ATHENS THRU THE YEARS
A Bite to Eat at the B&B Cafe
By Anne Adams
It was an Athens institution. From the time it was set up in the 1930s till a 1989 fire shut it down, the B&B Café was not just a place to eat but a community hangout where you met your friends. It was located on the south side of the courthouse square.
Also, there were stories about other customers… one was that while well known Sheriff Jess Sweeten might be having his lunch in the dining room notorious bandit Clyde Barrow (of Bonnie and Clyde fame) was snacking in the kitchen. Not that unusual since a relative ran the place. (More about that later).
One early media notice about the B&B came in the June 8, 1939 issue of the Athens Review, describing how the owners had done some remodeling and were anxious that their customers “inspect the enlarged and re-decorated restaurant.”
Owners Mr. and Mrs. Walter Barrow were proud of their enlarged space, now occupying about 2500 square feet and featuring a new glass front on the building. This new banquet room, seating some 100 persons, was decorated in ivory and mahogany, and the main café area seated 66 diners. Then in 1989, the downtown Athens landmark came to an end.
It was an unusually cold night, according to the February 7 Athens Review, when the Athens Fire Department personnel arrived about 3:30 a.m. in the morning, to face the conflagration. As their captain described it “the fire looked like the whole south side of town was burning.” Also endangered were adjacent buildings, including a bank. And even as the firefighters fought to save the building, they did so with a sense of regret that the B&B may be gone. Waylon Padgett, the assistant fire chief told the reporter, “It’s a shame to see it go…I’ve had many a good cup of coffee there.”
The next morning the nearby First State Bank was open for business though employees worked in their winter coats and coped with the choking smoke that had seeped in through the firewall. Building owner Elma Mae Allison stated that at that point she had no plans for the location, and insurance adjusters would advise her. The damage was estimated to be about $70,000.
However, it seems that the B&B did not re-open, as indicated by a hanging neon sign to serve as a reminder. In her article on the restaurant in the Sunday, May 7, 1995 review article, Toni Garrard Clay, then a Review Staff Writer and now Communications Coordinator for the Athens School Independent District elaborated on the origins of the restaurant’s origins.
In 1900 George W. Allison purchased the property in Athens, first built a dry goods store in 1928, and then built the café a few years later. The two B’s were for Walter Barrow and his son, a name that remained throughout the years.
So what the story about Clyde Barrow? Well, actually to Ms. Clay’s sources, the bank robber was a cousin of Walter Barrow’s and while he did stop by to eat in the kitchen occasionally Jeff Sweeten was in the dining room. However, according to Ms. Clay’s source, the cousins weren’t close, and “Clyde was always an embarrassment to Walter.”
One important feature of the café in its heyday was the many groups of friends who would gather to drink coffee and chat. “That’s where the worldwide problems were solved,” said Roy Parnell who first became a regular about 1948 about the time he built the Texan Theater. The café opened about 5 a.m. and Parnell and the other customers would be there then, and then drop in several other times during the day, including a gathering about 4 p.m. when they stopped for that nickel cup of coffee and another chat.
The 1995 article featured a picture of the vestige sign and the caption: “The downtown landmark remained perched for six years after the 1989 fire that destroyed the café.” The sign had been purchased by someone in Jefferson, Texas. Now the B&B Café would only live in memories.