Shorty’s Place, a small, wood-framed bar that’s been part of Port Aransas for 77 years, lost its lease on Tarpon Street and then closed its doors on November 1, 2022. This past January, owner Edwin Myers had the building sawed in half and hauled about five blocks south to Beach Street. On August 3, after about six months of piecing the bar back together and installing utilities, drinks and conversations began flowing again at this Gulf Coast landmark.
“I was halfway through my lease period when someone got an option to purchase the land,” Myers explained of the Tarpon Street property. “When given the opportunity to move Shorty’s to somewhere where I could have twenty years, it was a no-brainer.”
Due to its age and L-shaped configuration, moving the building in two pieces was a necessary precaution to safely settle it on Beach Street. Now Shorty’s Place is part of a burgeoning entertainment district. “It’ll have more visibility here,” Port Aransan Thor Jones said as the reopening celebration got underway. “Beach Street has kind of become the place to be, and Shorty’s will solidify that.”
Except for a fresh coat of white paint and blue trim, Shorty’s looks and feels mostly the same as before, which is to say, like a battered and beloved dive bar. There are the same scuffed hardwood floors, the same rack of customers’ Koozies above the bar, and the same pair of pool tables in the back room.
There is something different, though. The thousands of baseball caps tacked to the ceiling by customers for more than forty years have finally been cleaned.
“The tradition started in the late 1970s,” said Myers, recalling that someone once estimated there were more than three thousand hats, although no one knows for sure. The hats did have their detractors, mainly because they had become quite dirty, even mildewed, over time. “We took them to the laundromat,” Myers said. “We washed them, sanitized them. But they didn’t go back up in their same locations.”
Throughout the night, longtime customers strolled through the bar and searched the ceiling, hoping to see their old ball caps.
“We have two, but haven’t found them yet,” said Cally Fromme, who, along with her husband, Travis Fromme, lives in Victoria but owns property in Port Aransas, which the couple visits every week. “We’ve sat here tonight seeing the exact same people we’ve seen for years,” she continued. “If Shorty’s went away, you’d lose a gathering space that all stripes of life come to. It’s a piece of history.”
In 1946, Mack and Gladys Fowler purchased the Port Aransas Club, a billiard hall and food stand at 823 Tarpon Street. Gladys, nicknamed “Shorty,” ran the cash-only business, and after she secured a beer and wine license, “everyone just started calling it Shorty’s,” according to Jimmy Gates, Fowler’s grandson.
Gates recalled fond memories of working at the pool hall as a child. “I started racking [billiard] balls here for my grandmother when I was in the third grade,” he said. “After school I’d walk to Shorty’s and stand on a Nehi soda box to rack the balls and talk with all the old fishermen.”
Hurricane Carla toppled the bar in 1961, but it was soon rebuilt and officially named Shorty’s Place. Fowler continued running the joint, tolerating neither fighting nor cussing, and she was known for her love of music and dancing, as well as her kindness.
After Fowler’s death, in May 1978, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times wrote, “Her reputation spread beyond Port Aransas and environs. She received mail from all over the world from merchant seamen who had hoisted a few at her place.”
Fowler’s daughter, Rose Smithey (“Miss Rose”), inherited the club, built an outdoor deck, and hired performers from all over the state, including Larry Joe Taylor, Patsy Jones, and Willie Nelson. (Shorty’s also shows up in song lyrics by Luke Olson and Gary P. Nunn.)
“It really is my great-grandmother’s legacy, but Miss Rose also brought people from all over the world to hang out here,” said J. W. George, Smithey’s grandson. George started bartending at Shorty’s in 1999 and usually headed outside after his shift to play music. After driving in from Bandera for the reopening, he pointed to a window that looks out on the deck and said, “Mamaw always drank Wild Vines Blackberry Merlot on ice. I can still see her looking out that window, giving me a thumbs-up while I sang.”
A few years before Smithey’s death in 2011, her daughter Joy George began running the bar before selling it to Myers in 2012. Myers acquired a liquor license and began accepting credit cards, but otherwise, his philosophy has been to “let Shorty’s be Shorty’s,” he said.
As the party continued throughout the hot, muggy August evening, dozens of people jockeyed for the indoor tables, chairs, and barstools; outside, dozens more mingled on the deck and at picnic tables scattered across a grassy courtyard, taking advantage of the coastal breeze. Everyone, it appeared, was happy to pick up the conversations left dangling last November.
“It kind of sucks that they had to move, but we’re so grateful they’re open again,” said Kris Claro, a longtime customer from Rockport. “It feels like the old Shorty’s, which I love.”
Moving forward, the bar’s roof needs some attention. And there’s no air-conditioning—but, then again, there never was. “If it was perfect, it wouldn’t be Shorty’s,” Myers said, dismissing the notion of installing air-conditioning. “But I think we’re going to be here an awful long time.”