Yes, Czech Inn, Czech Stop, Merry Czechmas, Czech Point Antiques – they sure do have fun in West, Texas, a small town with a population that is, says the son of the owner at the Czech-American Restaurant, as he serves up cabbage rolls, “99 percent Czech”.
Texas is full of immigrant populations. I’m uncertain whether to include among the immigrants the Spanish who got here in 1519, or the Mexicans, given that for a time Texas was part of Mexico, or even the North Americans who the Mexicans -when they ran the place – allowed to settle in Texas. I’m sure immigrant populations from a North American perspective, probably includes Mexicans and foreigners in general. Anyway, there’s a lot of them in this portion of the Land of the Free, and among them, many whose ancestors came here in the late 19th century from what is now Czechoslovakia.
“It’s a little different here in West”, says the receptionist at the Czech Inn, who lives somewhere else. “They do things differently here.”
“They sure do” says the man leaning on the counter, who inspects things and has to drive a lot, and comes here once a week.
“Everyone is related to everyone” says the receptionist. “The people that own this are related to the people that own that. Everything is family-run: the hotel, the bars, the dress shops . . .”
It’s hard to tell whether they think this is a good thing. She does add that they all look out for each other; the young look after the old, work the fields and so forth.
(Aside from the other ones a bit like it – Praha – obviously, and Flatonia) West definitely is a very different kind of town. For a start there is a refreshing lack of chain stores and restaurants, and while there is a massive Sonic Drive-In looming over the low-slung Czech Stop, the crowds are in the bakery, licking their chops as they wait for fresh-baked kolaches. I don’t know precisely what they are, but they’re delicious, warm and fluffy and filled with everything from cream cheese, jalapeno and sausage to cream cheese and pumpkin, and probably very bad for you. Two elderly ladies who engage me in one of by now very frequent ‘you’re not from round here’ conversations, explain they make a long detour whenever they’re passing through Texas, just to come to this bakery and get a box-load.
There’s plenty of places to buy Czech food whether it’s Czechoslovak fries or sausage klobasniki made to recipes brought to Texas by Czech grandmothers. The Village Bakery claims to be the first of its kind in Texas, but it’s one of a few that include Geriks Ole Czech Bakery. People not only eat a lot of kolaches round here, but they actually speak Czech, read Czech papers and stick up Czech signs – as well as drink Czech beer, as I discover in the cavernous Nors Sausage House when served a Staropramen. Exploring the old Western style streets of this quiet, dusty and friendly town is a top treat. Even the mill, producing feed for hundreds of farms around the region, is beautiful in its own, Marfa-ish way.
Aside from eating and drinking, visitors can head to the Katy Depot to read all about the Crash at Crush, a publicity stunt that involved crashing two 35-ton locomotives in 1896. Everyone in West is very proud of this event. There’s also train-watching – it runs right through the middle of the town making its mournful hoot. And every year there’s a Westfest, that combines kolaches, Pilsner, folk dancing, Western stuff and general merriment. Reckon that would be worth catching.