BEER, HISTORY AND OOMPAH MUSIC MAKE SCHOLZ AN AUSTIN CLASSIC
May 20, 2004
Change is in the air. Friends are breaking out of long-term relationships. Other friends are getting back together. The fabulous Susan is moving to Illinois for a fabulous post-doc and will no longer be around for girls nights and after-hours merriment. My housemate (and friend) of three years is moving in with her boyfriend, and I’m about to start the grown-up stage of living alone. I heard Mercury was in retrograde; maybe that explains it (or so I’m told by people who know about such things). In any case, with so much change swirling about, it was good to have a beer this week in a place that’s been around almost as long as Austin itself: official historic landmark Scholz Garten.
Scholz’s is an old-fashioned beer garden. Opened at the end of the Civil War in 1866 by August Scholz, it’s an enormous place, able to cater to parties of as many as 700 people (500 outside, 200 inside). Outside, more than 25 picnic tables seat guests — some of whom share tables when the place is crowded, just like in a German beer garden.
Inside are three separate dining/drinking areas — the wood-heavy main room with the bar, the larger north dining room, and a third room downstairs between the beer garden and front. Neon beer signs from Schlitz to Budweiser, old newspaper clippings and posters decorate the walls. Food ranges from roasted chicken (an occasional special) to jagerschnitzel. Scholz’s was leased about eight years ago to Green Mesquite BBQ, though it’s owned by the Saengerrunde folks, and Green Mesquite brought in barbecue.
And of course there’s beer. German brews from Lowenbrau to Spaten are on draft, along with various and sundry others from Fat Tire to Live Oak and Guinness. Those looking for a Bud or Miller or Red Stripe can find those and others in bottles. All can be drunk in any of the rooms, but are most especially enjoyed outdoors, where patrons can sit and stare at the stage with its backdrop depicting an Alpine scene. On Thursdays in spring and for a short while in the fall, a German oompah band plays. A polka band was recently added to Monday nights — and on a Monday, if you’re lucky, you might even see a couple dancing with vigorous hops and twirls.
Scholz’s, being so close to the University of Texas, is particularly popular (like body-to-body popular) before Longhorn football games — or any UT sporting event. Or so I’ve heard: Despite my two-year stint at the flagship institution, I never went to any sporting event, and so missed the pregame madness. But those without tickets can watch games — Scholz’s has more than a dozen televisions tuned to various sporting events — and sometimes CNN. As it’s also so near the various government buildings and the Capitol, Scholz’s hosts legions of politicos. LBJ drank there, most Texas governors have eaten there, the state constitution was rewritten there and it’s a safe bet that during lunch or just after work, you’ll find suits hanging out and wrangling and hammering out details. The bar has a long history of hosting liberals — most recently the Deaniacs gathered during Howard Dean’s ill-fated campaign — though it’s been known to allow in Republicans, too (in 2002 the Travis Country Republican Party launched the campaign season at Scholz’s). The bar also was a character in a book: “The Gay Place, ” former LBJ staffer Billy Lee Brammer’s fictionalization of Texas politics, politics that sometimes took over the garden.
Change, they say, is a good thing. Or at least a necessary thing. Or, at the very least, something you can ponder at Scholz’s, where the Austinites hanging out there may have changed over time, the menu and the folks in charge may have changed too, but the bar itself, in its various permutations, has existed for more than 100 years.
For some Scholz History, check out these stories from the Statesman archive:
May 31, 1996
Scholz Garten’s assets sold off; Owner of Green Mesquite plans to renovate and reopen watering hole in July
Tom Davis bought up the rest of Scholz Garten lock, stock and beer keg Thursday when he outbid the field at an auction to pay off the local landmark’s debt to the IRS.
Davis, owner of The Green Mesquite BBQ & More restaurants, paid $1,400 for Scholz‘s hard assets, from the beer cooler to the barbecue pits to the picnic tables, and another $850 for the unopened beer and wine stock.
Davis acquired the lease on the legendary watering hole earlier this year and was scheduled to take over operations Saturday. The building is owned by Austin Saengerrunde, a local German singing group.
“What I did was protect the contents and the building until we get in here Saturday, ” Davis said.
The auction raised $2,310, which will go to pay off the Internal Revenue Service’s $9,700 tax lien against both Scholz and the family of the late Larry Bales, former manager of the bar and restaurant. The lien stems from unpaid 1995 income taxes.
Scholz will close for a month while Davis renovates the inside of the building. When it reopens in early July, he added, patrons will find “clean bathrooms, decent plumbing, better service and good food.”
Davis insisted that he will not lose the laid-back atmosphere that for 130 years made Scholz a popular meeting place for Austinites, university students and legislators. But he added that when Scholz-lovers return, “they’re going to notice a big difference.”
An Austin without Scholz Garten would be like an Austin without the Capitol.That is why aficionados of the venerable political watering hole — generations of them — should be pleased that the institution’s new handler is a Scholz historian.
Love for Scholz Garten
March 31, 1996
Come May, the Larry Bales family is relinquishing the lease to the institution, established in 1860 by August Scholz, to Tom Davis. Green Mesquite barbecue was successfully steered by Davis from one local eatery in 1980 into three today. Davis’ background and his affection for Scholz would seem to make him the right man, in the right place, to recall and restore the best of Scholz traditions while sprucing up the building’s interior and modernizing its kitchen and bathrooms.
The Bales family has served oceans of beer accompanied by miles-high platters of bean and cheese-swathed tortilla chips adorned with dark green circles of jalapenos over 30 decades to many a University of Texas student, many a youth league coach and many a politician and campaign follower. Now they are passing on the mantle of responsibility for one of Austin’s most treasured traditions.
The tradition is made up of intangibles. It consists of more than the building and the food, which have seen their upticks and their downturns. It consists of blooming and booming camaraderie beneath the trees in the garten. It exists in the ghosts that haunt the place, the ghosts of Legislative sessions past and future. It is reflected in the sloping wooden floors, worn-down and replaced as cowboy boots, tennis shoes, tassled loafers and high heels have walked across them. It consists of millions of hours of conversations, of promises made, kept and unkept. Political promises. Relationship promises.
That’s the way UT and Legislative alums remember it. But for the Bales family, and the Davis family by May, restaurateuring is hard work and unforgiving. Mistakes show up quickly.
Those who want to see Scholz‘s future unlimited — and who doesn’t? — would be well-advised to stop by Scholz‘s in the coming weeks. It would be a good time to wish the Bales family well and to wish the Davis family luck.