[Retro Roadmap] Seating Thousands (10 at a Time) at Texas Tavern in Roanoke, Va.

Posted on: October 10th, 2013 by Beth Lennon 10 Comments

The Texas Tavern lighting up the late night streetscape of downtown Roanoke, Va. Credit: nickgraywfu, Flickr
The Texas Tavern lighting up the late night streetscape of downtown Roanoke, Va.

While some counter service restaurants hold true to the lunch counter name by serving that meal and perhaps breakfast, the Texas Tavern in Roanoke Virginia is a neon beacon for the hungry 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Neither in Texas nor a tavern, this sliver-sized restaurant is a local landmark, serving up its world-famous chili and classic short-order fare since 1930. With seats in this narrow eatery numbering less than a dozen, they still claim to "seat 1,000 people" -- just 10 at a time!

There’s a place for everyone at the Texas Tavern Counter. Credit: Beth Lennon, RetroRoadmap.com
There’s a place for everyone at the Texas Tavern Counter.

Easily one of the most photographed buildings in downtown Roanoke, the neon glow bounces off of the bright white wall of the adjacent building, adding drama to the nighttime view. The vintage arrow-shaped “EAT” sign makes it patently obvious what you should plan on doing when you find your space at the counter.

The succinct menu surrounded by years of ephemera and wisdom, such as: "We don’t Cash Checks or play with Bumble Bees." Credit: Beth Lennon, RetroRoadmap.com
The succinct menu is surrounded by years of ephemera and wisdom, such as: "We don’t Cash Checks or play with Bumble Bees."

The chili served at the "TT" (as locals call it) is based on a recipe that founder Nick Bullington modified from one he procured when traveling for Ringling Bros. Circus in San Antonio, Texas, in the 1920s. To this day the recipe is a guarded secret, passed down to now the fourth generation of family ownership, great-grandson Matt Bullington.

The Texas Tavern’s metal counter has worn to a glowing patina from generations of use. Credit: Eammon, Flickr; Beth Lennon, RetroRoadmap.com
The Texas Tavern’s metal counter has worn to a glowing patina from generations of use.

As you look at the menu posted on the wall you may overhear regulars ordering their food -- but with a Texas Tavern twist. You can try it, too:

  • Want onions on your chili? Ask for a "bowl, with."
  • Actually, want onions on anything? Just say "With."
  • Order a “Cheesy Western” and get a cheeseburger topped with a fried egg and their famous relish.

Even the coffee is a local delight, as the H & C Coffee served has been specially ground for the tavern for over 80 years.

Want onions on your hot dog -- or anything? Just say "With." Credit: Beth Lennon, RetroRoadmap.com
Want onions on your hot dog -- or anything? Just say "With."

The compact building and cozy seating at the counter immediately eliminates the distance between diners, and soon late night regulars in for a post-revelry meal are chatting with weary travelers looking for sustenance before returning to the road. Rubbing elbows at the counter is a wonderful way of getting a taste of local flavor. With.

Visit Texas Tavern

Texas Tavern
114 Church Ave SW
Roanoke, VA 24011
540-342-4825

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Beth Lennon

Beth Lennon is the creator of the website RetroRoadmap.com. As "Mod Betty," she delights as the retro travel "hostess with the mostess," scouting out cool vintage places and sharing them with the world.

Pop Culture, Travel

10 Responses

  1. Cliff

    October 10, 2013

    Love that place! Great write-up & really excellent photos! I will take mine “with” please. ;-)

  2. bob sossamon

    October 10, 2013

    What a unique diner! Just love the style and the location. I will be going that way soon and will definitely stop there.

  3. Lizzie

    October 11, 2013

    My kind of place. Now I have a good reason to drive up to Roanoke!

  4. Drew

    October 13, 2013

    I’ve loved this place since I first started going there after rock shows about 25 years ago. I’ve been gone from the area for about 20 years now, but took my wife and kids there for the first time this summer while we were on vacation. Our extended family far exceeded the seating capacity but it was a blast. My kids loved it when I asked for ketchup and the counter man said, “here’s your sissy-sauce.” The flavor is definitely local but the experience transcends generations.

  5. neanderpaul

    October 14, 2013

    I’ve been eating here since I was a little boy. I take my little girls there now. Great food and quite the experience. There are many reasons why this place has been in business for so many decades! Long live the Texas Tavern!

  6. Anna Borg

    October 14, 2013

    I wish I had explored Virginia more when we lived there. This looks right up my alley! Thanks for the write up! I would definitely order “with”!

  7. Bob

    October 18, 2013

    Great to know that place is still there, I ate there once or once while doing a special project for a bank across the street from the Patrick Henry hotel almost two decades ago. Anything ‘with’.

  8. Terry

    October 18, 2013

    Gee, I love the *T*Room in Lynchburg. Didn’t know there was one in Roanoke too.

  9. Tom

    October 22, 2013

    Great article. I used to work at the Texas Tavern in the early eighties. Terry was lucky when he asked for ketchup and they had it. The rule back then was that the sissy-sauce wasn’t allowed in the building. I’ve lived away from Roanoke since ’85 but I go to the tavern every time I’m back to visit. Two plain and a bowl with.

  10. Matt M.

    October 22, 2013

    In my top 7 favorite places and I’m a Yankee :) . Some great memories of the TT from 1979-1883. A wonderful place.