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Texas Tavern by Craig Simonds

        Texas Tavern is a smaller diner-esque restaurant located on Church Street in downtown Roanoke.  Texas Tavern, known locally as “TT”, is directly next to Macado’s downtown location.  Texas Tavern is an 87-year-old restaurant, and a local landmark.  In Roanoke, you would be hard-pressed to find somebody who hasn’t dined at TT’s.  

        Texas Tavern is a small, ten-stool diner.  It is a rectangular building with a small parking lot directly next to it.  The exterior is brick and painted white.  Along the top of the building there is an orange-red neon light that runs up half the side, and around the front.  Attached to the top of the building, there is a large sign in the shape of an arrow that says “Eat.”  The exterior lines of the sign are lined with blue neon tubing, and the word “Eat” itself is in orange neon lettering.  Along the side of the building next to it, above the restaurant itself, “Texas Tavern” is written in italicized red letters, and underneath in black lettering it says, “Established 1938.”  
        With the exception of the neon lighting, everything about Texas Tavern is understated.  The interior is small.  The counter is metal, and the bar stools are toped with red cushions.  In many ways, Texas Tavern is a throwback to simple diners.  Texas Tavern doesn’t seem to have changed much in its long history.  There is a working cigarette machine and an outdated ATM that line the wall behind the stools.  The menu items are listed on typical diner boards behind the counter.  However, Texas Tavern isn’t unaware of their iconic status in Roanoke.  TT sells merchandise such as bumper/ back window stickers with its name printed on them, various prints by local artists that feature the restaurant, t-shirts, and other items.  

        Texas Tavern is popular in Roanoke for many reasons, one of which is the distinctive way in which patrons order their food.  In most diners, the patron orders directly from the menu, and then the staff uses the shorthand language to inform the cooks.  At Texas Tavern they cook directly in front of you, and you order from the cooks which has resulted in the patrons often using the shorthand lingo as well.   You often see experienced TT customers explaining to newcomers the proper way to order, and telling them exactly what that particular order entails.  It is funny in a way, and appears almost like the people doing the explaining fear judgment or risk being ostracized if their friend orders incorrectly or asks the staff about particular food items.  I can say I personally have explained, and had the procedure explained to me, and laughed when friends of mine have ordered incorrectly.  For example, one of their most famous items is called a “Cheesy Western”, which is a cheeseburger with a fried egg, pickles, and relish.  To order it with everything you say, “Cheesy with”, to order just the cheeseburger with the fried egg, “Cheesy without”, and if you want something in between its, “Cheesy no ....” and then you say what you don’t want on it.

        Texas Tavern has standard fare; their most famous items are their hamburgers, hot dogs, Cheesy Westerns, and chili.  It is very inexpensive, but a cash only business.  Texas Tavern is open 24 hours a day.  The crowd ebbs and flows through the day, and draws what is probably the most eclectic and diverse crowd of any place in Roanoke.  TT is also locally famous as a place to get late night food.  It is not uncommon to see the restaurant standing room only, or even have lines out the door around the time the bars close.  The atmosphere of Texas Tavern is widely variable.  One of the reasons people go there is to experience the strange, wonderful, and often slightly chaotic scene that is the late night crowd at Texas Tavern.  If there aren’t many people in the restaurant, the workers will often chat with the patrons, though generally you as the customer will have to start the conversation.  

        Texas Tavern is a locally iconic gathering place, or point of reference for people who live in and around Roanoke.  Roanokers’ list it as a “must go” place you need to visit.  Like the Mill Mountain Star, Texas Tavern is part of Roanoke’s identity; a place so ingrained in the culture and collective experience of the citizens that it is part of the towns DNA.