Gruene won't change, and that's what makes it special
Nothing says you’re a quintessential Central Texan more than the proclamation that heaven is spending a long weekend in Gruene, the quaint village in New Braunfels that’s been, in the words of those who know it best, “gently resisting change” for the past 151 years. Gruene (pronounced: Green) is a place where a lifestyle and attitude is preserved as a snapshot of Lone Star State culture and history. Its 15 walkable acres are designated a National Historic District and have be-come a quick getaway favorite where folks can shop, dine, and dance within the walls of the original township buildings... or just take a load off at a spot where hustle and bustle are left behind and the best things about being a Texan are emphasized. Gruene’s events calendar is chockfull of happenings that will remind visitors what makes the place so special. Highlighting the best of Texas culture and flavor is the village’s specialty, for locals and newcomers alike. “When you visit Gruene, you really feel like you’re on vacation – even if you’re just a few minutes from home,” said Mary Jane Nalley, who’s known as the ‘Queen of Gruene.’ “Being a short drive from Austin, San Antonio and Houston, we are a popular staycation destination. The locals have always loved Gruene and enjoy doing their shopping, dining and having fun here just as much as the visitors do.” It seems that every doorway in Gruene leads visitors to something unforgettable. It’s a place for people who love good music, fun times, and old things.
Music is in the air and is the heartbeat of the town, with stages in multiple locations, free music daily and a list of coveted ticketed shows and special events. You’ll hear Blues and Country, Rock and Americana, all with a Texas flair. Nalley should know a bit about Gruene – she’s resided in the village for 42 years and is the Partner and CEO of the Pat Molak Corporation, the company that owns and operates the majority of the businesses and at-tractions in the Historical District. Among the corporation’s holdings are the venerable and iconic Gruene Hall and The Gristmill River Restaurant and Bar as well as Mozie’s Bar and Grill, Cantina Del Rio, The Grapevine, Cotton Eyed Joe’s & The Company Store and The Gruene Antique Company. Gruene was founded in 1845 as a bustling German cotton farming commu-nity on the banks of the Guadalupe River. A handful of buildings were erected to serve the community, among them Gruene Hall, which was constructed in 1878. The community thrived until it suffered a one-two punch of devastation from, first, a boll weevil infestation that decimated the area’s cot-ton crops, and later, the Great Depression that began in 1929 and left the area largely abandoned except for Gruene Hall, which stayed open through it all. In 1975, Pat Molak purchased Gruene Hall and did virtually nothing but clean up the 6,000-square foot, open-air structure. The wooden dance floor, side flaps, chicken wire screens, vintage advertisement signs, large beer garden, bar and stage have not changed and won’t be.In 1975, the town of Gruene was added to the National Register of Historic Places. That was about the same time that the Redneck Rock era of the Texas music scene began to gather steam. Texas music legends George Strait and Asleep at the Wheel were regular performers at Gruene Hall in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and people in Central Texas and beyond started buzzing about this “new” (old) dancehall that served up ice cold beer and great dance music. These days, people do more than dance – they flock to the Hall to hear the best songwriters, up and comers, and legends in a unique and intimate setting. “Gruene Hall and its music created the synergistic force that led to further development of restaurants, shops, river outfit-ters and accommodations over the years,” Nalley said. “Gruene Hall has become the place where people from all walks of life make lasting memories.”
A few highlights of a trip to Gruene
The Gruene Historic District is rife with shopping that ranges from antiques and outdoor gear to clothing, food items, and gifts. There are several unique dining spots in old cotton gins and other historic buildings that range from American, Mexican and Bar Food, all with casual service, so there is something for everyone. Gruene also plays host to Old Gruene Market Days, which is held the third weekend each month eleven months out of the year and features upwards of 100 artisans who offer uniquely crafted, handmade items. Two Ton’s Tuesday is a lively swing dance and music experience throughout the summer, and The Texas Clay Fest in October and Holidays in Gruene are major standouts. There are many other unique seasonal events throughout the year, which can be found on the village’s website: www.gruenetexas.com.
The restaurants here are a huge draw to the area, as well. The Gristmill River Restaurant & Bar sits high above the Guadalupe River and is the site of the area’s original 1878 cotton gin. Its brick, three-story boiler room is a central part of the modern-day restaurant and was all that remained after a fire destroyed the structure in 1922.Cantina del Rio is a Tex-Mex favorite and is just a few steps away from Gruene Hall, featuring margaritas that have been voted the Best of New Braunfels for 11 years (and counting). Mozie’s is located across the street from Gruene Hall and features a casual, “come-as-you-are” atmosphere serving American classics, delicious drinks and sports on all eight televisions. Based on their proxim-ity to Gruene Hall, all three of these restaurants are great choices for a meal before seeing a show at the Hall.
Visitors can stay and play in Gruene as well, with the Gruene Mansion Inn providing lodging along with a bit of Texas history. Formerly H.D. Gruene’s home and complimentary buildings, the unique boutique hotel offers 30 rooms and an easy rhythm just steps from Gruene Hall and multiple restaurants. What’s new in Gruene? While Gruene is famous for resisting change, some new things do pop up from time to time. Gruene Boot Company recently opened as a companion store to Gruene Hat Company because what’s a hat without a pair of boots. There is live music in Gruene Hall every day of the week, and the venue showcases local and regional talent as well as nationally recognized musicians. Cantina del Rio Restaurant has freshened their facility and added a Quesadilla and Guac Burger to the menu this spring. Rockin’ R River Rides has some onsite food and drink offerings now as well as some special fam-ily activities. The Gruene Mansion Inn recently opened “The Pantry” and offers grab-n-go breakfast items and lighter fare for takeout. The Grapevine is adding six more craft beer selections on tap and takeout charcuterie and lite snacks. And Cotton Eyed Joe’s has a new line of Hooey Hats this spring. Gruene’s popularity as a quick and fun getaway was only enhanced by the pandemic, when people stopped flying and turned to destinations and staycations that are nearby, fun and safe. “Just like everyone else, the pandemic forced us to alter the way we did things,” Nalley explained. “We were able to ‘keep on keeping on’ and continued delivering the food, shopping and entertainment that brings comfort and joy to our visitors, even in times of uncertainty.”