If indeed Bandera is the “Cowboy Capital of the World,” then one of the key contributors to that reputation is Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar, touted as the oldest continuously operating honky-tonk in Texas.
A red door at 308 Main St., leads to a wooden stairway that takes fun-seekers down to the basement of the Bandera General Store and into another world – a mix of live country-western music, sawdust-strewn dance floor for serious boot-scootin’ and massive amounts of memorabilia. Built in 1921, the building housed The Fox Hole night club until the 1940s when it became the Silver Dollar. Singer-songwriter Arkey Juenke took over operation of the business in 1968 and began performing classic country with his Blue Cowboys band.
“Arkey left Fredericksburg after high school for Bandera, where he spent 10 years at Lost Valley Dude Ranch as a wrangler and entertainer before acquiring the Silver Dollar,” says Bandera native Vivian Schmidt, Arkey’s companion for 40 years. “His German heritage is very important. When Arkey made his first recordings, the producer felt Juenke was too hard to pronounce and suggested Blue because the songs he recorded that day were sad and blue.”
It’s not unusual to encounter Germans and other international visitors at the Silver Dollar, given its popularity as well as nearby dude ranches that beckon to those seeking a taste of cowboy culture. Locals, tourists from other states and Winter Texans add to the party atmosphere.
“The Silver Dollar’s décor is a collection of Arkey’s possessions acquired over 50 years as well as gifts and memorabilia from patrons and fans,” Schmidt says. “He even has his first Sears & Roebuck guitar on the wall. There’s a table from The Cabaret, another legendary Bandera club, that Hank Williams Sr., carved his name into. There’s a vintage wooden phone booth, a Dolly Parton-themed pinball machine and a jukebox that still plays 45-rpm records. Someone mentioned that Arkey should have a museum; I told them he does and that you’re in it! Arkey has changed very little through the years. It’s a true honky-tonk, and that’s how he likes it!”
Arkey, who still plays guitar on occasion with The Blue Cowboys, prefers traditional country from the era of Hank Williams Sr., Kitty Wells, Hank Thompson, Lefty Frizzell, George Jones and Ray Price. He’s also written more than 100 songs. His style of music and The Silver Dollar’s intimate atmosphere have combined to attract some of the biggest names in country music over the past half-century.
“Arkey saw Texas troubadour Ernest Tubb there before owning the place,” says Schmidt. “The late Johnny Bush played for Arkey many times. Willie Nelson stopped in and recorded with Arkey. Bruce and Charlie Robinson have performed on the bandstand as well as Robert Earl Keen, Jake Hooker and the late Fiddlin’ Frenchie Burke. We still have Darrell McCall, Justin Trevino and Rocky King who are crowd favorites…next to Arkey, of course!”
Other notable visitors have included Hank Williams Jr., and the Dallas Cowboys’ Troy Aikman as well as Warren Oates, Peter Fonda and Loretta Swit, the cast of the 1975 movie, “Race with the Devil,” that filmed a scene at the Silver Dollar. It also has served as a backdrop for videos, commercials and TV shows.
In recognition of his many contributions to the community, in 2005 Arkey was named the first inductee into the Bandera Music Hall of Fame. In 2018, he and his iconic Silver Dollar received the Texas Treasures Award for 50 years of continuous operation as well as special recognition from Governor Greg Abbott, the Texas Music Office and the Texas House of Representatives. The City of Bandera also designated Main Street (State Highway 16) as “Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar Highway.”
Arkey Blue and the Silver Dollar are legends – part of Bandera’s history and allure – that have stood the test of time, Schmidt says. Arkey’s, as it’s fondly known, continues to draw crowds looking for good country music, cold beer and a true Bandera/Texas experience. Altogether it’s honky-tonk heaven in the heart of Texas.
Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar
308 Main St.
Bandera, TX 78003
Bob lives near Camp Verde and frequently contributes to regional and national magazines. He’s also communications director for Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio, the world’s first theme park designed with special-needs individuals of all ages in mind.