How’s this for ironic? Both Austin’s chicken bleep bingo and the U.S. Congress, two institutions linked excrementally, have been caught up in shut downs.
The difference is that chicken bleep bingo has a much higher approval rating.
Chicken bleep bingo is that popular game of chance that attracts hundreds of people each Sunday afternoon to Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon, a tiny dive bar at 5454 Burnet Road.
Ginny’s Little Longhorn closed down in early August and has been shut ever since. The place has had financial problems. Although thanks to country musician Dale Watson, there are plans to hold a grand reopening Nov. 3 if all goes well.
Former owner Ginny Kalmbach, 78, has retired, and Watson says he’s the new owner. Ginny will work for Watson as the host of chicken bleep bingo when the place reopens.
Meanwhile, the bar is getting a $20,000 refurbishing that Watson is paying for. We’re talking new electrical, a new sound system, wooden picnic tables to be decorated by advertisers, a new pool table and TVs, and improvements to the ladies bathroom.
Watson is even doing some of the painting himself. He’s hoping to have all this done in time for the reopening. “We’re just waiting on licenses and permits to come in,” he said.
Watson feels strongly about giving Ginny a hand. He started playing at her club in 1993. “Ginny helped me out,” he said. “She gave me my first gig in Austin.”
In case you’re not familiar with chicken bleep bingo, it works like this. The fun begins when Ginny brings the chicken into the bar from the pen out back.
“She’s like a chicken whisperer,” said Watson, who provides the live music for chicken bleep bingo. “She makes a little sound and the chicken follows her from the pen all the way to the pool table.”
The chicken is placed on a numbered board on the pool table, under a wire cage. Players buy numbered tickets for $2. If the chicken goes, so to speak, on your number, you win $114. Ticket holders surround the pool table and hoot and holler for the chicken to bless their lucky number. Along with that, there are lots of free chili dogs.
“I remember during South by Southwest one day, we went through 1,000 hot dogs,” Watson said.
Watson is such an integral part of chicken bleep bingo that he has a silver chicken foot kickstand on his big white Indian motorcycle.
Chicken bleep bingo has been happening since 2000. Bringing in the chicken game was Watson’s idea. Ginny and her late husband, Don, were looking for a way to jack up their Sunday business.
In the 1980s Watson had played at a bar in Bellflower, Calif., that held a shadier version of fowl play. Unlike Ginny’s, where the house doesn’t get a cut of the action, the California bar’s version was “full-on gambling” and illegal, Watson said.
“People would come in and they would lock the door, and the squares would go for $50 a square,” Watson said. “And the house would take the cut.”
So Watson suggested a cleaner version for Ginny’s Little Longhorn. The house wouldn’t make any money, so it wouldn’t be breaking the law. Still, when Watson brought up the chicken idea to Ginny and Don, they figured he was just plucking around, so to speak.
Three days before the launch, nothing had been done. “I said, ‘What about the chicken? You got the pen?’” Watson recalled. But Ginny and Don hadn’t put in a chicken pen or even scored a chicken. “They thought I was joking,” Watson said. “Both of ‘em were just sitting there when I asked about the chicken.”
When Don realized Watson was serious, he built a chicken coop out back of the bar and painted it burnt orange.
Chicken bleep bingo has become an Austin tourist attraction. Watson says he knows a group of Swedes who visit Austin every year, and always stay over ‘til Monday so they can hit Ginny’s on Sundays.
Over the years, seven chickens have performed at the bar. The current star of the show is named Stella, while the first chicken to strut atop the pool table went by Dewey. And on occasion they’ve used a “chicken substitute” named Tofu.
Sure, there have been glitches. “Dewey we think was killed by a Chupa Cabra,” Watson joked. “The head was separated from the body, and they were both in the pen. I’m pretty sure it was a raccoon.” Yes, PETA has visited the place to make sure the chickens are well treated. But the chickens have their own veterinarian on call, Watson said.
By the way, the chicken pen is part of the remodel. It’s getting a new wooden floor. “Chickens live longer when they’re up off the ground,” Watson explained.