Ole Moulton Bank offers old-time charm, place to relax
Aug. 24, 2013 at 3:24 a.m.
MOULTON - It's a warm Thursday night in downtown Moulton, and a crowd has gathered at the old bank building.
Old friends swap stories on the building's side porch while others kick back with cold beers inside. Still more find their place right up front, near the stage, gearing up for the entertainment to come.
The Thursday Night Jam is a long-held tradition at the Ole Moulton Bank, a financial institution-turned-bar in the friendly South Texas town. Once a week, area residents gather for food, conversation and a bit of live music provided by anyone who wants to play.
"We'll sit in a circle and the mic goes around," said owner Jim Mendenhall, whose laid-back demeanor matches that of the bar. "It doesn't matter if you are a beginner or experienced. We encourage everybody to make noise."
The seeds for the venture were sown in 2001 when Mendenhall, a musician, guitar collector and owner of Dan Electro's Guitar Bar, decided to escape the big-city life of Houston. He'd always lived in buildings, he said, and sought something in small-town Texas. That's when the bank caught his eye.
"I liked the upstairs, but everything else looked like a dentist's office," he said, noting the lackluster dropped ceilings, wood paneling and fluorescent lighting. "It was a fluke I came back a second time, but I decided I loved it."
Mendenhall closed on the building that same year and set to "demodeling," exposing the high ceilings and bringing character back to the structure, which was built in 1900.
Today, the decor is a mix of old and new, with the bank's original vaults - alarm bells and all - adorning the walls and rows of guitars on display up high.
He opened the bar in 2004, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The business is open seven days a week, but its Thursday nights draw the big crowds. Not to mention the food.
Maynard Wagner mans the grill - or pot, or oven, depending on the dish - each Thursday alongside buddy Tivo Mejia.
Wagner grew up cooking, he said, and decided to experiment with dinner one jam night.
The idea stuck.
It's an unpaid position, he said, and people pay what they want via the on-site tip jar. Although some weeks are better than others, he said the venture pays for itself.
"When we bring in a little more money, we buy a little better meat," he said, noting that others often bring side dishes or desserts to share. "During the lean times, we buy chicken."
Mark Shafer, a Corpus Christi native-turned-Shiner-resident, tuned his mandolin before the jam began one Thursday in early June. Shafer is part of the Celtaire String Band, a semi-professional group that specializes in historical reenactments.
"We lose at the Alamo, so we have to play at San Jacinto, where we win," he joked of himself and his Southern bandmates.
The Moulton school district employee said he frequents Ole Moulton Bank to "keep up with his chops." And he enjoys the eclectic crowd.
One man who used to play was a professional drummer from New York City.
"Another guy sells chickens," he said. "There's all kinds."
Albert "Butch" Darilek is no musician - he said he can play a radio if everything's working right - but he enjoys going out to talk cattle prices or visit with friends. And he's never seen an altercation there.
It's a friendly place, Darilek said, but then again so is Moulton.
"There's no crime in Moulton," he said. "You can't steal from somebody you know."
While the bar has its hold on the city, many lifelong residents recall its earlier days.
Moulton native GR Berckenhoff, a regular at the bar, recalled the building's former incarnation as a bank. He stopped in one Monday in 1988 before a trip to Las Vegas.
It was 8 a.m. when the handful of people decided they wanted more money for their trip. They walked to the backdoor, knocked and asked for a loan, he said, and the bank wrote out their checks.
"Then we missed our flight in El Paso because we were in a bar," Berckenhoff said, taking a sip of his beer. "It's kind of funny. Now this is the bar."
As for Mendenhall, he said he's happy with what the business has become. He wanted a family-friendly environment where people could come together, he said, and eventually it happened.
Still, he is slow to take credit.
"I don't take responsibility," he said. "It's everybody here who makes this place what it is."