Where else can you have a drink in a bank once robbed by Bonnie and Clyde while listening to a former college football player named Big Cat sing and having your ear talked off by the ex-coach of the Malawi national basketball team? In praise of the Gar Hole—and five other good-time gathering places worth a short detour.
There are no streetlights in Westminster, Texas. There isn’t a school or a city sewer system, either. On the narrow asphalt road that is the closest thing to a main drag, there’s mostly just a strip of four ramshackle, century-old buildings, which, in the dim light of dusk, could almost pass for the set of Rio Bravo.
This chalk outline of a town, north of McKinney and east of Anna (where residents technically get their mail), sprung to life in the 1860s. First known as Seven Points, the community blossomed on the skirts of a Methodist college and was renamed Westminster, after Westminster Abbey. But a spate of poor record-keeping and, ahem, embezzlement led the town to declare bankruptcy and disincorporate in 2005. The very next year, a twister tried to finish things off, and almost did.
But while this town of 861 intrepid souls still doesn’t have a tornado siren, among many other city-defining features, it now has the Gar Hole, a true roadhouse in every original sense of the word. Shortly before the pandemic, owner Claude “Spider” Webb turned three of those buildings—the one in the middle was a bank robbed by Bonnie and Clyde—into the bar of his Luckenbach dreams. (They’ve since expanded into a fourth building.)
On any given night, you’ll find Annette, a big-haired and even bigger-hearted bartender; Big Cat, an ex-college football player with an unexpectedly sweet singing voice; Adolfo, the chef behind the best chili burger you’ll ever have; and Webb, who knows everyone’s name and treats them all like family, even the guy who comes in nightly to quietly shuffle between the tables while wearing Crocs, dancing by himself to whatever Red Dirt country band is performing on the indoor stage.
It’s a frontier Cheers with a deep cast of regulars, whom Webb has dubbed the Gar Hooligans. “Some of ’em have Ph.D.s; some of ’em didn’t finish the seventh grade,” he says. “They drive up in SUVs, on Harleys. One lady rides up here on her lawnmower, and we’ve had a guy come up on a horse and hitch it to the railing out front.”
Webb traces the Gar Hole name and ethos back to the early 1970s, when he was a student at Austin College up in Sherman. He would go with his friends to water ski at Lake Texoma, and they’d pull their boat up to the same bait shop to buy beer. It was basically a shack filled with minnow buckets and a few old men playing dominoes, but Webb had discovered his Bali Ha’i. The bait shop was called the Gar Hole.
His sophomore year, he moved into a nearly century-old dorm that he describes as “Animal House on steroids.” He talked the guys across the hall into turning their room into a bunk room and his room into a party room. He went to Goodwill and bought orange shag carpet, hung blacklight posters, and greased the windows with WD-40 so girls could climb in without alerting the RA. He dubbed the room the Gar Hole.
Over the decades since, there has always been a Gar Hole, whether it was a man cave in his house while he was working as the athletic director for Melissa ISD or a little corner of his office in East Africa when he served as the coach for Malawi’s national basketball team in the ’90s. (“It sounds really impressive until you get there and you realize there’s not even a basketball in the country,” Webb says, laughing. “Have you ever seen the old Kevin Bacon movie where he goes to Africa to recruit players, The Air Up There? That’s exactly what it was. I was in a little pickup truck with portable basketball goals in the back, pulling up in villages, pulling out basketballs, and teaching ’em how to play.”)
Then, in November 2019, one of his best friends from college called. They’d had a dream of someday opening their own Gar Hole beer joint somewhere, and he said he had found the perfect spot in Collin County, an old biker bar. When Webb went to see it, it was boarded up and reminded him of the old bait shop. “This thing has potential,” he thought.
For most of his life, Webb had been an educator: a teacher, a coach, a youth minister. Most of his college buddies had gone on to become attorneys, heart surgeons, and bank presidents. Ten of them—plus some of their wives, Webb’s best friend from high school, one of his daughters and her husband, and the son of Panola County DA Danny Buck Davidson (of Bernie fame)—decided to pitch in some money, and they closed on the buildings in February 2020.
“We were the geniuses that opened the bar in the middle of a pandemic, so that was the first obstacle we had to overcome,” Webb says. “We opened in June, and then the government shut down every bar in the state. The entire first year was a mess. But people started getting vaccinated, and we gathered momentum, week after week. We’ll now draw 150 or so people every Friday and Saturday night, and they’re outside having a blast, listening to great music, eating good burgers.”
