It’s easy to miss the Original Hoffbrau on a walk through the Warehouse District – the unassuming façade has remained the same since 1934 and doesn’t stand out against the neon of today’s signs. It’s well worth stopping in, though, for a steak or even just for a peek at nostalgia.
Coleman Hambly and his brother Tom opened the Hoffbrau in 1934 at the height of the depression, and by good fortune, during the same month prohibition was repealed. For a nickel, locals could come in for a cold beer, cold cuts and crackers. Since most people couldn’t afford to eat meals out during those years, that was the extent of the menu.
That all changed when prosperity returned in the 40’s. Locals and military personnel from Bergstrom Airforce Base convinced the brothers to start serving steaks, and nothing has been the same since then. Or, perhaps it’s better to say that everything has remained exactly the same since then.
Hoffbrau is a true throwback to an earlier time, from the orange Formica tables to the layers of burned, peeled wallpaper clinging stubbornly to the walls. Coleman’s granddaughter Mary Gail explains, “There was a fire in the 1970’s, and we did only what we needed to do to get re-opened. We haven’t done any remodeling since then, but we’re starting to now.”
Indeed, once they removed the burned 1970’s wood paneling, they discovered that parts of the original wallpaper from the 1930’s were visible and in good shape – alongside some burn marks from the fire. “We didn’t want to get rid of the antique wallpaper. We’re working on restoring what we can to the original look. People hate it when we say we’re changing, so we need to make it clear that it’s restoring it to the past, not something new,” Mary Gail said. She then went on to recount a story about how she recently received a mysterious package of photos of the place from the 1940’s. Someone found the photos while cleaning out their attic, and instead of throwing them away they mailed them to the Hoffbrau. “It’s such a blessing,” said Mary Gail. “When Grandpa died his kids were still young, so there is almost no history for us to go on. Having these pictures will help us to restore it authentically.”
What has not changed is the food or the personnel. Arcie has been cooking at Hoffbrau for 42 years and Kathy just celebrated her 25th anniversary. And they’re still serving a small choice of quality meats along with potato wedges, bread “for sopping” and their “love it or leave it” famous salad, loaded with garlic.
Mary Gail’s son Zachary now also works there, representing the fourth generation running the Hoffbrau.