Something to Crow About

Famous Austin bar declared one of America's most authentic dives

Famous Austin bar declared one of America's most authentic dives

Dale Watson at Ginny's Little Longhorn
The Little Longhorn is one of America's diviest dive bars. Photo courtesy of ACVB

One of the diviest of all dive bars in the U.S. is right here in Austin — at least according to the arbiter of all things dive-y, The Washington Post.

In surveying the dive-bar landscape of America, the Post anointed Austin’s Little Longhorn Saloon — home of you-know-what bingo — one of the country’s eight most authentic dive bars. To make the list, a dive bar had to “possess a handful of basic attributes,” the Post says:

  • Be steeped in history.
  • Have “regulars” as customers.
  • Be inexpensive.
  • Not serve craft cocktails.

Other dive bars that rose to the Post’s level of “authentic” are Lone Star Saloon, Houston; Candlelight Lounge, New Orleans; Subway Inn, New York; The Frolic Room, Hollywood; Double Down Saloon, Las Vegas; Nancy Whiskey, Detroit; Bob and Barbara’s, Philadelphia.

In its write-up about Little Longhorn Saloon, the Post concentrated on the bar’s weekly bingo sessions.

“Every Sunday at Little Longhorn, patrons lay down their own deuce — $2, that is — to purchase a ticket for what the bar dubs, without a drop of euphemism, chicken s--- bingo. Winners take home $114 each, which isn’t exactly chicken scratch,” reports the Post, leaving no pun unturned.

The Post explains that Austin country musician Dale Watson hatched (we can do puns, too) the idea for the game. Watson, along with his sister, Terry Gaona, and brother-in-law, David Gaona, bought the former Ginny’s Little Longhorn in 2013 “and gave the place a much-needed facelift,” the newspaper says. Ginny Kalmbach was the previous owner.

“The new owners built a stage for their full schedule of bands. They added beer taps. They even installed a window in the once sunlight-deprived honky tonk,” the Post says.

Two years ago, Watson sold his stake in Little Longhorn to the Gaonas.

The Little Longhorn’s status as a bar dates back to the early years of World War II, with earlier incarnations as a farmhouse, gas station, and restaurant. The Post describes the bar’s interior as “family roadhouse.”

“Portraits of Ginny Kalmbach and Dale Watson hang behind the bar, reminders of the people who have left their mark on the saloon,” the newspaper observes. “Likewise, framed photos of musicians cover the wall behind the bandstand. The chicken coop is located in the back, under a Lone Star Beer light that would typically hang over a pool table.”

As the Post notes, other fixtures that make Little Longhorn a truly dive-y dive bar are a broken Wurlitzer jukebox, a signature drink known as a wine-a-rita, and dozens of draft and craft beers. But, of course, the one fixture that really flies high is chicken ---- bingo.

Co-owner Terry Gaona tells the Post that over the course of more than 20 years of the attraction, 12 chickens have starred in the weekly show.

Gaona attributes the success of the Burnet Road mainstay to the “wonderful patrons who love chicken ---- bingo, the chickens who love being on the stage themselves, being recorded and filmed, and just a fun time for everybody.”

“It’s like family being with family and more family, and your family grows every Sunday outside. Like a block party,” she adds.

Sadly, the Post reveals that chicken ---- bingo hasn’t been without its tragedies. “I’ve had two chickens die. Those are sad days,” Gaona says. “But we know they go to chicken heaven.”