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Hola, howdy, bienvenido, saludos, greetings, howdy, hey!

Welcome to Cactus Jack's Bar & Grill, the best Tex-Mex this side of the border. Leave your worries at the door and enjoy the authentic flavours of Tex-Mex cuisine, straight from the border towns of America and Mexico. So how did Cactus Jack's come about? Over 23 years ago, we fell in love with both cultures – the vibrancy, the energy and the music. The Australian dining scene was pretty boring back we had a vision to shake things up and bring some of the rich culture we’d experienced to our hometown of Townsville. We wanted to create a place where as soon as you step in, you feel like you are transported to another world and where the daily pressures and stresses could be left outside the door for a while. Then it all came together from a far fable told to me in an El Paso bar …

It was the year 1888, in the Southern American frontier town of El Paso, Texas, that two unlikely young fellows became the best of friends. Roberto de la Fuentes (Cactus for short) and Billy Ray Augustus Jack (just Jack to his friends) met at the age of eighteen while working on the construction of the Southern Pacific Railway. Cactus was drawn to Billy Ray’s charm with the women, and Billy to Cactus’ wicked sense of humour.

They became like brothers, and whether in a bar fight or breaking ladies’ hearts, they were inseparable. For years they worked hard and saved their money. Finally in 1892 they purchased a small plot of land on the reaches of El Paso, with the aim to catch wild horses to tame and sell to the highest bidder. El Paso, with its green valleys, perfect climate year-around and new rail line, was attracting a constant stream of newcomers, including merchants, entrepreneurs, and professionals looking to benefit from the Mexican free trade zone.
So of course Cactus and Jack were optimistic about their new business venture. Lawlessness ensued, with plenty of saloons, dance halls, gambling havens and houses of ill repute lining the main streets. Cactus and Billy Ray were at the prime of their life and loving the excitement of El Paso.

Whilst friends for over a decade, their kinship was tested when the beautiful Señorita, Lucia Estela Consuela Domingo, caught their eye. She was a waitress in the local Tex-Mex saloon and stole both their hearts with her jet black hair, voluptuous red lips, big brown eyes and gentle way with everybody she met. Every week they would go in to feast on fajitas and chilli, washed down with whisky for Billy Ray and tequila for Cactus, just so they could catch a glimpse of their beautiful Lucia. Her mama, Estela Louisa Maria Domingo, was the saloon’s cook, so a glimpse was all they could catch with her prying eye always watching over the kitchen door.

It was a hot, windy day on August 28, 1899 while Cactus and Billy Ray were drilling a water well on their new property, when their lives changed forever. They hit oil!

To celebrate their newfound wealth – and when they realised they weren’t very good at catching wild horses ¬– they opened their own restaurant called Cactus Jack’s. They enticed Lucia’s mama to run the kitchen (with an iron first and fiery temper) and for Lucia to look after the patrons. Their mantra was ‘to serve the best Tex-Mex this side of the border’, and soon Cactus Jack’s was a success, drawing workers and families from the oil fields, railway, as well as the booming economy across in Mexico.

Mama was a great Tex-Mex cook, drawing inspiration from her hometown, while changing the recipes slightly for American tastes. She served the best chilli in town and every Tuesday Cactus Jack’s would open it doors for ‘chiles baratos martes’ (cheap chilli Tuesdays), with lines wrapping around the block.

Billy Ray wooed Lucia daily with acts of bravado, cowboy charisma and good old-fashioned Texan charm. She soon fell in love and they married in the spring of 1902. While Roberto publicly congratulated their union, his heart was mildly broken and he was keen to remind Billy Ray whenever he could.

He took to working in the kitchen with mama and behind the bar, and Billy Ray could always be guaranteed a rouge raw chilli in his quesadilla or a spiced whisky when least expecting it. Fortunately for Bill Ray, Lucia’s cousin, Adriana Rosario Montero Domingo from Chihuahua, arrived a few months later to help out mama in the busy kitchen. She was a fiery beauty with a gorgeous singing voice that mesmerised Cactus. He tried everything to win her heart. He would do his damnedest to make her laugh every day with funny jokes and silly antics. He played his guitar at night and sang for her, and loved creating new cocktails in her honour.

A family followed for Billy Ray and Lucia, and Cactus was the doting ‘tío’ (uncle), and mama the protective abuela (grandmother). There was Roberto William, Freda Louise, Carita Dixie, Emilio Thomas and the youngest Elena Marigold. They grew up in the restaurant, and as soon as they could they would help out in the kitchen, on the floor or in the bar.

On the twenty-eighth day of August, in the summer of 1934, exactly 35 years following Roberto and Billy Ray’s oil find, the future of Cactus Jack’s changed forever. A fire, ravaging and powerful, pulled down the famous restaurant, and all that was left were cinders and scarred memories.

With this wonderful story in mind, we came back to Townsville and opened the first Cactus Jack’s on Palmer Street in the town centre, with dust blowing past the door. There were homeless people across the street, but always a line-up of eaters and drinkers out the front. Our reputation grew from there as ‘the best darned value for money, eatin’ and drinkin’ in town!’

We now have restaurants from Brisbane to Cairns, and 24 years on are still keeping the locals happy with great value Tex-Mex. We hope you enjoy too!

Phone (07) 4964 1800
Email reservations@airliebeachhotel.com.au
Website www.cactusjacks.com.au
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Location 16 The Esplanade, Airlie Beach 4802
Whitsundays, QLD Australia
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