If you’re looking for an authentic slice of Austin, almost completely untouched by the new, surrounding mixed-use buildings and retail stores, look no further than the Broken Spoke.
An Austin institution since 1964, the current iteration of the honky tonk came together two years later, when, in 1966, owner James White expanded the space to include a now-famous dance floor. It turns out that when White opened the Broken Spoke (named so after the Jimmy Stewart movie Broken Arrow and his kinship with wagon wheels) as a café and pool hall, people kept two-stepping to the country music playing from the jukebox. There was barely any room, so patrons would, according to the stories, dance wherever they could: in-between tables and even out in the parking lot. Sensing he had something big on his hands, White made the Broken Spoke what it is today, what he calls, “the last of the true Texas dance halls.”
Since then, some of country music’s biggest stars have graced the stage at the Broken Spoke, including Ernest Tubb, Ray Price, George Jones, Bob Wills, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, the Dixie Chicks, and George Strait. Local legends Asleep at the Wheel are regulars at the Broken Spoke to this day. Films such as Wild Texas Nights and Honeysuckle Rose and the television show Friday Night Lights have filmed scenes at the honky tonk. In 2016, a documentary about the historic venue and restaurant, called Honky Tonk Heaven, premiered at SXSW.
Inside, the checkered tablecloths and neon lights are just as they were 50 years ago, and everyone from city slicker tourists to longtime locals spend their time and money at the Broken Spoke. Tuesday through Saturday, visitors to the 2010 inductee to the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame can dance to live music, gulp down a couple of cold Lone Stars, or sample the Broken Spoke’s famous chicken fried steak. Whatever you do, don’t just stand on the dancefloor.
Photo by Makenzie Harrison.