Bill Williams Chicken House

Bill Williams Menu 1940s 1There was another restaurant besides Ye Old College Inn across the street from the original Rice Stadium. It was Bill Williams Chicken House and I stumbled upon one of their menus the other day. I spent an inordinate amount of time studying it, especially considering that I wasn’t going to get dinner when I was finished.

Bill Williams Menu 2

This was tucked in the back of a scrapbook and probably dates from the late ’40s. Note on the cover page the politically incorrect evolution of their tagline, from “Chicken in the Rough” to “Chicken Savage Style.” I have no idea what the meaning of this could be, but after a half hour with the menu I’m pretty sure I would have gotten a regular order, all dark, and a chocolate malted milk.

The back page got a legitimate laugh out of me.

Bill Williams menu 3

And yet I feel vaguely dissatisfied. I don’t know when Bill Williams went away but I wish it were still there.

Bonus: I had a fantastic visit in the Woodson this afternoon with loyal reader Deborah Gronke Bennett. We opened a random drawer in a map case and looked around for a while. I realize that this is perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, but we had a great time talking about what we found in there.

P1060763

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21 Responses to Bill Williams Chicken House

  1. Gloria Tarpley '81 says:

    I remember the restaurant well! When my brothers and I were young, we used to come up with our parents to Houston from Mexico City at Christmas and Easter, and Bill Williams was alive and well in the middle of what is now the Med Center. I can’t exactly place the location, but I know it was right by Rice, and the food was really good — your order would have been very popular there! It was cozy, homey, and very tasty (at least, to a pre-teen it was…) This would have been in the late sixties, early seventies. I presume the restaurant disappeared as the Med Center developed. I’m thinking it was located right about where the St. Luke’s Towers are today….. Thanks for today’s post — a blast from the past!

  2. Sandy Havens says:

    Bill Williams was one of three places along Main Street near the campus where all we dorm rats ate on weekends when there was no food service in the dining hall. Closest was a hamburger stand named (I think) Somebody’s. (Next was Ye Olde College Inn which none of us could afford and so is not counted as one of the three) Then there was Youngblood’s, also a chicken place with wonderful–unlimited–bisquits. A bit further –on the corner of Main and University–was Bill Williams. Not sure when it closed but I think it was still in operation in 1964.

    An area you might want to research is Valian’s Pizza. They were the first pizza place in Houston. Initially it was a tiny place somewhat further out Main than Bill Williams with about four tables and a pizza oven. A huge hit with Rice students–and obviously others, they finally moved and expanded and expanded until they occupied the entire lot on the SW corner of Main and Holcombe. Even when I came back on the faculty in 1964 they continued to serve their signature “Wop” salad. Times change.

    • Valian’s lasted until I was a Rice student, but barely. They were gone by ’82-83, I think. I loved that place, with its different themed rooms including the one with the starry ceiling. I have to say the last time I went the pizza tasted just like grocery store frozen pizza.

    • James says:

      Valian’s not only had good pizza, but they had the best stuffed shrimp I have ever had in my life. No one will ever come close to how they prepared it. There was another good eating place in the area, Trader Vic’s. I’ve been there only a couple of times and don’t remember exactly where it was but I think it was in the Shamrock.

    • Richard Miller (Hanszen '75 & '76) says:

      Bill Willams went away I think either in 1972 or 1973. They were still in operation my freshman year but went away I think my sophmore year.

      You also forgot Christies (I think which was on the other side of what is now the BCM Faculty center, the Medical Towers.)

      Valian’s was a bit down from Holcomb on Main (Fannin Bank was on the corner) but it was a good walk for us for dinner. The Shamrock Six theater was next to it.

      • Sheila Solomon Beers says:

        Please see my previous post. The last time I was at Bill Williams’ Restaurant on Fannin Street was during the Houston Rodeo and Livestock Show. At the time I worked at M. D. Anderson, and this would have been between 1972 and 1982. In the 1970s I often had Sunday dinner with friends at the Bill Williams’ Restaurant.

  3. C Kelly says:

    Bill Williams had another restaurant just east of Richmond, Texas on Highway 90A. It was fairly large, with multiple dining rooms and ‘white-tablecloth’ service. An interior section had booths and a counter much like a diner. There was carhop service in an area on the east side of the building.

    About the mid 1950s he added a hotel and small amusement park that included a train and horse-back riding down to the Brazos River.

    It was quite a place.

    • Gloria Tarpley '81 says:

      The middle link leads to a picture that is exactly like I remember it!
      That would have been in the late sixties…..

  4. Susanne Glasscock says:

    Melissa–

    You are missing the point about Bill Williams—-it wasn’t about the food so much as about “being there”–it was companionship, dates, homework with a shake , being off campus, sitting together and talking in the drive-in part. I really do not remember the chicken——but I do remember 4 people in a booth, each with a slide rule, trying to figure out a Rorschah [ sp??] physics problem—and even better, my first date with Mel, sitting in the drive in section with a Coke talking and getting to know each other OK so this is not publishable stuff—-but you get the idea——-

    Susie

  5. mjthannisch says:

    I remember Bill Williams, Valients, Sonny Looks, and various other places mentioned in the Links (and Playland Park). I cannot remember if we ever went to Bill Williams, but I have eaten at One’s a Meal mentioned in one of the article (with my cousin who used to live at the Rice Hotel (formerly Mrs. Payne’s ((Lovett College Secretary in the 70s)) Boyfriend. Kiddie Wonderland was part of those memories too.
    For those of you who grew up in the area: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axpE0Mo4Is4

  6. mjthannisch says:

    Another interesting site for those who went to Rice of grew up in Houston in the late 50s and 60’s. Includes a great shot of the Gulf building, and the beginning and end of the Shamrock.

