Keller’s Hamburgers…Explaining it’s wonder and what seems like the illegal activity there

I love Keller’s but seriously, what they’re doing with beer is illegal right?  A.R.

If you know what Keller’s is, then you can skip to the next three paragraphs, but you’ll miss an early 1970’s movie clip about “carhops” filmed partly at Keller’s.   Okay here’s the first part.

Now if you don’t know what Keller’s is, I can’t truly explain it.  That’d be like explaining what Max’s Kansas City is.  I can only tell you about it.  And I say this as someone who grew up down the street from the Keller compound, and went to their annual Fourth of July Picnics.

imagesCA9ZH03DWait for the pics of the burgers…

Keller’s is a drive up hamburger joint from back in the day.  An old fashioned carhop place, think Sonic but with real authentic character.  In fact I’m ashamed I just compared it to Sonic.  The Northwest Highway location (the flagship one and one I’m talking about) has been around since 1963, and it’s literally 99.9% the same as it was back then.  The only thing that has changed are the prices.  But other then that, it’s the same burger shack, parking, and carhops from the heyday of drive ups.  They still make the same good, but simple food. Burgers, cheeseburgers, fries, onion rings, shakes, and the “number 5” a double meat double cheese special sauce burger.  Grilled onions are free, and you can get chili on anything, including the grilled cheese for a quarter.


Ever so tasty

But most people go for the atmosphere.  On a given Friday or Saturday evening you’ll find a dozen bikers (to the left of actual hamburger stand), and perhaps three dozen owners of classic and custom cars (to the right).

6884526184_3bf098a71a_m  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bikers on the Left                                               Cars on the Right

The people and the car watching is half the show.  An in the center across from the stand, lie the rest of the collected masses.  A hodgepodge of elegantly dressed Mercedes driving older folks, mini-vans full of pre-teens, groups of just off the job Hispanics, frat boys, plumber’s trucks, and associated 20 somethings.  Also Ludacris, and Tommy Lee…And Jimmy Buffet.

img_2223  969489_10151909608323084_2095067055_n ??????????

The usually customers at Keller’s

I highly, highly recommend it if you’ve never been.  And if you haven’t been before, don’t get scared by the thing everyone’s doing that seems illegal.  The standing around drinking beers, ordering beers in the cars, and sitting around in cars having a few cold ones.  Newbies to Keller’s always seem surprised by this, they get freaked out, and sling down like a high schooler when the cops cruise by to check on the scene.

And the question is asked how in the world can Keller’s do this?  This has to be illegal.

Well first of all, you have to understand that Keller’s comes from a different time, when the laws were different.  And though laws have changed since Keller’s started, Keller’s hasn’t.  So there are hundreds of mostly minor building codes, health codes, development codes, and alcohol codes that Keller’s doesn’t have to comply with because it’s been ‘grandfathered in.”  There are major changes that Keller’s does have to comply with, but most minor changes they don’t.  Keller’s, because the ownership, building, business model and other key things haven’t changed, is considered legal non-conforming (the lawyer term for grandfathered).  So Keller’s can do what they do in part because they’re operating under liquor laws decades old that say things like no one shall be granted a liquor license if “the applicant is not of good moral character or his reputation for being a peaceable, law-abiding citizen in the community where he resides is bad.”  Wait my bad, it still says that.


Sorry Snidely Whiplash, No booze permits for you.

In fact the Alcoholic code for Texas is ass backwards sometimes.  It’s odd, confusing, and based upon prohibition era reasoning.  But at the same time its  reflective of Texas’s strong property, personal and business rights.  Which is why you can’t sell more than two open beers to anyone at the same time, or any beer to anyone without a shirt on, or buy beer anywhere before noon…on Sundays.  But at the same time, you can run a business selling tacos and give away beer to anyone, anytime for free.  Your tacos might cost 25 dollars apiece, but you can still give away the beer for free.  It’s your right to.  Now I have to point out, if you want to run your free beer and taco joint, you have to jump through dozen of hops, have strict prove up requirements, and generally go through so much hassle that it’s not worth your time or money.  Hence the reason why hardly anyone does this longer than a week or so.

ProhibitionRepealPosterYes, please drink.

So for Keller’s and their beer in cars,  we all know you can’t drive drunk, or drive with an open container on a public road, and you can’t provide open alcohol containers to people in a car in an “to-go” manner.  But ask the TABC if you can serve open containers to people in cars on private property, their response is well technically yes.  But in order to do that you have to configure your business in just such a way, doing dozens of things certain exact way, jump through so many legal hops, and doing some many things to satisfy the state and city, that it might not be worth it.  They’re all relatively minor things separately, that have been tacked on throughout the years, but put together they add up.


Sorry no liquor license for you, new business owner

Unless of course you started way back in the day when liquor laws were different.  Maybe you only had to jump through one or two hops to start your business.  And since your business hasn’t changed, well, you’re still grandfathered in.  And for those reasons we end up this magic tray of goodness.



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