She was little, and so was the club she owned and operated on north Burnett Road in Austin. But the impact this little spot and little woman had on Austin’s music community is the stuff of legend. From launching the Chicken $hit Bingo legacy in earnest, to being a proving ground for dozens of artists, and a destination spot for hundreds of true country music fans, Miss Ginny took a tiny and run-down church-looking building barely big enough for a dance floor, and turned it into a country music Mecca.
Originally opened nearly 60 years ago as Dick’s Little Longhorn Saloon, Dick hired Ginny Kalmbach as a waitress a few years later. Ginny became close with both Dick and his wife, who both would ultimately die of Cancer. To Ginny’s surprise, when Dick died in 1982, he bequeathed the bar to her, and Dick’s Little Longhorn Saloon became Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon.
Ginny, who had grown up on classic country music, chose to make her incarnation of the bar into a live music venue, despite the extremely cramped quarters. Instead of prohibiting the congregation of country fans, the small space became a legend in its own right, and an Austin honky tonk fixture in line with The Broken Spoke and Continental Club.
There was barely any room, but nobody cared. That was the charm, and it became the regular haunt of Austin regulars such as Dale Watson, Jim Stringer, Roger Wallace, Justin Trevino, and others, while touring bands craved a spot on the tiny stage, with Ginny working double time serving drinks and welcoming customers.
The spot also launched Dale Watson’s now legendary Chicken $hit Bingo. Started in 2000 as a Sunday promotion, the event took on a life of its own, as patrons munched on free hot dogs, and paid for squares like on a bingo board, and wherever said chicken did his business, a winner was crowned.
Eventually Dale Watson bought a stake in Ginny’s and made it his regular Sunday haunt. But he sold his portion off in 2016 as the establishment became more of a family business, and Dale Watson’s version Chicken $hit Bingo moved to different locations over the years, (currently being held at Hernado’s Hide-A-Way in Memphis), while Ginny’s kept their own Chicken $hit tradition alive.
The Little Longhorn Saloon has continued as a legendary Austin spot and must-see for country music tourists, often with Ginny in attendance as a fixture of the establishment. Due to COVID-19, many of its performances these days are virtual. But it has remained vital to the Austin music community.
“It is with great sadness that we have lost one of the most special people on the planet today. Our Honky Tonk Angel Ginny Kalmbach …. You will be dearly missed,” announced The Little Longhorn Saloon co-owner Terry Gaona on Wednesday morning, December 30th.
Ginny Kalmbach was a matriarch of Austin music, and will be missed.