Hunter—Smack dab between San Marcos and New Braunfels is an oasis situated between two railroads tracks in the tiny town of Hunter, Texas.
Hidden between the trees is a watering hole with one heck of a story.
“You’re not going to find a more authentic bar,” said bartender, Cody Hilder.
“I call it a Hill country gem. It’s what I’d call it,” said customer, Larry Jones.
“It’s a whole mess of things to come together that make it a happy place,” said Joel Hofmann.
Joel is a 4th generation Texan and the owner of Riley’s Tavern. It’s the oldest business in these parts, housed in a building built in 1895, and holds a very distinguished historical designation.
“It’s the oldest tavern in Texas,” said Cody.
“Well, it’s a sense of pride for me, especially being a Texan,” confessed Joel.
In August of 1933, when Texans repealed prohibition and popped a top, Riley’s Tavern took home the very first license issued by the state of Texas—Number 00001.
“Yes, there are bars…that were open prior to prohibition that reopened or… turned into a social hall… [or] dance hall…that didn’t serve at that time. But the designation of the first after prohibition still stands because it’s the first license that was issued,” said Joel.
A young J.C. Riley drove to Austin with his uncle to get the license.
“He wasn’t really supposed to get the license, his uncle kind of got it for him because he was 17 years old. And so he managed the place under his uncle’s ability to get the license for it,” continued Joel. “We always have that crazy uncle that lets us do that kind of stuff.”
Riley owned the Tavern for 58 years until he took to the big bar in the sky in 1992.
Joel took over in 2004 at the age of 25.
“I’m the third owner, the second longest tenure,” he said.
“They’re great people and they’ve really done Riley’s, justice,” said customer, Larry.
“It feels the same way it would’ve if you walked into it 20 years ago, 30 years ago, 40 years ago, even 85 years ago,” claimed Cody.
“It’s a great feeling when you can make people happy and enjoy just a few minutes of their day by coming here and unwinding a little bit,” said Joel.
Being a former musician, Joel wanted to make sure the tavern stayed true to its roots and constantly brings in bands to perform in the perfect Texas setting.
“That is our main goal…to get a lot of music many nights of the week as we can…Supporting them, giving those folks a place to play, a place to make money, a place to get their music heard, is a big deal,” he explained.
“Joel does a really good job at keeping it real American roots music,” said Cody.
“Keeping the tradition going and that’s a good thing,” confirmed Larry.
“We try to support music, good music, local music…touring music, honky-tonk music, you know music that has roots, bluegrass and blues and soulful music. Not what you turn on the FM radio music any longer. That’s a…source of pride,” said Joel.
But there can be a bit of a conundrum considering where the saloon is situated in between the train tracks.
“Yeah, it’s no big deal. Walk outside, oh the train’s there. I’ll go back and have another beer,” said Larry.
“I’ve heard bands play along with the train whistle when they play outside, just just added into the song and so that’s really cool,” explained Cody.
What really down home about Riley’s is its old school Texas feel. A simple Lone Star State lounge with live music, cold beer, and national historic register sign.
“You can actually check out some real Texas history here,” said Joel.
“It’s the kind of bar a bar would go to,” commented Cody.
“If you’re a true Texan, this is true Texas here,” said Larry.