The Old Coupland Inn and Dance Hall is drawing from its roots while cementing its status as a Texas legend.
Story and photos by Chantal Rice
As any Central Texan worth her weight in brisket knows, Austin is teeming with legends. From storied music icons and fabled weirdos to historic architecture and extraordinary landscapes, the capital of the Lone Star State is brimming with grand locales and distinctive luminaries. But it’s one boot-scootin’ joint on the fringes of Central Texas—long treasured by some as a honky-tonk gem—that has been proving for more than a century what it truly means to be a Texas legend.
Welcome to Coupland, Texas, home of, well, not much. With a population of about 300, Coupland comprises 2 square miles of farmland in Southeast Williamson County. And though it’s only about 30 miles from downtown Austin, this tiny hamlet feels like a bucolic oasis from another time, a haven of history where visitors are welcomed with open arms, full hearts and heaping plates of barbecue.
Without question, the highlight of this community is the Old Coupland Inn and Dance Hall. A stately brick structure originally built in 1904, it once housed various drug stores and a medical practice, and adjoins a similar building erected in 1910 as the Coupland Tavern, which later accommodated a hardware shop, a newspaper and a grocery store. In the early 1990s, the owners converted the space again, renaming it the Coupland Dance Hall & Tavern, constructing a 7,000-square-foot dance hall and reigniting the classic barbecue enterprise that once drew throngs of Texans to Coupland. The property has even been the backdrop for music videos for Stevie Ray Vaughan, Kevin Fowler and Jerry Jeff Walker, and played host to TV and movie productions, including A Perfect World, Home Fries and the quintessential Texas opus, Lonesome Dove.
But it’s the Old Coupland Inn and Dance Hall’s new proprietor, Abbey Road—the longtime event manager and talent booker for celebrated institutions like Threadgill’s and Luckenbach, Texas, as well as a former on-air personality for Central Texas’ most beloved country-music-driven radio stations—who’s breathing new and energetic life into the heirloom establishment. After a serendipitous twist of fate enabled Road to purchase the venue last year, she employed some elbow grease and a whole lot of passion to repairing and maintaining the revered space, all the while re-establishing it as a legendary Texas hot spot.
“There are only so many dance halls and legacy venues in Texas,” Road says. “It’s like stepping back in time here. I believe there’s a chemistry between people when they come to Coupland. Maybe that’s because you have to put down your phone. You can’t be texting when you’re two-stepping!”
A SMOKY AFFAIR
The Old Coupland Inn and Dance Hall is open solely on the weekends, which makes it the ideal Friday-night-through-Sunday-morning honky-tonk destination. If you hop in the car Friday after work, you’ll arrive in Coupland within just half an hour. Or you can take time to shed the stressors of the week and embrace a country state of mind by heading first to East Austin and bopping along rarely traveled rural back roads lined with pastoral farmlands and lush countryside.
Upon arriving in Coupland, your first stop will be your last stop: the Old Coupland Inn and Dance Hall, so park the truck and stroll on into the onsite restaurant, where Road helms one of the largest barbecue pits in the area, grills steaks over an open mesquite fire and ensures every morsel is made in-house.
With help from Chef Jacob Martinez, a Threadgill’s alum, she dishes out an array of Texas favorites and barbecue specialties, including a drool-inducing appetizer of crispy and colossal brisket-stuffed jalapeño poppers, chicken-fried everything, Texas-sized shrimp, a stunning mesquite-smoked pulled-pork sandwich and cooked-to-your-idea-of-perfection rib-eye and sirloin steaks. Of course, you can’t go wrong with the one- to four-meat barbecue plates featuring brisket (with the most delectable bark, by the way), sausage, pork ribs and pulled pork, and served with “homemade tater salad,” New Orleans-style coleslaw, sweet baked beans and all the barbecue fixins, including what Road refers to as a to-die-for barbecue sauce that’s far from traditional, but sticky, somewhat sweet and lip-smackingly scrumptious. Wash it all down with a cold beer or cocktail, but save room for warm, freshly made cobbler served with homemade Coupland vanilla ice cream.
A TWO-STEP BACK IN TIME
After filling up on barbecue, mosey just a few feet into the dance hall for the evening’s live entertainment. Here, Road’s real expertise is on display. Local and nationally recognized musicians and bands regularly grace the stage, and it’s not uncommon to cross paths with such country-music powerhouses as Hal Ketchum, Shinyribs, Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis, Asleep at the Wheel and even the venerated Billy Joe Shaver. Rumor has it native Texan and Ms. Delta Dawn herself, Tanya Tucker, may make an appearance in the fall.
With ample space, the Texas-relic-bedecked dance hall never feels crowded, and the epic sound system rivals that of any well-loved Austin venue. The giant decades-old oak dance floor has some kind of magical allure that charms patrons into dancing the night away.
“This dance hall’s legacy is the dance floor,” Road says. “On Friday and Saturday nights, Coupland is a place where hardworking people come to drink cold beer and dance their boots off!”
After a night of barbecue, beer and two-stepping at the best live-music venue in the county, you’ll no doubt be longing for a comfy bed. Luckily, you don’t have to stumble far, as Road’s 1800s-inspired Wild West-brothel-style B&B is just steps—literally 24 stairs—away. And as Road says, there’s no shame in crawling. With seven uniquely decorated guest rooms, each with a queen-size bed, 1,500 square feet of shared living and dining space, charmingly squeaky wood floors and elevated ceilings adorned in classic tin tiles, the enchanting inn is certainly where honky-tonk dreams come true.•
Road has taken great pains to enliven the space with luxe fabrics, historic items, Texas flair and one-of-a-kind baubles. But she admits she’s not quite done tinkering.
“I want more cowbell,” she exclaims, “and velvet!”
Whether you’re in search of mouthwatering barbecue and a delightful inn to rest your weary head or are simply on the hunt for a good time at a legendary Texas venue, you’re sure to find a honky-tonk haven in the Old Coupland Inn and Dance Hall. So, as they say in Coupland, “Stay a little longer.”