Riley's

The smell of cigarettes, the colors of a lit stage, and the sound of music echoed by laughter are what fill a small tavern caught between the tracks in the Texas Hill Country. The 90-year-old honky-tonk has managed to stay frozen in time in an ever-changing world, hidden from society.

“It’s caught between two tracks and if you're lucky, the trains stop on both ends of the track, and you get stuck here,” San Marcos native Dee Bartlett said to MySA. 

Riley's Tavern is embedded into the community as a staple, serving as a time capsule. The honky-tonk tells the story on its walls with writing scribbled by bargoers dating back to the 90s. Its wooden beam architecture gives a rustic feel with the smell of smoke engrained into its core as Riley's is one of the few businesses that still allows smoking in its establishment. 

As the state's first bar to legally serve alcohol after the Prohibition era, Riley's Tavern has made its roots strong in the farmers' region of Hunter, between New Braunfels and San Marcos. From its opening in 1933, the tavern has been an instant success in its location, which was once considered a “boom town” of farmers and cattle ranchers. The original owner, James Curtis Riley, secured the future of the tavern before its opening when grabbing the state's first beer license by camping on the Capitol steps.

Throughout the years, the bar has managed to hit many milestones, such as its historic marker distinction at both the state and national levels, along with its most recent celebration of 90 years of business in September 2023.

Historic marker outside Riley's Tavern in Hunter, TX. 
Historic marker outside Riley's Tavern in Hunter, TX. 
Victoria Lopez/ MySA

Almost a century later, the business has been passed down to various owners, but all have left the bar a time capsule. Although the current owner, Joel Hofmann, has expanded a bit from the 30s, he has maintained its history as he “didn’t want to change anything.”

He only expanded with an indoor stage and dance floor to truly classify the tavern as a honky-tonk. Bargoers can enjoy live music four nights a week, including from the Joel Hofmann Band, who recently released an album. 

Riley's Tavern weekly line up sign hung on a wall covered in community writing in Hunter, TX.
Riley's Tavern weekly line up sign hung on a wall covered in community writing in Hunter, TX. 
Victoria Lopez/ MySA
 
Riley's Tavern owner Joel Hofmann preforms center stage.
Riley's Tavern owner Joel Hofmann preforms center stage.
Victoria Lopez/ MySA
 
Hill Country band preforms at Riley's Tavern in Hunter, TX.
Hill Country band preforms at Riley's Tavern in Hunter, TX.
Victoria Lopez/ MySA
 

Hofmann purchased the bar at the age of 25 as a sort of passion project to maintain his true ambition of being a musician while creating stability in his life. Nearly 20 years later, Hofmann says he has gained much more than his original intent; he has gained a community. 

“Everybody that I have met, there have been a lot of folks I have met here, and they have turned into 20 years of friendships now," Hofmann said to MySA. "The people are the best."

Riley's Tavern owners Joel and Angie Hofmann pose for a photo with tavern regular Dee Bartlett. 
Riley's Tavern owners Joel and Angie Hofmann pose for a photo with tavern regular Dee Bartlett. 
Victoria Lopez/ MySA
 

Bartlett told MySA she had been stopping by Riley's Tavern since the previous decade. Bartlett says, in earlier years, it wasn’t always so consistent as she left for the military, but when returning home, Riley's always had its “familial history.”

“Coming home and recognizing some things don’t ever change," Bartlett said. "It’s the same people. It’s the same good accepting crowd that wants to hear good music and play fun games, have a drink, and enjoy their evenings." 

That nostalgic feeling is like a boomerang that draws other bargoers back to grab a seat at the tavern. 

“As everything evolves around here, they're putting up buildings on every square inch of farmland out here, and as the times change this place literally stays the same. It’s the nostalgia,” longtime Riley's Tavern visitor AJ Sotto said to MySA. 

Sotto went on to detail his history with the business as he used to stop by the tavern as a boy with his father in the 80s and even met Riley himself. Sotto also worked at Riley's at the food truck outside the tavern and served up drinks at the bar. 

Friend to Sotto, Darrell Martin, followed by saying at the end of the day, “It's regular good people not looking for anything crazy but a good beer and a good conversation.”

Martin also shared his found love for Riley's when he attended Texas State University. Martin says he stumbled upon the tavern as a nontraditional college kid looking for a place to have a good conversation and beer.  

Riley's Tavern bargoers in Hunter, TX. 
Riley's Tavern bargoers in Hunter, TX. 
Victoria Lopez/ MySA
 

When sitting at the bar, one by one, each bargoer shared their story of finding Riley's Tavern, reiterating the sense of community that every patron feels. From outcasts to inherited love, all described the tavern as a sanctuary. 

“We have a lot of new people, and we have a lot of the same old. It’s a great blend of everybody. Just come and join in,” Bartlett said to welcome new bargoers. 

Man playing pool at Riley's Tavern in Hunter, TX.
Man playing pool at Riley's Tavern in Hunter, TX.
Victoria Lopez/ MySA
 

Find it: 8894 FM1102, New Braunfels, TX 78132

By Victoria Lopez

Victoria Lopez is a Hill Country Trending Reporter at MySA. She graduated from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in 2020 with a BA in Mass Communications – Public Relations. Before joining the team in November 2023, she worked as a digital reporter and producers in broadcast journalism. In her free time, Victoria enjoys spending time with friends and family as well as baking for any and every occasion!