Everything a perfect Texas roadhouse dive bar should be.
The address may read San Antonio, but Texas roadhouse and classic Hill Country dive bar Hanging Tree Saloon belongs to Bracken, Texas. You’d be forgiven for not knowing exactly where to find the tiny community, but a few miles northeast of San Antonio’s urban core, things start to get pretty rural pretty quickly, the city’s suburbs quickly giving way to small Texas Hill Country communities like Bracken and so many others. Hanging Tree Saloon is exactly the kind of dive bar you would hope to find in such a place, historical roots and a focus on the locals and regulars that keep the doors open.
Hanging Tree Saloon is far from the building’s first tenant, a structure erected in 1915 as a two-lane bowling alley. Over time, the footprint grew with a pair of renovations, the building’s life as a nine-pin bowling hub ended in 1978. After sitting dormant for a decade, the space was reclaimed in 1989 and opened as the San Antonio dive bar found there today. Walking into the space for the first time brings all of that history to life in an instant, the all-wood interior bearing the color and wear that comes with over a century of semi-consistent use.
The path inside runs through a wide front porch that looks like a Texas dive bar movie set brought to life. The name of the bar is carved into a pair of ancient-looking pieces of wood hanging from the porch on either side of the dive bar’s front door. And that front door is actually more a swinging set of saloon-style doors that make for a very satisfying Texas dive bar entry. Seating along the porch is varied and looks as old as the structure itself, all of it providing home to spillover crowds and outdoor smokers.
Inside, the bones of the old bowling layout are apparent, a small raised stage at one end of a long front room where the pins once sat. This front room feels cavernous, the entire length of the structure open under a flat, black ceiling marked with stapled dollar bills at irregular intervals. These dollar bills have been placed in what feels like random patterns throughout the dive bar, heavier concentrations focused on areas near the bar. These ceiling dollars start to creep into other surfaces, including the pillars that rise from the bar itself, heavy concentrations of stapled bills found here.
A long bar runs nearly the length of this first room, a handful of stools available on either side of a serving area. Beer and wine are the only available options here with a special emphasis on domestic canned beer (naturally). The surface of the bar itself looks to have been refinished a time or two, but the years can be clearly seen in the wood along the bar back, especially the cabinets that may not be original but certainly look the part. For a space filled with stapled dollar bills, the bar back is relatively uncluttered, a cash register, a selection of available beer varieties and a toaster oven (for a few available basics) the only real landmarks here.
Table and chair options run the full spectrum of folding card tables to round and rectangle standard varieties. Pool tables bookend the space, one on each end, and a long shuffleboard table under a pair of vintage Miller Lite pool lights can be found tucked next to the front door. The wall behind the shuffleboard table is reserved for framed photos, many of them autographed by country artists who passed through Hanging Tree Saloon. Wall space throughout the Texas Hill Country dive bar is dotted with additional framed and aging photos, a handful of beer signs, a few carved wooden pieces unique to the bar and yes, more stapled dollar bills here and there.
With a great community dive bar comes a string of weekly rituals, Hanging Tree Saloon serving up drink specials throughout the week in addition to karaoke, shuffleboard tournaments, dart leagues and even free chili dog night. A few local awards and plaques can be found on one end of the bar, another nod to community. Gaming machines can be found in a couple of pockets, one such pocket at the end of the bar and another next to a vintage jukebox that is CD-based and carries all of the country hits a Texas roadhouse jukebox should stock. One other small gaming pocket can be found around the corner from the end of the bar in a small little alcove that also features the dive bar’s cigarette machine.
Simply put, Hanging Tree Saloon is everything a Texas Hill Country dive bar or roadhouse should be. The ancient all-wooden structure, the focus on the local Bracken community, the carved wooden signage throughout and the relentless march of dollar bills across every staple-ready surface make for what feels like a truly Texan dive bar experience. That such an experience could be topped off with a free chili dog once in awhile only adds to the appeal of a place that needs no additional calling cards.