In many ways, the bar’s success can be credited to Webb’s lifelong scholarly pursuit of drinking establishments. He grew up in East Dallas, where, as a toddler, his dad would bring him along to beer joints and dive bars. Webb would be plied with Dr Peppers in a red leather booth while his father played pool at Willie’s Lounge near Tenison Park. His parents would go to the Longhorn Ballroom on Saturday nights, or they’d drive to Fort Worth to dance at Panther Hall. The sagest advice Webb’s father ever gave him was, “One of these days you have to find your own beer joint to hang out in.” So he did.
Webb walked into Adair’s at the age of 18 with a friend who introduced him to the owner, R.L. Adair. In short order, R.L. gave him the nickname Spider and hired him to tend bar. “All my buddies hung out there, so I fulfilled my dad’s wishes for me,” Webb says. “I call the Gar Hole the bastard child of Adair’s and Luckenbach.”
Adair’s had a famous hamburger, so Webb hired Adolfo to create one, too. Luckenbach had an outdoor beer garden, so Webb built one behind the former bank building with the top of an old metal grain silo serving as a canopy. On Wednesday and Thursday nights, he has live music inside, but on Friday and Saturday nights, bands take to the bigger stage outside. For their first anniversary, Webb hosted a celebration of Lois Adair (who ran Adair’s with R.L. until his death in 1987, then kept at it on her own until 2006). He got Jack Ingram to play the shindig, and former Eleven Hundred Springs frontman Matt Hillyer opened.
“It is unbelievable that this place even exists, because it’s in the fastest-growing area in North Texas,” Webb says. “But you literally drive off Highway 121 1 mile, and you feel like you’ve gone back 50 years in time.”
Or more like 100. That’s just part of what makes this one of the best little roadhouses in Texas. It feels like at any moment Bonnie Parker could stride through the back door and past the safe she once plundered to order a whiskey neat at the bar. Annette wouldn’t bat an eye. She’d simply smile and ask, “Which kind?”
Gar Hole, 106 Houston St., Anna, 469-301-6284. 1 hour from Dallas
A mimosa brunch with wagyu eggs Benedict and a side of tater tots probably isn’t your first thought when it comes to roadhouses, but it was chef Michael Scott’s. Several years ago, he was catering a Christmas party for a couple hundred people at a McMansion in Bartonville when a woman grabbed his arm. “You’ve got to meet Tim House,” she said. “He’s buying the old Bartonville Store.”
The iconic white clapboard Bartonville Store, in one form or another, has sat at the crossroads of Jeter and McMakin for more than 140 years. The Jeters, McMakins, and Bartons settled the area in the mid-1800s, banking on the promise of a natural spring and the fact that the land was situated at the halfway point between Denton and Grapevine, Justin and Lewisville.
Over the years, the town’s footprint has shrunk. To visitors, it may appear to be an odd, seemingly unzoned combination of sprawling suburban houses, horse paddocks, and patio and Jet Ski stores squeezed between the water towers of Lantana, Double Oak, and Argyle. But to Scott, who has a house here, it’s “6 square miles of paradise.”
So, after their introduction at the party, Scott wanted to know House’s plans for the historic landmark. “I go, ‘What are you gonna do?’ He goes, ‘Barbecue.’ I said, ‘Well, you have fun with that.’ And then I said, ‘What about a high-end meat shop? I’m the corporate executive chef and sales manager for the Hunt family. I run their wagyu beef business.’ ”
The iconic white clapboard Bartonville Store, in one form or another, has sat at the crossroads of Jeter and McMakin for more than 140 years. The Jeters, McMakins, and Bartons settled the area in the mid-1800s.
Scott had been working as the corporate executive chef at Northwood Country Club when he first met Caroline Rose Hunt about five years ago. He would host what he jokingly calls “millionaire date nights,” serving up prime cuts of beef in the wine room for members and their guests. One night, a member showed up with a female companion who happened to know a thing or two about steaks.
“The Hunts have been ranching for about 125 years,” Scott says. “Kenneth Braddock, their ranch manager, has been there 35 years. He ran a cow-calf operation using mostly Angus, some Brangus mix. And then they got into wagyu genetics about eight years ago.” Hunt was so impressed with Scott’s beef skills on the plate that she hired him to manage the product side of the new wagyu beef program for Rosewood Ranches. Their main product is F1 wagyu, a genetic blend of 50 percent wagyu and 50 percent Black Angus.
