I grew up in the 1970s hearing about Gruene from my older brother and sister. I knew it was a tiny town with a big dancehall where outlaw musicians like Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jerry Jeff Walker, Willis Alan Ramsey and others hung out and played.
But I never visited Gruene until a few years ago when my husband and I spent our honeymoon in a friend’s vacation house on Canyon Lake. Although the town is significantly different now than it was “back in the day” when I first heard rumors about it, Gruene is still one of the coolest places on earth for music lovers like me who also enjoy wine tasting, antique shopping and good food.
The historic and fabled Gruene Hall, known as “Texas’ oldest dancehall,” still stands and still hosts live music seven days a week. The building, which is covered by a roof but open at the sides, was constructed in 1878 and has not been updated much over the last century.
The walls are rough and the planked wooden floors creak mightily with each footstep. Seating is at long, roughly-constructed tables lined with benches, so on busy nights patrons are forced to sit elbow to elbow and get to know their neighbors intimately. Nobody seems to care about the uber-friendliness of the seating — it just adds to the festive feeling of the place.
Gruene Hall never closes and always has some form of live music scheduled, from nationally-known music artists like Willie Nelson to local acoustic guitarists and singer/songwriters. Last year, my husband and I and some friends saw The Damn Quails in concert there for free. We had a great time, but the blues band that played in the late afternoon before the main concert impressed me more than the big act. I love pleasant surprises like that, so if you love music, that’s what you get at Gruene Hall.
For a great dining experience, head over to The Gristmill River Restaurant & Bar directly behind Gruene Hall. The indoor-outdoor eatery — originally a cotton gin that burned in the early 1920s — sprawls along a bluff above the Guadalupe River. The menu is filled with typical Texas fare with an atypical flare.
After multiple trips to the Gristmill, we’ve never had a bad experience or unsavory meal. The setting is beautiful and relaxing, although waits for a table can be quite long on busy weekends. But don’t let that scare you — the large outdoor waiting area is filled with picnic tables with easy access to the bar and a solo singer-musician entertaining the crowd.
Across the street, the 6,500-square-foot Gruene Antique Company is like a history museum where everything is for sale. Browsing through the many booths packed with treasures is one of our favorite things to do in Gruene. Sometimes we walk away with a bargain, other times we leave with nothing but a good time, and that’s OK.
Other popular stopping off points in Gruene include the Gruene Country Store, where kids can shop for old-fashioned toys and candy and parents can find rows and rows of native-Texan products and gift items. Wine-lovers will be in vineyard heaven in Gruene, with The Grapevine, Vino en Verde, Vineyard at Gruene, Winery on the Gruene and Gruene Door Store and Wine Bar.
And of course, wherever you go, the sounds of live music waft through the towering historic oak trees. Gruene is heaven indeed.
Gruene is about 112 miles from Killeen, just a few miles west of Interstate 35 near New Braunfels.