A Musical History At This Legendary Texas Restaurant & Bar
As owners of a trop rock radio station, Gina and I are very fortunate to travel to tropical locations to visit the best bars and live music venues.
For years we kept hearing that all the best artists on the trop rock circuit were playing at a place just outside Houston called T-Bone Tom’s. We thought to ourselves “Why are all these folks playing in Houston? Shouldn’t they be in Key West or something?”
We never really gave a thought to a venue in Houston being a good host for trop rock style music. After a little research we found out this place called T-Bone Tom’s at the Kemah Boardwalk, just southeast of Houston, had been on the Trop Rock Music Association’s nomination list as Live Music Venue of the Year for many years! We decided this venue must be added to our list of locations for a live broadcast on Radio Trop Rock.
A couple of short months later we found out exactly what all the fuss was about. Upon arrival, you can’t help but notice “Tom’s Backyard.” It’s a stage, bar, and seating area under a huge palapa. Some say it’s the largest palapa west of the Mississippi, others claim it to be the largest built in Texas. I don’t know the actual answer, but I can tell you it’s a big one!
Before I go any further, I should tell you a little more about T-Bone Tom’s history, because when you get right down to it, it’s actually a freakin’ fantastic restaurant first, and a kick-ass place to listen to music and party second. T-Bone Tom’s actually started as a meat market in the mid-1960’s and began smoking meats in the late ’60’s. Around 1974 it became a restaurant. The location became well-known by locals as “the place” to go for great bar-b-que and steaks.
In 1998 Barry Terrell, with many years of restaurant experience under his belt, had the opportunity to purchase T-Bone Tom’s. Barry was not at all new to the restaurant business. Decades earlier he waited tables while attending college and progressed one step at a time until the mid-1990’s when he was on the corporate side with Landry’s Restaurant Group.
Barry made little to no changes to the already successful menu of T-Bone’s but did decide to expand the rear of the establishment to add “Tom’s Backyard,” which consisted of a bar and a small area that could host live music. Kelly McGuire, a trop rock musician, was one of the first to approach Barry about playing there and apparently it went well because shortly, thereafter, T-Bone Tom’s began hosting live music every Friday and Saturday night.
T-Bone Tom’s continued to gain momentum through the early 2000’s. When Hurricane Ike hit in 2008 T-Bone’s suffered quite a bit of damage. Barry took that opportunity to expand Tom’s Backyard to include a larger bar, stage, and the huge palapa that people now love to party under on those hot Texas days and warm nights.
In 2009 the Food Network show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” shot an episode at T-Bone Tom’s. One of the menu items Barry had Guy Fieri try was my personal favorite; Armadillo Eggs. Strangely enough, these contain no armadillo, nor egg! What they do contain is shredded bar-b-que brisket. Think of a jalapeno popper the size of a huge egg filled with very tasty smoked brisket. My mouth is watering writing this now.
Other great items on the menu include their famous ribeye and Chicken Fried Steak. While everything on the menu is fantastic, these items have received local and national recognition as some of the best in the country. When eating at T-Bone Tom’s be ready to carry home some left-overs for tomorrow. Portions are large. (Personal note: The Armadillo Eggs are fantastic for breakfast… Simply pull them out of your fridge and microwave for about 1 minute. Yum)
Enough about the food, now more about the music!
T-Bone Tom’s hosts live music six nights per week. It has gotten so good at it that the Houston Chronicle has named T-Bone Tom’s the second best place to hear live music in greater Houston area. Think about how large Houston is, thousands of venues play live music. Coming in second is pretty damned good!
T-Bone Tom’s began it’s live music twenty years ago, and has since established itself as the BEST place to hear trop rock music. Proof of this is that last November in Key West, the Trop Rock Music Association named T-Bone Tom’s Best Live Music Venue in the country. They have consistently been nominated by the TRMA year after year, but in 2018 they beat out the previous winner, a venue in Key West, for the honor. Yes, a venue in the Houston area beat out a place in Key West for best place to watch live trop rock music!
How did it get there, you ask? Well, to start with, T-Bone Tom’s is the home of one of the most successful trop rock songwriter showcases. John Burns, aka “Jon Boy” put together a songwriter showcase using talent from all over the country. The show is now frequently hosted by Jerry Diaz or Donny Brewer, two of the biggest names in TropRock. While Pirates and Poets Songwriter Showcase also has shows in Key West, New Orleans, Port Aransas, and even into Mexico, they call T-Bone Tom’s “home.”Pirates and Poets Podcast was recognized in 2016 as the Trop Rock Music Association Radio Show of the Year.
Here’s what John Boy of Pirates and Poets says about T-Bone Tom’s:
“T-Bone Tom’s is the perfect place to spend a fun evening with your friends or family. It has great food and cold drinks, plus its are located near many of the Kemah-area’s top tourist attractions. And its easily the best music venue in the area and they don’t charge a cover. They have live music six nights a week. Tuesday-Thursday features acoustic acts, many of which perform original material. The weekend are usually geared towards high energy cover bands.
“We’re lucky to have T-Bone Toms host our Pirates & Poets Songwriter Shows 11 months out of the year.”
T-Bone Tom’s hosts around sixty trop rock live music shows per year. Since Gina and I with Radio Trop Rock first visited T-Bone Tom’s October 19, 2016, we have broadcast live shows from there no less than twelve times, making it the most frequent broadcast venue for our TRMA award winning show Trop Rockin’ the USA on Radio Trop Rock. T-Bone Tom’s is also the “go to” place for many of the Galveston Bay Parrothead Club events. It is not unusual to find a large group of these brightly dressed revelers forming a conga line around the entire area under the palapa. They are especially active when folks like Jerry Diaz and Hanna’s Reef are performing. Jerry has been very instrumental in the growth of “trop rock” for a couple of decades, and it’s easy to see why when he performs for his hometown fans there in Tom’s Backyard.
While many restaurants that play live music may have great food OR great music OR great service OR a great atmosphere T-Bone Tom’s set’s itself apart from the others by having ALL of these qualities. Some people come for the food, and stay for the music. Others may come for the music, but stay for the food. What I mean by that is normally a person’s first visit to T-Bone Tom’s is for a reason, whether they’ve heard bout the great food, or maybe the great music, they go there for one, maybe not knowing about the other. Once they’ve experienced T-Bone Tom’s they are now very aware that T-Bone Tom’s is the whole package of great food, music, service and atmosphere.
Jerry Diaz has even paid homage to T-Bone Tom’s by writing and recording the song “Eat at T-Bone Tom’s” which is included on his latest CD Rum Drinks & Sandy Beaches. Jerry says in the song “They’ve got Mexican pickles and buckets of beer. Man it’s a party when Barry is here. Live music playing six nights of the week, cute little waitresses and fresh cut meat.”. I’ve got news for you, it’s not just a party when Barry is there, it’s always a party!
Next time you are in the Houston area do yourself a favor and make the trip down to the Kemah Boardwalk and see why T-Bone Tom’s consistently receives accolades from local newspapers, national TV shows, and the Trop Rock Music Association.