Originally established in 1871, The Phoenix Saloon was the first bar in Texas to serve women. It had a beer garden with a bell in a tree for service… as it would besmirch a lady’s reputation to enter the bar.
There was an alligator pit and badger fights, live music on Saturday nights, and a parrot on a perch inside the front door taught to say “Have you paid your bill!?” in German. In 1894, proprietor of the back-room cafe, William Gebhardt, invented chili powder, devising the first process to crush and dry fresh chilis.
Prohibition closed the Phoenix Saloon in 1918, though for a couple more years the basement served as an illicit brewery, with tunnels cut to run the drink out under the streets of downtown. In 1922, the building was expanded into its present configuration. Turned into a department store, with a refrigerated water fountain that was always proudly nonracial and unsegregated, it remained little changed into the 1990s.
In March 2010 after 2 years of bruising renovation, the Phoenix rose again as an historic Texas bar, chili parlor and live music venue.