Braddock is responsible for raising 1,600 head of wagyu crosses on the 9,000 acres the Hunts maintain near Ennis, while Scott grades the beef every Monday and Friday at 4 am, running 80 head a week through two locations in Itasca and Fort Worth and selling it all over the world.
Scott’s circuitous career path started early, when he was growing up on a houseboat in Sausalito. He was washing dishes at 14, left home at 15, and trained with Yoshi Tome at Sushi Gen in Los Angeles at 17. Then he spent time in Shinjuku, Japan, with Tome’s master chef. From there, he leveraged his knowledge of wagyu and sushi to work his way through Sonoma and Napa before moving to Texas in 1995 to take a job at Lakewood Country Club, and then Northwood.
Pretty much the only thing he hadn’t done was open a bar. So, in 2019, Scott and House relaunched the Bartonville Store. Instead of selling the Dr Pepper and Fritos that House remembers buying there as a kid, Scott is serving up ranch water and smoked wagyu short ribs.
“Tim and I worked on a business plan, and then it all just morphed into what it is now,” Scott says. “It’s just been really cool. You know, people come in this place and they think they’re gonna get a fried bologna sandwich, and out comes a $90 wagyu tomahawk on a plate with burning sage. That’s kind of how that went.”
Inside the main entrance is Jeter’s Meat Shop, where Scott sells wagyu steaks and brats. He also offers chef experiences, private dinners, sushi classes, and wine and tequila dinners. Harkening back to his time in Japan, he has Cobb grills from South Africa that mimic Japanese barbecue, and he’s built a hibachi table on the patio where he can do lobster fried rice and wagyu steaks.
But in case you get the wrong impression, signs in the ladies’ room remind you that the place is on a septic system. Your steak might come on a paper plate. Your young waitress might be slow with your mimosas and margs. And your brunch entertainment, likely the award-winning Western swing crooner Dave Alexander, might be late to take the stage. But Alexander’s biggest fan, a single seventysomething woman sitting at the table next to you, with shampoo-and-set hair, custom gold cowboy boots, and a plate of wagyu steak and eggs, will be perfectly happy to wait.
The Bartonville Store, 96 McMakin Rd., Bartonville. 940-241-3301. 45 minutes from Dallas
When your name is Laura Bush and you’re not married to a man known simply by the West Texas pronunciation of his middle initial, a nickname is necessary. Laura “Spydie” Bush got hers from the three-wheeled Can-Am Spyder that she made sure to keep in her divorce. She felt she’d earned at least that after 23 years of marriage.
The biker life suited her. She enjoyed her newfound freedom and friends. But it brought tragedy, too. Her best friend was killed in a motorcycle accident, as was her brother Greg. He died in 2017, after he hit a black cow that had wandered onto a country road at night.
To honor his next birthday, Bush organized a memorial ride. Her plan was to lead friends and family to a restaurant in Walnut Springs where Greg had come for a steak dinner the night before his accident. They’d have a beer in his honor and then continue on to the Trinity River Distillery in Fort Worth, where Greg had done much of the boiler work and there was a barrel of Silver Star whiskey aging in his name.
The day turned out to be so hot that most everyone bailed on the ride, opting instead to head straight to the distillery. But Bush had heard that the restaurant owner had a property up for sale, and she wanted to talk to him about buying it. Since her divorce on the cusp of her 40th birthday, she had worked hard to rebuild her life, going from a part-time job as a volleyball coach with the Boys & Girls Club of Hood County to a corporate gig as a lifestyle director for a senior living facility. At one point she’d studied at the Culinary School of Fort Worth. But she knew she didn’t want to be stuck in the kitchen or behind a desk. Her boyfriend told her she should open a bar. She figured it was either that or run for Granbury City Council.
“I knew that I could not try to open a business and run a campaign at the same time,” the civic-minded Bush says. “One would fail miserably. So I backed out of running.”
The property she was initially interested in wasn’t available, but the landlord offered to show her the place next door, the former Rattlesnake Ballroom, which was available for rent. “It was also my brother’s birthday weekend,” Bush says. “He and I used to go to the Rattlesnake Ballroom all the time and listen to music.” She didn’t need more of a sign.
She opened the doors to the Rattlesnake Roadhouse in August 2018, and then, at the end of 2020, she bought three adjacent properties down the block and moved the bar. “This was a railroad town, and when the railroad left, people left,” Bush says. “Some buildings were destroyed by fire, some by tornado. So what you see standing today is all that has survived.”
