Old-Fashioned Texas

Our state may be changing at warp speed, but pockets of the past are everywhere—if you just look around. We’ve waltzed at dance halls and skated at roller rinks, sipped homemade root beer and even had our hair cut in search of the places and pleasures on the following pages. So slow down, turn off your cell phone, and come along on a trip to days gone by.
Sky-Vue Drive-in Theatre at Lamesa.
Photograph by Artie Limmer

Our state may be changing at warp speed, but pockets of the past are everywhere— if you just look around. We’ve waltzed at dance halls and skated at roller rinks, sipped homemade root beer and even had our hair cut in search of the places and pleasures on the following pages. So slow down, turn off your cell phone and come along on a trip to days gone by.


Looking for fruity little foo-foo drinks with paper umbrellas in them? Then JIMMIE’S PLACE is not for you. The beverage of choice here is beer. Cold beer. Cold bottled beer. That’s because Jimmie’s is a true icehouse, a distinctly Southern subtype of neighborhood bar that features an inside counter and outside tables and is especially prevalent in areas with sticky, icky weather—areas like the Heights in HOUSTON, where Jimmie’s has been reviving scores of wilted residents daily since 1950. How does it do that when, in classic icehouse tradition, it has no air conditioning? Well, cooling comes mainly from a quartet of sources: the canopylike roof over the picnic tables out front; the open garage-style doors, which facilitated truck-loading back when Jimmie’s sold more ice than beer; a couple of outsized floor fans, both orange because owner Frank Murray—son of Jimmie—was on Darrell Royal’s first-ever University of Texas football team, in 1957; and of course, the beer, which isn’t just refrigerated but submerged in ice, a practice that, regulars swear, makes it not only colder but tastier too. The heterogeneous clientele favors Budweiser and Miller longnecks; the interior decorator chose hardy-har-har bumper stickers and a giant inflatable crab. Jimmie’s Place, 2803 White Oak, Houston (713-861-9707). Anne Dingus


Picture a queen-size mattress atop a full-size frame. That’s the way your 22-ounce T-bone will look draped across the platter at the rattletrap LOWAKE STEAK HOUSE, a bastion of beef that was established in 1949 and is located some 28 miles east of San Angelo. (Actually, the tee-ninesy burg of LOWAKE—rhymes with “flaky”—is easier to find if you head southwest from Ballinger and avoid the zigzagging farm-to-market roads.) The tasty 22-ouncer is the medium-size T-bone, by the way; it comes with Texas toast, a salad-bar run, and a big ol’ baked potato and will set you back $18.95. The steaks—there are fourteen cuts to choose from—are unapologetically retro: griddled, not grilled. That’s just fine with the clientele, which at a recent Friday lunch was 85 percent male and arrayed variously in dress shirts (oilmen), T-shirts (truckers), and Western attire (ranchers). The left side of the menu offers non-beef items (chicken gizzards, for example), but why bother to come all this way and not down some cow? The decor consists of beer signs (one appears to depict George Washington contemplating a Jax), a dozen or so sets of cow horns, and an 1892 dehorner that resembles a nutcracker on steroids. Lowake Steak House, FM 1929 and Texas Highway 381, Lowake (915-442-3201). A.D.


Politically correct they’re not. But the three TEPEE SHELTERS along the scenic River Road between Presidio and Lajitas in Big Bend are popular sites for picnics and for taking in the dandy view of the winding Rio Grande. Built of steel and plaster in 1967, the tepees shade rock tables—and stand as icons of a mythical Wild West that still captures the imagination. Tepee roadside park, south side of the River Road (Ranch Road 170) ten miles southeast of Redford. Kathryn Jones


At first glimpse, with the sun still high, the SKY-VUE DRIVE-IN THEATRE was distinctly unprepossessing— after all, it’s been here in Lamesa (“La-mee-sa”) since 1948. Of course, there’s not much to any drive-in theater (Texas now has only a dozen or so) other than a gravel parking lot, rusty trash barrels, and the looming screen. But as dusk fell, the Sky-Vue was transformed into quite a social scene. While waiting for Shrek to start, boys tossed footballs, children squabbled over the swings, families lined up lawn chairs, and high-school honeys smooched in pickup beds facing the screen. Part of the attraction for locals is the concession stand, housed in a cinder-block building; the specialty is the Chihuahua, a sandwich of two crisp corn tortillas enclosing chili, melted cheese, and fresh onion and cabbage—messy but good. Be warned that the munchies attract flies, which are a problem because moviegoers opt, in time-honored fashion, to leave their car windows down, even though tuning the radio to FM 91.9 has replaced using the outdated hook-on speakers. Finally, the theater lives up to its name: Overhead I spotted the Big Dipper and Scorpio among a plethora of non-Hollywood stars. Sky-Vue Drive-in Theatre, just south of town on U.S. 87, Lamesa (806-872-7004); Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights; $4 per person. A.D.


Most mornings, Shirley Rooney and her daughter Francene Taylor rise before sunup to start making fried pies. Rooney, a former longtime cook at the Gage Hotel, has been making them for years. But it wasn’t until she opened SHIRLEY’S BURNT BISCUIT BAKERY—“the best little bake shop west of the Pecos,” as she calls it—in May 1999 that she discovered just how much folks still like the old-fashioned treats. Now Rooney, a wavy-haired, bespectacled 66-year-old who usually has a black apron tied around her waist, and Taylor often fill special orders for dozens of fried pies. They sell only three flavors—peach, apricot, and apple—for 75 cents each. The hole-in-the-wall bakery, on MARATHON’s main drag just a block from the Gage, also makes brownies, cookies, polvorones (Mexican wedding cookies), banana nut and zucchini bread, cinnamon rolls, and of course, biscuits. I’ve logged hundreds of miles (and consumed thousands of calories) researching fried pies, and the Burnt Biscuit’s—lusciously stuffed with fruit, deep-fried in vegetable shortening, and dusted with sugar—beat the competition hands down. What’s Rooney’s secret for the perfect pie dough? “Well, for years I didn’t get it right,” she says with a laugh. “And then


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