A Dozen Dives: The Broken Spoke

12 places we’re drawn to in spite of ourselves. And sometimes in spite of themselves.
Day 5: The Broken Spoke
3201 S. Lamar Blvd. 442-6189, www.brokenspokeaustintx.com.
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Tuesday-Thursday. 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday-Saturday. Closed Sunday-Monday.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 04.13.12
The people behind me are talking about stuffed squirrels. Not for eating, for decoration. A down-on-his-luck guy does this long-legged march into the dining room and asks the waitress if they “have a good time here on Friday and Saturday nights.” Then he asks if they like Shiner Bock, then he shuffles back out the door.
It’s lunchtime on a Friday, way before the city’s oldest honky-tonk gets going with the live music and dancing and the real characters show up. Right now, it’s just us and iced tea and the guy who loaded “Bartender’s Blues” into the jukebox. This is where you picture George Jones having lunch. Irony has no place in this hall of wood paneling and neon signs, without which there would be no light.
Other places in Austin have been open since 1964, but few celebrate themselves with the Opry-like style of the Spoke. Hats and boots and guitars and framed pictures fill trophy cases in the goofy warren of side rooms. Here’s a signed picture of the Ernest Tubb from 1976. There’s a hat from George Strait and one from LBJ. One guitar is covered with the signatures of people who’ve played the low-ceilinged rectangular ballroom in the back: The Derailers, Freddy Fender, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Alvin Crow, Jerry Jeff Walker. And there’s the late Don Walser, the last act I saw here in the early ‘90s, when I still knew how to two-step, waltz and schottische.  There are dancing lessons most nights at 8 o’clock for an extra $8 on top of the $12 or so cover you’ll pay to hear the music.
What you’re eating: Chicken-fried steak ($10.75/$6.35 lunch), because you’ve heard so much about it over the years. But there’s nothing legendary about it. Just two hamburger-sized patties of pounded beef in a lazy, flapping duster of diner-style breading. Milk-and-flour gravy smothers everything, and there’s no getting around the fact that everything on the plate tastes the same. The roll, the steak, the mashed potatoes, the gravy. The steak’s the chewy one. In divine diner style, it comes with an iceberg salad with two tomato slices in a pool of Thousand Island. Saltines on the side.
What you’re drinking: Lone Star on draft. And only Lone Star on draft. Shiner Bock in a bottle, if you’re fancy.
Other options: Hamburgers, enchiladas, grilled steaks, barbecued brisket and sausage. The menu tops out at $14.95, but most of it’s less than $10.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)