Let’s face it. No one ever would have said “Keep Austin Weird” if Threadgill’s hadn’t made it weird in the first place.
When bootlegger and country music lover Kenneth Threadgill opened his Gulf filling station just north of the Austin city limits in 1933, he had more on his mind than just pumping gas. After all, just months before he had stood in line all night to be the first person to own a beer license in the county. And soon after, his joint would become a favorite for traveling musicians interested in grabbing a drink after their gigs.
The quintessential beer joint continued to flourish into the sixties, and changed with the social climate of the era by inviting the folkies, hippies and beatniks to his Wednesday night singing sessions with open arms. Threadgill’s love for people and music smoothed out the conflicts that usually occurred when longhairs crossed paths rednecks, and because of this, a new culture tolerance emanated from the tavern, which had a profound effect upon its patrons and the music that came from it.
Not to mention it was here that Janis Joplin developed her brassy style that would propel her to become the first female rock and roll superstar.
After nearly succumbing to the wrecking ball, the original Threadgill’s site was saved by legendary Austin City Councilman Lowell Lebermann Jr., and purchased by Eddie Wilson, owner of the Armadillo World Headquarters. Wilson’s idea, however, was to make Threadgill’s a Southern style restaurant, based on the success of the menu that he offered at his kitchen at the Armadillo. So, on New Year’s Eve 1980, the Armadillo closed, and on New Year’s Eve 1981, Threadgill’s opened as a restaurant. It was an instant success.
In 1996, Threadgill’s World Headquarters was opened in south Austin, right beside the residence of the Armadillo Headquarters. Wilson has made a distinction between the two locations: the original location on North Lamar has the theme of Austin between the 1930’s and the 1960’s. The south location celebrates the history of the Armadillo and its salad days of the 1970’s. The memorabilia of the Headquarters represents the hey-day of this era from the juke box which contains many of the artists who played the Armadillo, to the piano that hangs from the ceiling which has been played by artists as diverse as Jerry Lee Lewis to Captain Beefheart.