Numerous newspaper articles have been written about the One Knite over the years, but the origin of the club has remained a relative mystery. About the only factually correct information regarding the club’s beginning was that it was founded by some law students sometime during the 1960′s. As two of the original three owners of the One Knite, we will set forth below how it came into being and describe and relive some of the crazy events that occurred during our ownership.
In the fall of 1966, the three of us – Joe Mermis, Jerry Loftin and Byron Kibby roomed together in a rented home west of Lamar Boulevard. Joe, Jerry and Byron were in their mid-law year, but in lieu of dedicating our time to the books, we most often frequented drinking establishments during the evenings. We regularly frequented the Split Rail, The Tavern, Continental Club, Broken Spoke and of course Scholz’s Beer Garden.
We often complained to one another about the high priced beer we were constantly buying. During the course of one such discussion, one of us suggested that instead of buying beer at retail, that we should open our own place of business so we might drink beer at wholesale prices. This idea caught hold immediately and began an ernest search for a location that would be within our meager financial resources. We found the ideal spot at 801 Red River. The building was for rent, but had obviously been unoccupied for a long period of time. The three of us managed to scrape together $2000 to launch our enterprise. With this investment we were able to lease the building, buy a used beer cooler, purchase lumber to construct a coffin shaped entrance way, buy many gallons of black paint for the entire interior, apply for an on premise beer license and still have enough left over for our initial supply of beer.
Our first order of business after signing the lease agreement was to come up with a name for our business. Jerry had spent a summer in Los Angeles prior to entering law school. There was a well known drinking establishment in southern California called the Oar House. He suggested this might be a fitting name for our club. Since no better suggestions were proposed at the time, we submitted our application to what was then known as the Liquor Control Board. This began the first of many confrontations with this agency. Our application was quickly rejected as we were told the name was too risquÃ©.
Going back to the drawing board, we somehow came up with the name “Once a King, Always a King; Once a Night is Enough.” This proposal to the LCB was also rejected because, we were told, the name was too long to fit on the license.
Our third application was for the “One Knite”. We concluded that the name was appropriate because we might only be in business for one night. Approval for the One Knite was granted. Out next order of business was to prepare a sign for the place. We knew a creative art major named Vicky Held and turned to her to design an eye catching signage. With no input from us, she came up with the profile of a knight beneath One Knite. A misconception which has proliferated over the years is that the One Knite was so named because the original law students liked to play chess. Nothing could be further from the truth. The name was derived from shortening our second proposal to the LCB – Once a King, Always a King; Once a Night is Enough.
With limited financial resources to decorate the interior, we constructed a casket shaped entrance complete with red velvet lining and coffin type door which customers had to pass through as they entered the club. To complement this dÃ©cor and to add atmosphere to the interior, patrons were invited to bring in any and all items that might accumulate in closets, garages, etc. to hang from the ceiling. A complementary beer was provided for each new addition. Every inch of the ceiling was covered with everything imaginable. The center piece turned out to be an old wooden wagon wheel with a broken spoke which was transformed into a light fixture over the bar. The rumor had it that this wheel had been acquired from the parking lot of the Broken Spoke.
We did not want to entirely lose focus that we were law students; therefore, we endeavored to at least subtly convey a reminder of this fact. This was accomplished by not using the common vernacular of “Men” and “Women” for the bathrooms, but choosing to name them “Hung Jury” and “Split Jury.”
Rest assured, the original One Knite would never be confused with Stubbs Barbeque. The main floor structure was split down the middle. The One Knite comprised the south side while Aaron’s Pawn Shop was on the north side. There was no downstairs access for either business. The basement /downstairs was occupied by a painter and his blind wife. After work each day, he would brag of consuming a case of Falstaff beer. There was no telling what his consumption level was on the weekends. He would occasionally imbibe at the One Knite, but was not a regular customer. The vast majority of our clientel was University of Texas students. The original One Knite could never rival the live entertainment level of subsequent owners, but it did indeed have the distinction of being the first to provide live music. Well known bands of the 1960′s had such names as Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Martha and the Vandellas and Diana Ross and the Supremes. Our semi-regular live entertainment was headed up by Jim Pape, a fellow law student. His band was known as V.D. and the Crabs. With our under capitalized venture, their only income for a night’s gig came in the form of free beer plus any donations in the tip jar.
While Jerry, Byron and Joe spent many a night behind the bar servicing customers, it was necessary to add another law school buddy, Butch Sparks, to help manage this task. Because of our undercapitalization, Butch was not paid a salary, but rather was compensated with all the free beer he could drink. In retrospect, it would have been more cost effective to pay him a salary commensurate with the highest paid bartender in Austin.
Our ownership of the One Knite continued until the spring of 1968 when the club was sold for the $2,000 we had invested in the venture. Included in the sale was the right for the new owners to continue using the good name of the establishment, The One Knite.
During the year and a half of our stewardship, many crazy, humorous and mostly legal events transpired which should add to the lore and history of The One Knite.