  7. I don’t know what the significance of “Fried Chicken Savage Style” is but the illustration seems to be something pan-fried over a fire. For those whose travels take them to Arkansas, there’s a restaurant chain called “AQ Chicken” (AQ stands for Arkansas Quality.) They have locations in Fayetteville and Springdale, maybe others. Bill Clinton visited the them repeatedly both as Governor and as President. Anyway, one of their menu specialties is “Chicken over the Coals” which is battered and lemon-pepper rubbed chicken chicken pieces cooked over charcoal. It’s REAL, REAL good, with a very engaging mix of traditional fried-chicken and charcoal-grilled flavors. I wonder if Bill Williams’ chicken was similar?

  8. Bill Johnson says:

    Like Sandy I remember Youngbloods Chicken and Valians Pizza. Youngbloods had a Chicken gizzard plate for I believe 95 cents. This was a real bargin for Sat evenings as there was honey and probably extra bisquits. Valian’s was a longer walk but nice to get off campus in good weather. It was on the east side of Main and south of Holcomb. Does Sandy remember the night in old South Hall when he and his roommate returned to find their room completely filled with crumpled newspapers?

  9. Barney L. McCoy, Hanszen 67 says:

    Going south on Main we had the following culinary choices: The Dobbs House in the drive thru at Hermann Prof. Bldg, which was open 24 hrs./day. It was presided over by ” Sweatty Betty ” on the evening shift. She took only orders and no gruff from Rice students. Next was Someburger, where Hanszen frosh worked off shack runs accumulated during “Guidance” (See previous post from months ago). Ye Olde College Inn was pricey and above my budget. The only time I ate there was curtesy of Rice at the Athletic Dept Banquet for Spring Sports ( track). I always skipped Youngbloods and went directly to Bill Williams because the chicken was better, there was a more extensive menu and the prices were cheaper. Further down the street across from the Shamrock, was Valian’s, where I ate my first pizza. The decor was nice, the pizza tasty and reasonably priced, and it stayed open late on Fri and Sat, which made it a great place to take a date after some Rice party. Trader Vic’s was in the Shamrock Hotel and definitely out of my price range. But, when I started practicing law in Houston in the 70’s, it became a New Year’s Eve tradition for a group of my friends untill the evil force of progress imploded the Shamrock.

  10. Sigsby Rusk says:

    The Bill Williams restaurant across from the campus kept me alive in 1949, my freshman year, on weekends or whenever the boarding house food (on BolsoverSt.) didn’t appeal to me.

  11. Deborah Gronke Bennett (BSEE Hanszen '82) says:

    Woo-hoo! Am I famous now?
    I did have a great visit with Melissa, and I loved looking through the drawer. It was full of drawings of various master plans for the campus.
    I took a walk around campus afterwards, and was amazed at the amount of changes. I attended Rice during the Norman Hackerman “steady-state university” years, when no new buildings were built. I haven’t been back on campus since the late 80’s (other than a quick drive-through on a rainy day three years ago).

    My favorite new building is the Brochstein Pavilion. The whole area between the back of Fondren Library and the RMC is alive now. When I was at Rice it was a big dead zone that one passed through on their way to somewhere else.

  12. Sheila Solomon Beers says:

    The Bill Williams Restaurant was around as a seafood place in the 1970s and beyond. I remember the stuffed steer exhibited in a huge glass case inside the restaurant and the large Native American statue on the roof. I also remember Valian’s Italian Restaurant on Fannin Street very well as my husband and I went there to celebrate our engagement. Just north of Valian’s was an Italian grocery owned by an Italian family whose surname started with “R,” something like Ronatelli’s or Riggatoni’s. Perhaps another poster remembers it and can tell me the exact name. The store was a snow white-painted cement block building with a red-and-white striped awning over the large front window. Another branch of the same grocery chain with an identical building was located on Spencer Highway in South Houston in the 1970s. Yes, Houston was a quaint, friendly, and charming place then. I so wish it could have stayed that way forever.

  13. Richard Blakely says:

    One other thing about Bill Williams that I remember. They had an oyster bar. My Dad came to Rice for Father’s weekend probably in 1961 or 1962 and took me to eat my first raw oyster there. Dad would just tell the shucker to “keep ’em coming”. One of the loyal Bill Williams oyster shuckers was Benny; when Bill Williams closed he opened up Captain Benny’s Oyster Boat at Holcombe and South Main. Captain Benny’s later moved south near Main and Greenbriar and finally ended up at its current location on Main near the terminus of O.S.T. Benny died several years ago, but there are still several Captain Benny’s Oyster Bars located in the greater Houston area. But it all started at Bill Williams.

    Richard Blakely
    Will Rice 1964

    ps: At night, we would also eat at the Toddle House / Copper Kettle which stayed open all night and was located in the breezeway of the Hermann Professional Building. That building was the first professional office building in the medical center. The ones that followed, including Diagnostic Hospital, ultimately displaced Bill Williams, Someburger, and Ye Old College Inn.

    pps: Bill Williams also had a restaurant near U of H which may have been the successor to the South Main location.

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