The Austin History Center's mission is to procure, preserve, present and provide the historical records that make up Austin's unique story.
If you love country & western culture or want to know more about it, this is the place to go! When you do, visit the memorabilia room, playfully named "The Tourist Trap" by the owner. Once you've learned a bit about the history of what you're about to experience, you're ready for the fun. Learn how to two-step and dance the night away. If you're hungry, try the chicken-fried steak; it's legendary!
Although Broken Spoke is surrounded by new development, it stands as an authentic, old, country dance hall right down to the wooden porch and dirt parking lot. It's a time machine amid heaps of modern-day "improvement."
The Broken Spoke is one of the top-ranked places to visit in Austin and here's the main reason why: authenticity. It's not just the look that's authentic. It's the people, the dancing, the food and the music!
Walking into the Broken Spoke is like walking into a time machine that takes you back to 1964. The owner, James White, has kept the place exactly the same for the past 50+ years. He takes pride in the fact that it's not fancy, but it sure is COUNTRY. The food is great, but not gourmet. It's simple, down-home Southern American food. Don't ask for Grey Poupon here!
The Broken Spoke is known for its festive atmosphere, and everyone is meant to feel welcome on the dance floor. If you don't know how to dance like a cowboy or girl, they'll teach you! Learn the authentic two-step that Texas is so famous for. If you're shy, the instructor, who's known to be quite a firecracker, will help coax the Texas attitude out of you. Everyone has one deep down.
When James White established The Spoke, it began as a café, but people started blasting the jukebox and dancing everywhere, including the parking lot. Not wanting to mess with a good time, but enhance it, White expanded his little café to include a dance floor. It's been a favorite spot ever since.
White made The Spoke even more inviting and fun by bringing in music acts to play. He welcomed those who weren't accepted in Nashville, and many country legends played there very early in their careers -- Willie Nelson, George Strait, and The Dixie Chicks, to name a few. Being a singer/songwriter himself, White's been known to jam on stage with the acts! He's applauded when he walks through his establishment and is the reason people in Austin still have a down-home country place to call their own.
In 1994 the "Austin Chronicle" gave the Broken Spoke the distinction of having the "best bathroom doors." The ladies room at the time had shower curtains for stall doors. That's not all . . . the curtains had a Mother Goose theme with cigarette burns on the goose's eyes! You have to have a sense of humor at The Spoke. The Broken Spoke was inducted into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame in 2010. The films "Honeysuckle Rose" with Willie Nelson and "Wild Texas Wind" with Dolly Parton and Gary Busey feature The Broken Spoke as well. They've also won honors from "National Geographic" and "Entertainment Weekly."
In Austin, James White is a celebrity, yet he's extremely down to earth. On any given night you can see him walking around, greeting customers, maybe doing an interview. When people see him, they just smile. Probably because he's usually smiling, and fun just seems to ooze out of him. He wears his cowboy "uniform" and looks like he's been two-steppin' and singing country tunes his whole life. But James White is more than just a fun country character. He's a businessman, family man, and a survivor.
White opened The Spoke after his time in the army. He wanted something to do that would be fun. Not having experience owning a cafe, he improvised on just about everything in the early days. They used a cigar box as their cash register and sold 25 cent beers. He tended bar himself for 16 hours a day. When he couldn't afford to pay the bands he hosted, they were paid in tips. He attracted TOP talent to his humble place very early in its existence and made friends with the stars. When Willie Nelson found himself in financial trouble, White used a tip jar to collect $10,000 to help him. Now Willie plays there for free!
White even survived the large-scale modern building projects that threatened to swallow up The Spoke. He is the very definition of strength and determination, two attributes Texans have prized as homegrown traits throughout history. Have fun when you're at The Spoke. And if you're lucky enough to meet Mr. White, you'll be meeting a living legend!
Cover Photo: Broken Spoke Facade by Christopher Rose via Flickr Creative Commons.