Oldest dive bar, longest line (to steal a phrase).
Texas Hill Country is a thoroughly beautiful part of the country, rolling scenery interspersed with small towns that make for an amazing drive no matter the pace. The area is also well steeped in history, much of it preserved by existing outside of the kind of gentrification and rampant development that has claimed many a dive bar. Devil’s Backbone Tavern in Fischer may be the finest example of Texas Hill Country dive bar drinking, a dive bar cave atop one of Hill Country’s many ridges that earned its cultural institution status long ago.
Devil’s Backbone Tavern sits along a ridge named, you guessed it, Devil’s Backbone, the result of an earthquake some thirty million years ago. The Tavern that took its name showed up a few years later, opening in 1937 to take advantage of Hays County’s “dry” status coming to an end in 1936 (some conflicting reports list 1932 as the founding date). The arrival of the 1950s coincided with the arrival of a dancehall on the premises, one step in a long and storied connection between Devil’s Backbone Tavern and the live music still found there today.
Ownership and leasing agreements have shifted over the years, the reigns handed over as recently as 2018 to new ownership that executed a number of targeted renovations, including reopening the long-shuttered dancehall attached to the main building. The current owners of Devil’s Backbone Tavern have similarly renovated the bar’s web site and marketing efforts, going so far as to advertise availability for Dive Bar Weddings. Touted as the oldest dive bar in Texas, new ownership has certainly embraced the Devil’s Backbone past and has thankfully worked to only accentuate the dive bar’s appeal.
With all of that history out of the way, let it be said, Devil’s Backbone Tavern is an amazing dive bar, the kind of Texas dive bar that fits the very image those words bring to mind. Outside, along a semi-barren stretch of road tracing the Devil’s Backbone Ridge, the Tavern comes into view in the form of what looks to be a short, wide homestead. The large white sign over the door is inscribed with the name of the dive bar and its best feature “BEER,” a sign that can be seen in one state or another in some of the faded photographs associated with Devil’s Backbone Tavern. A large plastic, yellow sign complements the classic signage, illuminated at night and adorned with skeletons, a nod to the reportedly haunted nature of the dive bar.
Walking inside is like walking into a bank vault that happens to serve Lone Star, the curved ceiling and rock walls creating a subterranean effect. And this is no run-of-the-mill let’s staple a dollar bill here and there style dive bar. The dollar bills that adorn nearly every surface inside of Devil’s Backbone might as well double as wallpaper, the uncharacteristically uniform distribution of each dollar creating a mind binding optical effect. The space, accordingly, feels both suffocatingly small and immensely long, each dollar pointed further in the dive bar to keep the eye line moving.
And as that eye line moves, it hits vintage items like reportedly one of the oldest shuffleboards in Texas and a jukebox that can’t be too far behind when it comes to post-vinyl options. Everything is well illuminated by the Texas sun, by the vintage shuffleboard table, by the Christmas lights that dot the space, all of it creating that low dive bar glow that makes the beer taste better. The menu board behind the bar conjures up images of diner counter from the 1950s, beer prices tiered out in simple declarations of domestic, exotic and throwback options.
Long wood slats make for an appropriately Texas roadhouse-feeling floor, one that again shuffles the eye off to the many notable features inside Devil’s Backbone. An upright piano can be found near the rear of the bar a few feet away from an upright wooden coffin and associated skeleton (presumably playing up the haunted reputation once again). The stonework makes way briefly for a fireplace just next to the fireplace, over which a rock that has been said to resemble the devil himself is illuminated for dramatic effect.
The bar itself features a short set of stationary, swiveling stools that look and feel old enough to heighten the experience. Behind the bar, typical dive bar clutter has been replaced with a more reserved display of liquor bottles, notable due to the fairly recent addition of liquor to a drink selection that for most of Devil’s Backbone Tavern’s existence featured beer, beer and also beer. Though merchandise for Devil’s Backbone does make up a decent chunk of the décor behind the bar, framed photos and the odd bra can still be found to fulfill the dive bar requirement for random wall items.
Out back, the space has been extended over the years to include a large outdoor space with a wide selection of picnic table-style seating. Exterior bathrooms provide an outhouse-like experience, though certainly roomier than the classic outhouse style. String lights, a barbecue pit, a fire ring and the kinds of outdoor items you’d associate with a Texas Hill Country cookout can be found here, all targeted at expanding capacity during Texas evenings when the sun relents and this space sees the largest share of usage. And a commitment to live music has returned over the past few years as well, the space’s sprawling grounds providing ample opportunities for live music setups that now regularly roll through Devil’s Backbone Tavern.
While the space is impressive enough to warrant further description, Devil’s Backbone Tavern is a must-visit Texas Hill Country dive bar worth investigating on your own. Like drinking in some kind of Texas above-ground, subterranean dive bar cave, Devil’s Backbone Tavern has thankfully retained its historical ambiance and authentic roots through a few rounds of decades, owners and leasing agreements. Only the purest dive bar experience withstand the test of time and renovation, Devil’s Backbone Tavern one of the best examples and a Texas icon to be sure.