Over the years, fans of Tejano music legend Manuel “Cowboy” Donley, 89, knew that if they wanted to find him, they could drop by South Austin’s El Gallo restaurant on Tuesday evenings to hear the classic boleros and songs of yesteryear like “Solamente Una Vez.” He’d been playing on and off at El Gallo for more than 40 years until the restaurant closed in January. Aside from missing El Gallo’s popular dishes, loyal customers wondered where Manuel “Cowboy” Donley would perform next.
Now music lovers can find him and his daughter and musical partner, Sylvia Donley, performing at Little Mexico Restaurant (2304 S. First St.) from 7-9 p.m. every Thursday.
Manuel “Cowboy” Donley, a National Endowment for the Arts’ lifetime achievement recipient, packed the house at El Gallo on his last performance there so much that the kitchen ran out of food shortly after 7:30 p.m. Throughout his career he helped popularize orquesta music, which blends Latin rhythms with popular American musical genres such as rock and jazz. He blazed a trail in the Mexican-American music community and has inspired many other musicians along the way.
Although the Donleys were sad about no longer performing at El Gallo, Sylvia Donley says that Little Mexico has a “warm family feel” that reminds her of all the performances throughout the years at El Gallo.
News of South Austin landmark El Gallo’s impending closure brought an overflow crowd on Tuesday evening that was so large the kitchen ran out of food shortly after 7:30 p.m. The full house enjoyed the last serenade by Tejano music legend Manuel “Cowboy” Donley and his daughter Sylvia, who have been fixtures at the South Austin eatery on Tuesday evenings for years.
The dining institution will close its doors on Sunday after 60 years. “I can’t believe it,” Donley, 89, said. “I guess everything has to come to an end.” Restaurant management has said the increase in property taxes has contributed to their decision to shut down.
Customers came from all around the Austin area to say goodbye to the beloved restaurant and to have one last plate of enchiladas and Kennedy nachos. Bruce Hutchison, 63, drove from Bastrop after he heard the closure news. “I’ve been coming here since I was 4 years old,” he said. He even called his ex-wife, Suzanne to share the news. And the two decided they had to have one final El Gallo meal together. “We always came here to avoid the crowds, but not today.”
For Sylvia Donley, El Gallo has always felt like home. “I’ve loved playing here. When I heard the news my stomach started hurting. We’re losing a big piece of Hispanic history.”