Shorty’s Place, located at 823 Tarpon Street in Port Aransas, Texas, is considered by many locals to be the island’s “oldest and friendliest” music venue. Gladys Marie Fowler, also known as “Shorty,” opened the bar on April 12, 1946, and it has hosted live Texas music ever since. Soon after opening, Shorty’s gained a reputation as a local watering hole where musicians of all backgrounds could gather to join in on the nightly country music jam sessions. The bar came equipped with a piano and a guitar for those interested in performing, although the “house” fiddle was off limits to everyone but Shorty’s husband, Mac Fowler.
Following Shorty’s death in 1978 (she was murdered by a sixteen-year-old bar patron), her daughter, Rose Smithey, took over as owner. In the early 1980s “Miss Rose,” added a large outdoor deck to the front of the bar. Soon afterward the music moved from inside the small bar to the outside deck, making Shorty’s the first bar in Port Aransas to offer live, outdoor music every Friday and Saturday night. Some of the better-known Texas musicians who have performed there over the years include Willie Nelson, Texas Ruby Owens, Patsy Jones, Gary P. Nunn, Rusty Wier, Larry Joe Taylor, and blues musician Rocky Benton.
Besides the coming and going of some well-known musicians and a few additions to the “house” instrument collection, not much has changed at Shorty’s Place. The parking lot still floods when it rains, the hardwood floors are still saturated with beer, and there is still no air-conditioning or central heat. The ceiling, covered in hats left behind by visiting customers, is a testament to the number of people who have stopped by to experience a bit of Texas culture. The bar continues to fill up each weekend with visitors wanting to hear country music and drink cold beer. Though jam sessions by the “local island boys” no longer happen on a regular basis, musicians do occasionally gather to jam, and live bands still perform there throughout the year.
Longtime owner Rose Marie Gates Smithey died on August 12, 2011. Her daughter, Joy Gates George, and her grandson, J. W. George, continued to operate the establishment until October 2012, when they sold Shorty’s Place to Edwin and Amy Myers. Thus one-family ownership of the venue since 1946 came to an end.