As its 50th anniversary approaches next year, co-owner Max Moreland explains how this legendary festive dive bar has been creating local folk tales since it hung up its first glittery bauble in 1972.
LALA’S OPENED IN 1972. WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO BUY IT?
In 2015, when friends told us that the founder Frances Lala was in ill health and looking to sell. We knew her bar still had an iconic part to play in Austin’s future, and a home in our community, so we got in there and negotiated the purchase. Protecting legendary Austin venues has always been a priority to me and my business partner, Matt Luckie. From Star Bar to The Mean Eyed Cat, we’ve been warriors in keeping these places open and stopping them getting pushed out of the way for condos and chain restaurants. Frances sadly passed away about a year and a half later, but Lala’s is still the place she grew, a place where people can come to celebrate the best moments in life, recover from the worst moments in life, or to sit on their own at the bar and feel welcomed. In November and December, people line around the block past midnight to get in. Its fun to be discovered by a whole new group of people.
TELL OUR READERS THE TRUE STORY ABOUT HOW A YEAR-ROUND CHRISTMAS BAR CAME TO BE?
I'll tell you all three rumours, but I'm not going to confirm which one's true. We prefer just to let people discern for themselves which one they want to believe, whatever makes them feel comfortable and happy, and gets them through what they’re going through at that time. The first one is the most well-known, that Frances’ son left for Vietnam right before Christmas, and she promised not to take down the decorations in the bar until he came home from the war. He never returned, so the decorations never came down. Hayes Carll wrote a song about it called Jesus and Elvis, and Kenny Chesney covered it and made it a top ten hit on the country chart a few years ago. It’s a really cool song about Christmas, representing Jesus the King of Kings and the velvet picture of Elvis we have on the wall here at Lala’s, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. The second story is Frances’ husband left her right before Christmas, and she fell into a depression and didn't come to work for a long time. Two or three months went by before she could get herself together to get back into the bar, and her staff, not knowing what to do, had left the decorations up, and they agreed it made the place warm and comfortable, cheering, so they stayed up. The final rumor is that for her first Christmas running Lala’s, she put a lot of decorations up, and when she took them down in January the place looked naked… so she put them straight back up again and decided it would stay that way forever. And even though it’s a nightmare to dust, those decorations have stayed ever since.
BAR MANAGER COLE SERVES UP HOT COCOA WITH EXTRA KICK
1 ½ ounces of Peppermint Schnapps or Cinnamon Whiskey
1 cup of milk
2 to 3 tsps. of cocoa powder
Add spirit to usual hot cocoa. Top with whipped cream and a sprinkle of chocolate powder
Lala’s Little Nugget, 2207 Justin Lane, Austin, TX 78757, 512.487.5297 lalasaustintexas.com