drink with us.”
The regulars took me around the bar and showed me all the dollar bills on the ceiling, some other photos of the place from over the years, and even a super creepy devil head on the fireplace mantle.
Oh, which reminds me, the place is haunted… Doors and windows open and close on their own so often they’ve posted a warning sign:
Ghost Warning: If doors and windows open and close by themselves, and you hear strange noises, just ignore it. It’s just our ghost trying to get attention. He thinks it’s funny.
After hearing all about their egotistical, attention-starved ghost, one of the locals told me I should also check out the men’s bathroom out back. I replied, “let me guess… It’s a tree.”
“Ahhh you got it,” he said as he bowled over in laughter, and it’s characters like this guy that made me want to post up on a stool for the night just to see Devil’s Backbone Tavern in full swing at night. Unfortunately, time wasn’t on my side. There were 400+ other MINI Coopers waiting on me in Austin, so I bought the bar a round, signed a dollar bill, and hit the road.
Although Miss Vergie has passed on, her legacy of having a warm heart and cold beer lives on. The folks at the bar were so dang friendly they put Roadtrippers stickers up on the bar and one cowboy even put one on his truck… If you’re traveling through Texas, by all means, visit Luckenbach, but save some beer money for the nearby Devil’s Backbone Tavern for a real Texas tavern experience.
Roadtrippers visited the Devil’s Backbone Tavern on the 2014 MINI Takes the States. MTTS is a rad 2-week, 5,000+ mile road adventure for MINI owners where you barrel from city to city each day meeting the nicest (seriously, the nicest) people, occasionally getting scared out of sketchy roadside restaurants, getting asked a thousand questions at every gas station, and meeting up with 1,000+ MINI lovers for a big party each night. Read more about MINI Takes the States here.