It seemed like a stroke of genius. Owner Nina Marlowe opened a new restaurant and music venue in Niederwald, Texas, somewhere around 2005. She named it Alice’s Restaurant for the famed restaurant by the same name that operated in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and was immortalized by singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie, the famed son of the more famous Woody Guthrie.
Well, a few months after it opened, we invited our friends Bill and Paula Kemp to go with us to check it out. We chose a night of the week, a Friday or Saturday, which would find the place hopping with customers energized by the touted live music there. Marlowe had staked a big part of the reputation of this new jewel on featuring Austin-area singer-songwriters. We were in for a local cultural treat.
Alice’s Restaurant, Niederwald, Texas (photo credit)
We arrived to find a nearly empty parking lot at Alice’s Restaurant. Inside, we saw a band off to our left playing to a group of about forty empty chairs. A friendly waiter seated us at a table on the opposite side of the restaurant. Two other patrons were seated in the dining area when we arrived. We figured we had just arrived too early for the place to be hopping, but that a crowd would begin to trickle in as we ate.
The waiter gave us menus and took our drink orders. Each of us looked over an impressive list of down-home foods that would make any central Texan proud. After an inordinately long wait, our waiter came to take our orders. Paula ordered the smoked pork chop, Bill ordered a sirloin steak, my wife Ellen ordered the catfish, and I ordered a chicken-fried steak.
After about 45 minutes, our waiter reappeared with the disappointing news that none of the things we had ordered was available. He must have been engaged in a deep conversation with the chef about this dilemma. Keeping a stiff upper lip, our waiter handed us the menus again and asked us to make new choices. After a very short deliberation—remember we were extremely hungry after the long wait—we ordered alternatives that we thought would suffice. The waiter disappeared again for about a half hour.
As we waited, we noticed a good-looking young couple climbing into a small above-ground pool that butted up against the railing by the outdoor patio. This pool was about fifteen feet from our table and easily visible. After a few minutes it was obvious that the young couple liked each other very much. There was a lot of physical contact between them, and a type of innocence that must have been part of the chemistry between Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. This couple at Alice’s Restaurant seemed completely oblivious to our presence, as if they were the only two people in the world–either in love or in heat! I must confess that this unanticipated entertainment by the romantic bathers did help suppress our appetites for a time.
Finally, our waiter reappeared, this time with his tail firmly tucked between his legs. He sheepishly confided to us in a low voice that the only thing available from the kitchen was hamburgers. He quietly asked us if we would like a hamburger. We basically said yes, anything, after being foodless there for well over an hour.
We laughed a lot about the irony between our anticipated dining experience and the actual experience we had! The gap between our expectations and the reality of Alice’s Restaurant in Niederwald, Texas, on that particular day, was wide, to say the least. But Bill and Paula were good sports, to the extreme point that they even praised us for our bent toward trying new restaurants. Somehow our disappointment with Alice’s Restaurant in Niederwald was partly offset by the unique entertainment provided by the young bathers.
No other diners arrived while we were there. This was a dining experience like none other. It was indeed a local cultural treat. Nolo contendere.
We heard a few weeks later that Alice’s Restaurant had closed. While not surprising, I could not help but feel sad for Nina Marlowe and her shattered dream in Niederwald.