Polkadate: June, 2018. For years, I had heard of Sefcik Hall. It seemed like I was the only person who had never been, but then it was only built 25 years before I was born, and I am advanced middle age in years. Well, the stars finally aligned, and Lauren and I drove up to see what it was all about. It’s almost impossible to describe the experience but here is my attempt.
We finally made it to Tom Sefcik Hall just east of Temple. This 1920s vintage entertainment complex has a bar downstairs with a great polka-heavy jukebox, and a dance hall upstairs, that still holds weekly dances on Sunday evenings. This interesting two-story “blockhouse” wooden structure with an annex room branching off is sitting in the middle of thousands of acres of flat farmland cultivated by Czechs. I say interesting as the second story dance hall windows have been boarded up for many years, so the structure resembles a tall white box. Down the road is the Czech Brethren Church.
FIRST ORDER OF PLEASURE
The first order of pleasure is to enter the bar area to say hello to Alice Sefcik Sulak. The octogenarian, who grew up in this structure, lives in the house across the parking lot. She is perched on her throne on the inside of the end of the bar. Her son, Steven, is tending the bar. The structure was built by Alice’s father, Tom Sefcik. The store was the center of commerce in Seaton, Bell County, Texas. At one time it was a going concern with a post office, several businesses, and the Sefcik general merchandise/ groceries/beerjoint/lumberyard/dance hall structure. Strong support posts brace the overhead dance floor and the sound of the bass’ low end with the dancer’s feet shuffling from the aged lumber a couple of feet directly overhead give pause to those who have never been in a place like this.
The bar room is classic country store/ beer joint motif, but none of the wall adornments were purchased at Hobby Lobby. A neon "Pearl Beer/Sefcik Hall Since 1923" sign eight-foot long is above the mirror behind the bar. The reflective qualities of the mirror is obscured by posters of events which happened long ago but the large request to “Drink Hearty Folks and REMAIN Ladies and Gentlemen” is scrolled artistically on the mirror.
UP TO THE DANCE HALL
After saying hi to Alice and exchanging pleasantries, the second order of business is to navigate the only human access to the second-floor dance hall. This is accomplished by returning to the front porch and climbing a dozen well-trodden steps at a 45-degree incline. Thank goodness for the wooden handrails worn smooth by thousands of hands.
This Sunday evening Jerry Haisler and the Melody 5 are playing their monthly dance. Jerry’s wife, Helen, is at the door charging admission since Alice isn’t able to make it up the stairs any more. The hall, with a raised stage on the opposite end and tables down the side, holds approximately 300 people. The ceiling dangles strings of multicolored Christmas style lights that glow gently like stars in neat rows; eight small, diffused white lights run the length of the dance floor in pairs. Ceilings fans quietly move the air and conversations gently around the room. There are many people sharing their lives, with frequent outbursts of laughter, with their friends, neighbors, relatives. and soon to be friends. The sound of perfectly adjusted, volume-wise, country music pleasantly mixes in with the crowd.
After your eyes adjust, the room comes into focus more clearly. Couples are shuffling on the dance floor, and the tables in the “wings” of the dance floor are lit just enough to make out the grins and smiles of clusters of people enjoying themselves, along with the scattering of brown bottles, water bottles, and plates of homemade snacks. The lines on some of the faces makes you wonder how they navigated the entrance stairs, then you realize that watching them dance time and again, the stairs were no obstacle.
Nestled in the front left corner is the beer stand, not a bar but a nook about one beer cooler in width plus walkway and just enough space behind it for Irene Sulak (Alice’s daughter-in-law) to stand and grab a drink, accept payment, and turn around to put the money in the cash register. A clip-tree of chips awaits those who didn’t bring a snack, a row of switches will control the lighting in the hall, and more small signs adorn the wall.
Standing at the counter (that’s why it is a beer stand) I glanced up to see some advertising signs promoting a John Deere tractor dealership in Temple and an auto repair shop that “will replace auto glass while you wait.” It struck me that the signage was fairly uniform in shape. Following the signs along the top of the wall into the hall area, I discovered there were several dozen signs lining the whole room. They resembled wooden windows with clear plexiglass protecting the custom-made, yet, commercially designed logos.
They were from a time long since gone. Some advertised “Air Cooled Tires” (Huh???), “If You Love Beer, You’ll Love Schlitz”, “Lone Star Beer, Going Places Clear Across Texas”, “For the Stomach’s Sake-(a bottle of 7-UP)”, “Western Bohemian Fraternal Association (something in Czech) Home Offices, Cedar Rapids, Iowa”, and my favorite “Everybody’s Welcome” over the Men’s Room door.
Taking one of the few open pairs of seats at a table, dancers came by smiled and those we knew waved and stopped to talk, amazed that we had never been to this iconic hall. The band, of whom were all different ages, were well known by most people and birthday wishes were given. Jerry Haisler, who is in the advanced middle-age category, first played on this stage with his father’s band while in his early teens. The people were all gracious and having a great time on this Sunday afternoon.
SEE YA NEXT TIME ALICE!
When it was time to leave, the stairs were navigated cautiously, and we reentered Alice’s sanctum once again. Everything was the same, as it had been for many decades. Polka music on the jukebox and a small cluster of polka musicians huddled around Alice. Alice had played saxophone for many, many years upstairs with Jerry’s father’s band. We thanked her for a great time and then the dance upstairs ended resulting with a flood of dancers coming in the bar to keep the party going.
The magic of Sefcik’s store is still in full force and I encourage everyone to visit as soon as possible, because halls like this do not, and will not, exist in the future.
Postscript: the next day I posted on Polka Beat’s Facebook page a photo of a smiling Alice at her usual spot. Out of impulse I just put “Say Hi to Alice!” as a caption. The FB page notifications started ringing like a slot machine with Hi Alice! messages from dozens and dozens of her friends. So far over 5,500 folks have viewed the page. Please stop by the Polka Beat FB page and say Hi to Alice. BTW: her favorite song is When the Snow is on the Roses.