Abel was I ere I saw Earl's

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One of the highlights of a July 2004 trip to Texas was an unexpected late-night excursion to a renowned San Antonio coffehouse and restaurant. We had stayed at Sea World until near closing, having spent most of our second day there at the water park. The kids wanted ice cream, and I promised we'd stop somewhere on the way back to the hotel downtown.

Only we didn't find anywhere on the way back to the hotel. No Braum's or Baskin-Robbins, no Village Inn or Denny's, and no frozen custard stand.

Then I remembered a place I'd driven past on a late-night grocery run a couple of days before. Even though it was after 10, it was still open. The place had beautiful mid-century neon, and it sat at a bend in the old highway like a lighthouse on a point.

(Flickr photo by bravophoto.)

So we headed north from downtown and made our way into Earl Abel's Restaurant. The interior was dark and woody. There was the requisite counter, behind which stood the lighted pie case and the kitchen window. It seemed like a bit of late '50s Hollywood had been plopped down in the middle of Texas.

We ordered pie and chocolate cake and ice cream. The ice cream was served in tall metal parfait cups with long spoons. My daughter, then not quite four, exhausted from a day in the sun and water, and a bit chilled by the air conditioning, fell asleep in her mom's arms. My son, then almost eight, had a fun chat with our waiter, who was a middle school science teacher working there while taking summer graduate school classes nearby. He had a special interest in insects.

That was one of our favorite memories from our trip, so I was sad to learn that the place was to be demolished for a condominium. That happened last summer.

But the neon was saved, and a new Earl Abel's is now open on Austin Highway in San Antonio. New ownership, but the same cool decor and the same recipes. Here's a link to a sketch of the new restaurant, and here's a picture of the neon from the side of the old building now mounted on the new site.

(Flickr photo by copazetic.)

I hope they make a go of it.

Here's a flickr search that will turn up a bunch of photos of Earl Abel's, both old and new.

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2 Comments

Mark Sanders said:

Michael, thanks for the update on Earl Abel's. I'd been wondering what happened to it.

Last March our family visited Earl's while on Spring Break in San Antonio. It was the oddest restaurant experience we've ever had. We had no idea that it was closing in a matter of days. We thought it odd that they were selling memorabilia from a card table in the lobby, and that there was a long wait for a table at 10 p.m., even though we could see several (messy) tables unoccupied. When we were finally seated, it took at least 15 minutes for an obviously harried waitress to arrive. We were quite excited by the menu, but It seemed that everything we ordered was unavailable - no fountain drinks, no ice cream, no pie, etc. By the end of the order we were all laughing uncontrollably. Everyone had to settle for their second or third choice entrees and water. What was going on here? How could this place be legendary if this was the nightime experience?

Finally, we got the nerve up to ask some apparent locals at a nearby table. They told us that it had been announced in the local media that it was the last week of Earl's existence, and that most of the waitstaff had quit, and nearly everyone in southern Texas had made one last pilgrimage. All that had left the place in the dissaray we encountered. We ended up having a really tasty meal, great laughs, and warm conversation with other diners, and the waitress about her future (then left her the biggest tip of my life).

Glad to see that someone has purchased the name and saved the neon, but it will never be the same I'm sure. Makes you sick, really. This kind of cultural loss has happened way to often in my lifetime.

manasclerk Author Profile Page said:

Earl Abel's was a memorable part of my life at Trinity, years back. I remember being shocked by both the beehives and the "hi honey"s. They sure had good fried chicken.

But life is change. Back then, Southwestern Bell was just a little baby bell across Broadway from it. The quarry on 281 was still a quarry, not a mall. Clubhouse Bar-B-Q had the best brisket in town, Trinity Baptist only sat 2,000, Max Lucado and John Hagee were just a couple of local preachers, Pearl was still brewed by Pearl Brewery, there were still Air Force Bases (plural) and people got shot in drug deals gone bad in the apartment complex I lived in with the Broadway prostitutes. Ah, good times, good times....

San Antonio has changed quite a bit since I worked and studied there. Thanks for reminding me of my college years.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 30, 2007 9:58 PM.

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