Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon
5434 Burnet Road, Austin, Texas 78756
512-458-1813 / www.thelittlelonghornsaloon.com
By Sunny Sweeney
(LSM July/Aug 2011/vol. 4 – Issue 4)
Dale Watson, one of my all-time favorite country singer-songwriters, calls it “The Honkiest, Tonkiest Beer Joint in Town.”
It’s been 10 years since the first time I stepped into Ginny’s Little Longhorn. To this day, not a thing has changed. I mean there may be some new neon signs and now there’s an ATM, but the service, the bartenders and the country music are all the same.
It’s a little dive bar up in North Austin on Burnet Road. If you’re driving there at night, you may very well miss it. It doesn’t look like much on the outside. It’s just an old stone building with Longhorn orange trim and a white steeple on top. Inside is where the treasure is.
Ginny Kalmbach runs the joint. I can’t ever remember a time where I’ve been in there and she’s not sitting right by the ice machine in her folding chair, watching the band playing that her daughter, Sharon Lusk, booked. Her late husband, Don, was always a staple there, too, and there’s a big picture of him right above a table by the dance floor.
From the first night I discovered this little gem, I was hooked on its family feel and cheap beer. On Sundays, from 4 p.m.-8 p.m., they have Chicken Shit Bingo. There’s a chicken that lives outside the bar in the parking lot in a chicken coop, and it comes out to party on Sunday. They cover up the pool table in the back with a piece of plywood with numbers on it and a cage all the way around it, and sell tickets to patrons who think they know which number the chicken will pick to do his business on.
For years, I played a Sunday night gig from 8:30 p.m. – 12:30 a.m. at a bar a couple blocks down from Ginny’s. I would always go to Ginny’s first from 4-8 to recruit people to come to my gig. People congregate in the parking lot and you can bring your own liquor. You should trust me, though, you’re gonna want to buy your beer there. It’s the coldest in town.
The beauty about Ginny’s is that it’s an eclectic group of people that go there. It used to mostly be just local types, but because it’s “trendy” now to go to dive bars, there are usually quite a few college students there. Almost always, there’s people from Europe or the U.K. there, too, who are visiting the famous country bar. There’s motorcycle clubs there; there’s “the dancers” (who can manage to squeeze at least 10 dancing couples at a time on the 8-foot-by-8-foot dance floor); there’s the Rockabilly crowd with their cool hair and hotrod cars; there’s the domino players that sit in the back and play for hours; there’s the musicians that are coming to watch either Dale Watson or Redd Volkaert play and sing. And to think: This whole bar is only approximately 60-feet-by-20-feet.
I remember one night I went in to see Redd Volkaert and knock back a few cold beers, I sat down at the bar, and looked over and believe it or not, no one else other than Brad Paisley was sitting in with Redd and they were both just wailing away on their guitars. Brad’s wife, Kimberly Williams, was sitting at the bar watching them. I’m on tour with Brad Paisley now, so I can’t wait to remind him of that story … and to be honest, as I’m writing this, I’m kind of having a surreal moment.
When I made my first CD, Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame, I did my photo shoot at Ginny’s — right in the middle of the bar. A picture of the world-famous chicken from Chicken Shit Bingo made it into my CD, too; it’s in the CD tray.
Ginny doesn’t stand for fightin’, cussin’, or fussin’, so if you’re planning on going in there, you need to be prepared to chill out and just have a few beers and listen to some good ol’ live country music — at least until the band takes a break, of course; that’s when they turn on the 8-track player.