Dirty Bill’s would be just like any other dive bar on the map except for one simple fact. It is filled with glossy photographs of a traveling gnome mingling with celebrities.
Tucked away from the blaring live music and pub scene on 6th Street, Dirty Bill’s is a tiny, dark bar in Austin’s Warehouse District. So how did a tourist like me stumble upon it, you ask? Well before I take any trip, I do a quick Google search for “[town name + gnomes].” Other than a couple quirky shops (which I obviously visited also), Dirty Bill’s was the only result I found.
This is the home of the “world famous” gnome, Dirty Bill, but sadly, no one seems to care anymore. I found my way the bar, late on a Saturday afternoon. The bar was empty, and the only sign of life was the bartender half-heartedly cleaning up a pile of puke on the sidewalk by the front door.
The walls were plastered with the most amazing photographs of an obscure variety of celebrities posing with Dirty Bill. This gnome has been held by everyone from Les Claypool to Bill Murray, Modest Mouse, Tony Hawk, Kid Rock, Courtney Love, and Alice Cooper. It seems he’s lived quite the live, considering shots of him getting tattooed, skydiving, and committing various forms of public scandal.
So who exactly is Dirty Bill, how does he get around so much, and why is he just sitting in a glass case right now?
After an initial look around, I introduced myself as a “gnome enthusiast” to the bartender, Crystal, and begged my boyfriend to snap as many photos (of the photos) as possible. Crystal seemed wholly uninterested in gnomes, but she was kind enough to entertain my obsession for awhile.
Crystal revealed that one of the owners of the place shared my obsession and had been well-connected in the music industry. She said that Dirty Bill hadn’t traveled anywhere in quite some time and that the owner wasn’t really into it anymore. Most of Dirty Bill’s photos were snapped in the late 90s and early 2000s. Personally, I can’t understand how you can own/work in a bar full of gnomes and NOT be “into it.”
Although Crystal (the only staff member working at the time) didn’t seem to know much about the origins of the gnome or the intentions or whereabouts of the owner, she agreed to let me meet Dirty Bill up close and personal. He was covered in stickers, tattoos, scratches, and other common types of battle scars that gnomes suffer from while traveling. According to the bar’s Facebook page, Dirty Bill began traveling in 1999.
I made few more laps around perimeter to soak up each and every photograph in the bar, which to date, is the only gnome-themed bar I’ve ever been to. What I wouldn’t give to own and operate a gnome bar of my very own!?
If you read reviews of the bar, you’ll see a steady stream of complaints about bad service, impersonal staff, and cramped space. But some locals defend it for its unpretentious vibe and the jukebox.
Internet searches about Dirty Bill yield very few results, and the bar is clearly trying to move away from its gnome theme. They recently replaced the exterior sign, which had a gnome on it, to a dull, black sign that just says “Dirty.” They’re moving away from the name “Dirty Bill’s” entirely, and going for that whole overdone, generic dive bar theme instead. Check out the bar’s website and you’ll be hard pressed to find a gnome.
I left Dirty Bills that hot Texas afternoon with a bittersweet feeling. This bar has so much potential for eclectic patrons, but yet it falls so short. In exchange for $15, Crystal found me one of the last bar tank tops that bore Dirty Bill’s name and illustration (in a men’s large – the only size available.)
Perhaps Dirty Bill’s wasn’t all I’d hope it would be, but I sure am glad to got to meet him before the bar abandons him completely. Although he and I are mere acquaintances at best, I hate to think of him being retired to a storage bin to make room for something far more lame. You’d better bet that I’m keeping tabs on the bar though, because if it ever shuts down, I want first dibs on a couple of those photographs!