She converted the northernmost building, a former abattoir, into the kitchen. The middle building was missing interior walls and a roof, but Bush saved the façade and finished out the rest, adding a second floor with a balcony, dance floor, stage, and pool room. For now, the theme seems to be mostly vintage pin-up posters, exposed plywood, and cable spool tables.
On a Tuesday night, the place starts filling up as soon as the doors open at 5 for Bush’s weekly steak night. Those in the know have reserved their fillets in advance. She buys a whole beef tenderloin, hand-cuts the fillets, and grills them to order. When they’re gone, they’re gone.
The crowd is about half cowboy hats, half trucker hats. But the vibe is so West-with-a-capital-dubya that it almost feels more Tombstone than Texas, with feathers in hatbands and fringe on jackets. Bush says there are more than 200 working ranches in the area, and it certainly looks that way.
The surprise is the dogs. A silver-haired couple has some kind of tiny terrier on a leash, and Bush’s daughter is holding a French bulldog named Mable. A guy wearing Cinch jeans and square-toed boots stands by the pool tables with a Spaniel over his shoulder. From Bush’s telling, she’s helped raise six figures or more for causes close to her heart: kids, vets, dogs. She sits on the board of the Bosque Animal Rescue Kennels (BARK), a no-kill shelter in Clifton, which helps explain the four-legged nature of the crowd.
Before the music starts—the internet radio station Texas Red Hot Radio is broadcasting live, with Lacey Ingram and Scotty Isaacs onstage—I head to the bar to get a drink, figuring the obvious choice is a Dos Equis from the large galvanized tub of ice in the center. The two bartenders, Jennifer and Jill, are clearly pros with no time to spare. They take dinner orders and sling drinks in a choreographed two-step that never slows. Then my idiot friends step up.
One asks for an Old Fashioned, and the other demands a “spicy margarita with fresh lime juice, not a mixer.” I look for the nearest biker to bounce them out the door, trying to act like I have no idea who these tone-deaf Dallasites are. But then Jill, hard to age in her dyed-black pigtail braids, looks at them with a smile and says, “Is ghost pepper tequila spicy enough for you? We only use fresh lime juice. And I’ll have to get Jennifer to make the Old Fashioned—she makes the best one.”
Without a word, Jennifer takes a glass, muddles some sugar and bitters in the bottom, adds ice, pours in some TX Whiskey, and tops it with a curl of orange peel and a Luxardo cherry. She’s at the opposite end of the bar, taking another steak order and popping the cap off another beer, before we can thank her.
Bush briefly emerges from the kitchen to touch tables. Dressed in chef reds, her brown hair in a thick braid down her back, she doesn’t look like a biker. But as she makes her way around the room, greeting regulars and petting dogs, she could easily pass for a cruise director.
She always knew she wanted the bar to be a music venue, but she also understood it was in the middle of nowhere. Early on, she went to a local bed and breakfast association meeting and presented an opportunity for the members to become lodging partners. She found a vet who drives canoe shuttles in Granbury during the day to run shuttles to and from the roadhouse at night. In addition to the biweekly live radio show, she’s booked honky-tonk legend Mark Chesnutt, and the Bellamy Brothers put on a show at the end of February. She’s even started getting calls from Nashville and around the country from bands looking to book gigs.
“It’s still growing, and it’s still building,” Bush says. “It’s been the wildest ride of my life.”
Rattlesnake Roadhouse, 4173 Third St., Walnut Springs. 817-269-0554. 1.5 hours from Dallas
Three More For the Road
Rockett Cafe & Club
The Rockett’s famous chicken-fried steak is alone worth the trip to Waxahachie. But behind the club’s Western saloon façade, you’ll find so much more. They host pool leagues and Texas Hold ’em during the week and live music on weekends. Ray Wylie Hubbard performs March 10. 5790 FM 813, Waxahachie. 972-617-8634.
Rick Fairless’ psychedelic motorhead nirvana takes up 2.5 acres off Harry Hines. There’s a retail store with custom bikes, mechanics to service your ride, a detail shop to make your hog sparkle, and an ice house supplying cold beer, fried chicken, and live rock and blues. 9304 Harry Hines Blvd. 214-357-0707.
If your emphasis is more on the house than the road, Waco’s new Czech-forward boutique hotel has what you need. Plus a restaurant with slivovitz flights and schnitzel, a Czech beer brewery, and a beer spa. That’s right: bathe in beer in a copper slipper tub. Beer flight and cheese board optional. 320 S. 8th St., Waco. 254-224-6271.
This story originally appeared in the March issue of D Magazine with the headline, “The Best Little Roadhouses in North Texas.” Write to [email protected].