For residents of most large Texas cities, expectations for entertainment in Waco are low compared to Austin or Dallas; it’s not nearly as large, well-known, or talked about. Most students in their first semester at Baylor University wouldn’t dare to travel outside the “Baylor Bubble”, the mile or so radius of the university’s campus. With a little exploration and lots of time to navigate the confusing one-way streets, travelers can discover a small-seeming, almost scary-looking restaurant off south 8th Street- The Backyard. My expectations for a first-time visitor of this Waco staple were nothing more than a sub-par burger and people in cowboy boots; instead, visitors find a full restaurant and bar full of comfort food and conversation, and when the sun goes down, a concert or two.

I chose a table close to the outside stage, so I would be able to eat a variety of classic fried foods that were offered on the menu-the Fried Mozzarella was disgustingly satisfying- and get a glimpse of the outside scene at this venue. The locals who gathered around me were friendly and full of laughter. I began chatting with a family next to me from the Waco area who told me that The Backyard was a part of their weekly ritual. “We come here every week, no matter who the performer is or what’s going on.” John, one of the family members gathered told me, “It’s something that we can look forward to and a place that we feel at home.” As I finished off two more orders of Fried Mozzarella, I continued to explore the venue. There was a large stage surrounded by chairs and tables for guests to watch the upcoming show- in my case, an up-and-coming country music group named JB and the Moonshine Band. As a visitor to The Backyard, one can expect to get comfort food, drinks, and enjoy the family atmosphere and music.

As I continued to explore and talk to visitors and employees, I came across Brandon, one of the incredibly friendly bartenders. He was extremely welcoming to me, a confused-looking college student, and the only person not in cowboy boots. He talked of his experience of working at The Backyard and the benefits that go along with its laid-back nature.

“Everyone here is so easy to get along with; we get people from all walks of life and it’s crazy to get to meet so many different people.” After visiting the Magnolia Silos, tourists often stop by The Backyard for a comforting snack, and to experience what Brandon called “the hidden gem of Waco.” Each day, the place has a different deal that caters to all different kinds of visitors. Monday is Service Industry Night, in which they serve half-priced refreshments to other employees in the food service industry around Waco. Tuesday calls for an open mic night, where all the undiscovered talent around Waco can show off their skills. Wednesday is Ladies Night, followed by Piano Man Thursdays. Fridays and Saturdays are reserved for concerts, and Sunday is meant for brunch specials.

The four men who transformed The Backyard into the concert venue/family restaurant that it is now hoped to bring together love for Cinema and music with comfort food and outdoor seating, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald. The idea behind Brain Brown, Chris Cox, Russell Clay and Chris Braziel “represents development that is filling in and connecting parts of greater downtown.”

“It certainly changes the character of what was there before,” adds Downtown Waco development director Megan Henderson.

After a hard day of studying or working, it’s a place to relax, enjoy and to not have things taken so seriously.

Photo Credit: Waco Cable City Channel Vimeo