It’s easy to miss Valentine Texas Bar. The building on State Highway 90 looks just like any of the other remote West Texas town’s crumbling adobe, especially with the restoration work at the adjacent HiWay Cafe. Casual passersby would never know there’s a party going on inside the building.
“When you open it up, it’s like a geode in there,” says head barkeeper and owner Jeff Wilson, “especially at night, when you’ve got all the Christmas lights and the beer signs going. It’s almost like a fairy tale—a West Texas fairy tale.”
Wilson bought the bar after meeting the previous owners, Victor and Gloria Sanchez, in 2019. Wilson—an entrepreneur who’s more widely known as Professor Dumpster for his Dumpster Project, where he lived in a transformed 36-square-foot dumpster for a year—was a recent transplant to West Texas at the time, renting an Airstream in Valentine. In a town of less than 200 people, the bar has served as a gathering place where locals and travelers could hang out over a beer. Wilson works to continue that tradition. He hosted his first big weekend in 2020 during the annual Valentine’s in Valentine event. For the celebration, the town’s population quadruples in size as people commemorate the holiday with music and fun at the Old Mercantile Building, a former general store that’s been converted into a venue. After the COVID-19 pandemic postponed in-person gatherings the following year, Wilson reopened the bar in 2022.
Visitors who visit the bar tend to learn about it through its Instagram, or they see the open sign painted on a car door on the way to Prada Marfa. Wilson says it can be hard to get folks to stop by, but he does enjoy the serendipitous nature to it.
“My definition of a dive bar is a place where anyone, no matter creed, color, socioeconomic status, education, and number of trucks you own or number of Teslas you own, everything sort of fades in the background and you can just sort of be you and be accepted,” Wilson says. “I do feel like it’s a space like that.”
That hospitality also extends to four-legged friends. Pets—including horses, which have made an appearance—are welcome. Inside Valentine Texas Bar is a counter where people can park themselves and order a drink. There are a few tables along the walls that are covered with handwritten rules, such as “What happens at the bar stays at the bar,” and dollar bills left behind by past patrons, a tradition that dates back to the 1980s. The bar’s origins start as early as the 1950s though, when it was part of the Hi Way Cafe and owned by Victor’s grandparents, Isabel and Eulalia Sanchez. Victor and Gloria Sanchez purchase the bar from Victor’s uncle, Cruz Sanchez, when they learned it was for sale. Gloria says that they used the bar mostly for their own entertainment.
It’s one of the very few businesses in town. The post office sees an increase of activity this time of year as people send their mail for the Valentine-themed postmark designed by a local student. There’s a beverage vending machine at the school that’s accessible 24/7 when it’s working. You can get a beer at Valentine Texas Bar, but in typical far West Texas fashion, the hours are not the most consistent. In fact, there’s a sign on the front window that says, “When we’re here, OPEN. When we’re not here, CLOSED. Thanks, Victor & Gloria.”
“Just to even say business hours, you almost have to laugh,” Wilson says.
Since Wilson took over the bar, he estimates it’s been open an average of eight days out of the year, mainly out of practicality. This area is notoriously known for how hard it can be to hire enough people to work. But in 2023, as he spent more time in neighboring Marfa, he managed to open it twice the amount of times. He announces when it’s open on social media and local Facebook groups. The next official date will be Saturday, Feb. 17, to coincide with this year’s Valentine’s in Valentine. There will be a celebration for local attorney Liz Rogers, starting at noon, and Valentine-themed tattoos by World Famous Clyde.
The weekend also coincides with the Ex-Student Reunion, when former Valentine students return to their hometown. Growing up in Valentine, Veronica Calderon was never allowed to go to the bar, and it was also impossible to sneak in with her dad being the mayor and her mom being a teacher, but she stopped by in 2010 when she was home from college.
“I finally got to put my dollar up on the wall for the first time, and that was cool,” Calderon says.
At last year’s Valentine’s in Valentine, Calderon’s boyfriend, Daniel Velasquez, proposed to her in front of the crowd that included her family and friends inside the Old Mercantile Building and they celebrated the momentous occasion at Valentine Texas Bar. Wilson gave them a $2 bill to put on the wall. Calderon plans to return for this year’s Valentine’s weekend festivities and is bringing some friends with her. She shared that it was sad when she learned the bar was sold in 2019, wondering what the new owners’ intentions would be, but that changed when she met Wilson.
“I think that he really cares and respects the people of the town and the town’s history,” Calderon says. “And he has become part of the community, so I feel like it’s in good hands.”