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Hays Free Press
Kyle, Texas
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November 3, 2010     Hays Free Press
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November 3, 2010
 

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HaysFreePress.com CLASSIFIEDS PUBLIC NOTICES SERVICE DIRECTORY November 3, 2010 Page 1D Before it burned last month, Club 21 looked the part of a rural dive but was iconic to surrouding communities, owing largely tO,tit !17 year hi~ as a gathering spot for farmboys and cow pokes. PHOTOS BY JEll BIUNDO ,'r" EDITOR'S NOTE: A landmark of the community for 117 years, Club 21 burned to the ground early Oct. 24 after being struck by a vehicle. The Texas Department of Public Safety is still looking for the driver, who apparently fled the scene after the collision. We thought we'd take a stroll down memory lane with this recycled story from 2007 when len Biundo profiled the venerable dancehaU and the people behind it. BY JENNIFER BIUNDO jen@haysfreepress.com s the new managers of Club 1, the Cowan family isn't lanning on making many changes. After all, when a business has been running smoothly since 1893, why fix what ain't broke? lust two families have owned the legendary honky tonk dance hail in downtown Uhland, where countless pairs of boots have spent more than a century two-stepping the dance floor smooth to country music tunes. This month, owners Barbara and William Ilse began leasing out Club 21 to Mike and Pat Cowan and their son Jason The Cowans might represent new management, but they're hardly new faces at Club 21 and they plan on keeping things the way they like it - unchanged. "We've been com- ing out here since about '67;' Mike Cowen said. "For the most part it's going to stay the same. We'll add a few more bands." As he spoke, the power flickered in the bar, and the lights dimmed for a moment before humming back to life. "Hey, Mike, that new fluorescent sign you hooked up ain't no good," a customer at the end of the bar yelled good-naturedly. Though the famed Gruene they moved the dumed thing from Hays County to over here so they could have their beer." William Ilse's mother, Martha Ilse, and her brother, Carl He- mann, purchased Club 21 from the previous owner Ben Garbrath in 1964. His father, August Gar- broth, constructed the front bar in 1893 and added the dance hall in 1912, The big wooden dance floor served double duty as a basketball court for the local school's Uhland Kangaroos. Evidently the Prohibition era didn't hurt the bar too badly. Old bar regulars told Ilse that when alcohol was outlawed throughout the nation, train cars full of Silver Fox beer would come into Kyle by freight train and be trucked into Uhiand. "They said it wasn't too damn good but it was the only thing we could get," Ilse said. "a family dance hall... where ladies are ladies.., and the menfolk better be gentlemen." -from a 1960s Club 21 advertisement Martha Isle ran Club 21 as "a family dance hall...where ladies are ladies... and the men folk better be gentlemen," as a 1960s Club 21 advertisement pro- claimed. Ilse helped his mother with the bar, and took over management in 1989. Through the years, they've hosted acts like Deryl Dodd, David Ball, Bob Wills and His Texas Play- boys, and a young Kevin Fowler, whom llse recalls showing up to the gig in a beat-up Winnebago. Like every club Dance Hall was constructed a few owner, they've also made their years earlier, W'flliam Ilse notes booking mistakes. that it was shut down for several "The Dixie Chicks wanted to years, making Club 21 the oldest play here," Ilse recalled. "I said continuously operating dance hall there is no way that three wine- in Texas. headed old girls from Ft. Worth Until about fiveyears ago, the dance hall also hada bowling alley where locals would gather five nights a week, and Uhland youngsters would earn a few coins setting up pins. "The bowling alley was out in the country, but they couldn't drink beer because the county was dry" Use said. "So the Germans, are ever gonna make it. That was one of my stupid moves. And once, my mother turned down George Strait and told him we didn't have any openings. I said 'Mama, who was that who called," and she said, 'I don't know, George-somebody with Ace in the Hole.'" In this tiny Hays County town where the population doesn't yet From left to right, Mike and Pat Cowan, W am Ilse and Jason Cowan pose for a shot behind the Club 21 bar. The long wooden bar was older than any dance hall patrons can remember, possibly d=tting back to the original 1890s construction. reach 500, Club 21 serves as an entertainment venue, but also as a community gathering space where young and old convene to have a few cold ones and catch up on local news. "Unless they're stopping for directions, I know every person coming through the doors on a weekday," Barbara Use said. "But every Saturday night there's some different people coming in finding out about the place." As Hays County grows and Austinites flock to new subdivi- sions east of Kyle and San Marcos, the bar is picking up some steam as well. "It's gotten a lot busier," Wdliam llse said. "There's a lot of different people coming in now. Years ago you had all the same people corn- hag in. All the farmers, they'd come in after five and sit here and drink four or five beers. Your people that were retired, they'd come in here a little earlier." Ilse recalled two retired San Marcos firemen, Flop Schmidt and Nolan W]sian, who were some of Club 2 l's most dedicated regulars. "Nolan, when he'd get a little beer in him, he'd say 'Let's have just one more,' and he'd be like that all night," Ilse said. "They came up in the Depression, in hard times. They were just old country boys and great people. It's just something you don't see anymore, people like that who are so down to earth. I really miss 'em." Ilse paused and added, "A lot of the old timers have passed away and gone. I think now we're becoming the old timers. I hate to even think about that. Yeah, this is anoldplace." Though Club 21 gave off a rural vibe, there were limits to how far patrons could go.