Recently, I made the journey that every Texan must make — to the magical, antique and wine-filled town of Gruene. I’d been to this Mecca of music and handmade crafts once before, but that time I made the mistake of going to the Gristmill at 7 p.m. on a Saturday without a reservation (gasp!), and waiting three and a half hours in a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. I have no regrets (because let’s face it, those sangria’s are worth the wait!), but I decided this time to visit on a slower day and take my time exploring this old-fashioned village.
As I entered Gruene, surrounded by old brick and wooden buildings, I was transported back to the 1800s, and almost expected to see a horse and buggy pass me on the gravel streets. In fact, this “town” is actually an entire village that was built in the 1840s by German immigrant, Ernst Gruene. In the 1970s, it was re-discovered by UT student, Chip Kaufman, who had accidentally floated too far down the Guadalupe and spotted the water tower in the distance. After learning that it was about to be turned into a housing development, Chip petitioned to have the entire district added to the Texas Historical Commission, and with the help of new business owners, upcycled Gruene into the destination it is today.
My first stop in this historic district was the Gruene General Store, one of the district’s most popular stores which is housed in the 1878 mercantile building. As soon as I entered, it was clear to me why this store draws travelers from near and far — its license-plate-patched floors and hodge-podge of every jam, peanut butter and salsa embody the unique magic that is Gruene. In this one shop, I perused Tex-ified Christmas decorations, tried Jalapeno Peanut Butter (surprisingly amazing!) and heavily considered buying a jar of their homemade Maple Bacon Jam.
Across the street, I found the Gruene Antique Company in the 1903 mercantile building. It should actually be called “Antique World” because the store has rows and rows of shelves overflowing with precious treasures of yesteryear, from gold-plaited dishes to crystal jewelry.
I even found a glorious monument to beer — you know we, here at the Daytripper love a good Lone Star!
Down the street, next to the legendary Gruene Hall and Gristmill, I stumbled upon my new favorite shop, The Gruene Haus. This 1880s home-turned-shop has an overwhelming overload of Texan things. And if you like words as much as I do, then this is your haus – seriously, every inch of it is covered with metal signs, shirts and mugs with corny sayings about Texas, the lake and beer. There’s even a room full of “mantiques.” If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, then it doesn’t exist.
Gruene Haus sits on the edge of the historic village, and as I exited, I saw a steady stream of cars disappearing down the winding hill, away from Gruene. I couldn’t imagine why so many people would be in such a hurry to leave this enchanted land of shops, so I followed them to see what the hullabaloo was about. As I made the drive down the winding hill, I ended up right outside Gruene, on a bridge overlooking the rushing Guadalupe River. What a breathtaking surprise! I joined the folks pulled over in an abandoned parking lot to journey closer and take in the view.
Countless families floated past me on tubes as I marveled that this peaceful nature scene was just minutes from the bustling Gruene.
I drove back up the hill and grabbed a cup of joe for the road at Gruene Coffee Haus before saying my goodbyes to this mystifying town. As I left the magic of Gruene behind, the picturesque scene in my rear view mirror looked like a postcard from another era beckoning me to stay just a little longer.