What exactly is a Texas icehouse? Some argue that it’s a structure with a bar inside, a large outdoor seating area, and one that serves beer. However, icehouse purists insist that a real Texas icehouse is an open-air building, serves beer iced down in big tubs, and that any hint of air-conditioning eliminates nearly every possible contender.
While disagreements persist regarding the definition, there is one aspect on which all agree – Texas icehouses are an endangered species.
Heights resident Jimmy Murray opened his small grocery and ice store at 2803 White Oak Dr. in 1945, but Murray quickly changed his mind.
“It was soon that Jimmy said, ‘to hell with this, all we are selling is ice and beer, I’m calling it Jimmy’s Ice House from now on,’” said today’s owner and manager, Eric Quinn. “Then Jimmy brought in dominoes and opened for business at 7 a.m., every day of the year. He never looked back.”
“A lot of the customers here have been coming for 20 years or more,” said regular patron Pat Haley, who considers himself a newcomer with only 10 years to his credit. “It’s a wonderful crowd; all ages and backgrounds, working folks and millionaires. And there are no scuffles, ever. On Sundays, we even have potlucks.”
Still, as the Heights have changed, so have the patrons of Jimmy’s.
“Unfortunately, we’ve held a number of wakes for regular customers recently,” Quinn said. “With the influx of new people to the area, we are also seeing a younger crowd, but they enjoy it. They always come back.”
Is Jimmy’s a true Texas classic? Would it pass the “real icehouse” test? Earmarks, purists insist, include low prices and a blaring lack of pretension.
While the selection of beer is modern at Jimmy’s, the prices seem to be stuck in the 1980s, and the wine list is memorable. It’s a large book with a stunning, hand-painted tableau on the front. Inside, one finds only three words. No offer of glass or bottle, no graduated prices and no fruity descriptions. The three words are “Red,” “White” and “Pink,” with “Pink” crossed-out by hand.
“Yeah, we got rid of pink,” said Quinn, laughing.
Sadly, icehouses in Texas are all but gone. For nearly a century they thrived in working class communities, and on the edge of urban development. Then, in the 1990s, suburban flight reversed itself and people flocked back to cities. Treasured icehouses found themselves suddenly sitting on gentrified, highly desirable real estate. Many were sold to developers for the dirt beneath.
But Jimmy’s is holding its own. It remains in the care of the Murray family to this day, and there are no plans to change that. On the question of air-conditioning, Quinn is quick to step up.
“I want to show you our air-conditioning units,” he said, pointing at one of several 5-foot industrial fans basking the bar area in a cool breeze. “They really do the job, and they last forever.”
This article was published Oct. 17, 2015 but got lost in our archives.