Before Murphy Bailey ever set foot in Henry’s Hideout, an 87-year-old honky-tonk just up the road from his hometown of Magnolia, 45 miles northwest of Houston, he had heard stories about it and Henry Phillips, who founded the joint and ran it until he died, in 1992.

“I heard he had a pet bear, Henry did,” Bailey, who is 38 and the proprietor of the newly renovated Hideout, said. “And you could go in there, pay a fee, and wrestle it. If you beat it, you won the pot that had accumulated from past losers. I’ve heard that one so many times, I mean, it’s got to have some truth.” The veracity of such tall tales was ultimately, for Bailey and the townsfolk, of little import. In the nineties, when Bailey was a child hearing the stories and the tiny town had fewer than one thousand residents, a good yarn helped pass the time, and Henry’s was a reliable fount of them.

Phillips opened the joint in 1937 in what had been a post office. He steadily added to the space, ultimately expanding it to 6,000 square feet, including a 2,500-square-foot dance hall, which he added in 1964. Folks came for the beer, the country music, the dancing, and the barbecue slathered with Phillips’s homemade sauce. (His recipe was a regular subject of speculation, but Phillips took his secret to the grave.) Over the years, Henry’s saw its share of notable acts—many old-timers claimed to Bailey that they saw Willie Nelson perform there, but no one could seem to agree on the specifics—but mostly it was a place for local talent to develop and earn a following, such as, more recently, Jesse Raub Jr., who was raised in Magnolia and regularly performed at Henry’s before its 2017 close. Raub Jr. has since written and performed songs with Sebastopol’s Cody Johnson.

But what made Henry’s Hideout unique among the state’s honky-tonks were the roughly 6,500 deer antlers nailed to the barroom ceiling, leading Phillips to call the Hideout “the horniest place in Texas.” The story goes that Phillips would give a free Lone Star to whoever brought in a rack. Bailey heard from others that the reward was a pint, or free cover. Henry’s became a regular spot for small-town folks to have some big-city fun.

“When I was a kid, seven, eight years old, Magnolia was a one-stoplight town. It was a destination location two months out of the year because it hosts the Texas Renaissance Festival in October and November. It was that and Henry’s Hideout. That was the only other thing out here,” Bailey said. “But, when I was a kid, it was like that forbidden place you couldn’t get into because it was a bar and pool hall. And it was always packed.”

Even if he was too young to get in, Bailey remembers that just about all the adults had stories to tell about Henry’s, including ones that carried significant implications for the kids listening. “It was often where grandparents or even parents would say they first met each other,” he said. So, in all likelihood, a measurable portion of Magnolia’s population, which today stands at more than 2,500, walks this green earth because of Henry’s Hideout, which would’ve undoubtedly brought a grin to Phillips’s face. (Bailey’s parents met in high school.)

After Phillips died, ownership passed to his nephew Billy Phillips, who leased the honky-tonk out to a series of managers over the next few decades. Henry’s Hideout fell on hard times and closed in 2017, seemingly for good. Grass and weeds grew tall. Someone broke in and stole a bison trophy that was mounted on a wall near the bar. Meanwhile, Bailey, who works in construction, kept driving past the Hideout, wondering. “I’d always had the dream to own a bar that has live music,” he said. Then a sign went up, posted by Billy Phillips, who was looking to lease again. Bailey reached out and toured the space. “It was in pretty rough shape. It needed a lot of work, but it was still doable.” He strung together some financing, signed the lease in June 2023, and got to work. Last month, Henry’s Hideout reopened.

The whiskey-barrel high-top tables are new additions, picked to blend in seamlessly with the old. Photograph by Josh Alvarez
The 2,500-square-foot dance floor dates back to 1964. Photograph by Josh Alvarez

For Bailey, it was more a restoration job than a construction project, and anything new, such as the drink rail that now lines the perimeter of the dance floor or the whiskey-barrel high-top tables, was made to look as old as the original parts. The antlers hanging down from the ceiling were cleaned but otherwise left untouched. There is no replacing Henry Phillips’s barbecue and his sauce, so Bailey opted to go in a completely different direction and instead sling pizza from a brick oven he had built just outside the barroom. He even replaced the stolen bison head with a new one he shipped in from out of state, which fooled at least one old-timer. “My wife and I were sitting at the bar the other the day visiting with some friends, and some guy was sitting there looking up at the bison, and he goes, ‘Yeah, that buffalo right there, Henry shot it himself and he had it mounted.’ ”

But the key component for Bailey is the music. He wants the Hideout to reclaim its place as a proving ground for local country artists who might not otherwise have an opportunity to perform. “It’s not fair to you not to be able to get a shake at the stick because you have a nine-to-five job and a family and you’re trying to put food on the table, you know?”

Pizza, beer, music, and dancing at Henry’s Hideout: those might be the ingredients for a new population growth spurt in Magnolia.