The new “old” dance hall (below) is the most visible change at Bankersmith, now known to the world as Bikinis, Texas (2nd below). Doug Guller, CEO of Bikinis, is opening the town for its first event this Saturday. Photos by Phil Houseal
Bikinis is back
by Phil Houseal
Bikinis is back.
Yes, the titillating tale of a tiny Texas town that stirred up national attention last summer is taking another twist.
July 13 marks the first public event to come to Bikinis, Texas, formerly known as Bankersmith.
The Grand Opening is welcome news for Doug Guller, CEO & Founder of Bikinis Sports Bar & Grill, his chain of “breastaurants” based in Austin. It’s a test of what the future history of this town might look like.
“Our goal after this first event is to look at what were our challenges and successes, then decide what we want to do with it in the future,” Guller explained. “Right now we see it as place to hold special events from time to time.”
A quick history for folks new to this party:
In 2012, Guller bought the so-called “ghost town” of Bankersmith–located 10 miles southeast of Fredericksburg–on Craigslist. He announced he was changing the name to Bikinis, Texas, and turning it into a tourist destination, by, among other things, creating a Bikini Hall of Fame. There was a lot of misinformation swirling, and it’s fair to say not all the local residents were keen on having another tourist town like Luckenbach or Albert in the neighborhood.
To catch up, I took a drive out to the edge of Gillespie County to see how the town had changed. (Disclosure: I used to live at Bankermith, as I explained in my column last summer, which was picked up by national media.)
"Your column on Bikinis, Texas, was the catalyst
I noticed two things:
First, the Bill Smallwood Band bus that we rode across the country and hadn’t rolled in 30 years had moved 100 feet to the main entrance.
“Our goal is to resurrect the bus and bring the life back into it,” Guller said. “We know it’s controversial, but I would love to hear the stories about it. We want to make it a retro whiskey shot bar, but that is probably 18 months out.”
Second, like a wooden phoenix, a 6000-square-foot dance hall had risen just south of the original building.
Chris, a carpenter working on the site, observed, “I’ve never built a brand new building that looked so old.”
Every stick, board, and sheet of tin in “Guller Hall” was recycled from old buildings. That was the intent, according to Guller.
“We want to make sure it fits out there in the Hill Country,” he said. “When putting together the dance hall we acquired lot of old long leaf pine and tin. We built it really looking after the great dance halls at Luckenbach and Albert.”
His crews are also turning the old store into a bar, where you can sit, relax, and have a cold beer. The north side room (where Smallwood rebuilt a diesel engine, which we had to remove a wall to get it back in the bus that no longer moves), will be opened up again as a Bikinis merchandise room.
“Right now we don’t anticipate that it will be open every day, but that could change in 2014.”
But most visitors at the July 13 event will be paying more attention to what is going on inside those buildings.
The first event will feature the bronzing of TV star Carmen Electra’s bikini to commemorate her as the first inductee into the Texas Bikini Hall of Fame (I don’t even want to speculate how that works). During the day local bands will perform on the outdoor stage, and that evening Jerry Jeff Walker gets the honors of breaking in the dance hall.
Given the racy rumor mill, what can visitors truly expect?
“We really are trying to put a foot forward to make sure everyone is not as shocked as they are when they when they hear the word ‘bikini,’” Guller said. “That ‘b’ word is filled with misinformation. Sure you are going to see some bikini clad girls and a little bit of our bikinis experience–after all we are celebrating National Bikinis Day. But you’ll find generally what you find at Albert or Luckenbach.”
The only thing for sure is that Bikinis won’t be your grandfather’s Bankersmith, although grandpa might not have minded a little of this type of excitement.
“The most shocking thing that will ever happen at Bikinis, Texas, is girls in shorts, cowboy boots, and bikini tops.”
Guller admits he didn’t expect all of the coverage he got last summer, although he does not shy from it. He claims he really wants this to work for everyone.
“Our goal is to be a good neighbor out there,” said Guller, who went around and met with all of the neighbors, at least “the ones that would take my call.”
“They were very appreciative that I stopped in and faced the issues head on.”
Local support is important to Guller, which is why he is featuring local bands and hiring local contractors as much as possible.
“We are thankful that a large part of the community has been very receptive and helpful in helping us put something there what will have a very lasting impression and legacy in the Hill Country.”