There Goes the Neighborhood
North/South/Central – redistricting the live music capital
Austin's paved over parking spots for its live music paradise.
Take 10th Street, between the frontage road and Red River. My secret spot: gone. Vanished. Public.
On Fourth, two blocks east of the highway, I encountered "no parking" signs lining the chain-link fence as I trolled for parking two Saturday nights ago. Re-routing southeast avoided steep parking fees and meter limits. And forget about Comal at Seventh. That stretch hugging the east end of the state cemetery, with quick access to the White Horse, Hotel Vegas, Volstead Lounge, the Eastern, and the Brixton fills by the afternoon.
"[That's] the greatest negative impact on bars Downtown over the past decade," nods John Wickham, owner of Elysium – the 13-year-old venue smack-dab in the middle of the Red River music district – when queried about parking. "From the back-ins along Eighth Street to the redesign under the highway, which used to be free, and the demolition of the parking garage across from Stubb's."
Construction, congestion, drunk driving, and Cap Metro's early curfews; getting Downtown for live music is a process now. If you don't live within walking distance and want to go out, you drive, you wait, you park, you pay.
Such excursions will only prove harder once former Mayor Will Wynn's tax initiative to get 25,000 people living Downtown transpires (revisit "Downtown's Tall Order," June 23, 2006). Now estimated at 40% complete, expect another 15,000 well before the decade closes out.
For Holy Mountain partner James Taylor that's not soon enough. Paired with the arrival of boutique, entertainment-conscious hotels like Hotel Indigo, a chic subsidiary of Inter-Continental Hotels opening at Wickham's aforementioned parking garage next March (check "Playback," April 4), Taylor foresees a new era for Red River, one in which the sidewalks get cleaned up and the music continues nightly – bars opening earlier to meet demand and rising rent.
"I can't wait for hotels to open," he says. "It means guests who are living and staying within a walking distance of my club will come here for happy hours and shows. The Hotel Indigo, when we met with developers there, were real clear that the kind of guest staying at their hotel would be the same kind who would want to go to Holy Mountain or Mohawk on a weekend night. That's why they're staying there."
According to Taylor, Holy Mountain and its neighboring bars – a strong nucleus of clubs integral to the local music scene, including Beerland, Cheer Up Charlie's, Empire Control Room, Red 7, Red Eyed Fly, Mohawk, and Stubb's – rely on destination traffic. Orbit venues around the central business district faced the same reality with less success. Remember Lovejoys? Skinny's Ballroom? How about Antone's?
Some, like Gregg Ware's One-2-One Bar, packed up and moved out of the city center altogether.
"We built a rooftop and everything else, but we wanted to get out of town because the parking situation was so horrible," says Ware, whose venue moved two years ago from its original location at 121 E. Fifth St., where walkers-by will now find HandleBar. "All the construction down there, that cost us – I can damn near prove it – $70,000 to $100,000 in one year alone."
Ware and his wife Destinee now nestle acts like Black Red Black and Nic Armstrong & the Thieves into a strip mall on South Lamar, just north of Oltorf.
One-2-One joins a growing list of music venues that have opened in satellite locations around Austin's outer regions. In South Austin, Strange Brew, Sweetwater, and Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co. (ABGB) have all established themselves as viable nighttime options for those looking to find nearby outlets for music. That same trend's emerging north as well, via the Roost and Little Longhorn Saloon on Burnet, as well as supremely Eastside hangouts like the Skylark Lounge (revisit "Cold Sweat," June 13) and the Lost Well.
Each joins established neighborhood spots like the Spider House Ballroom in the heart of the UT district; Sahara Lounge, Trailer Space, and Carousel Lounge to the east; and Whip In and Saxon Pub south as viable options for those who don't want to deal with Downtown hassles. Westsiders, your only options appear to be Donn's Depot and the Mean Eyed Cat on West Fifth.
These places have parking and happy-hour shows, making it easy for people to flock there after work. One-2-One, Strange Brew, Sweetwater, and the Roost all sit in strip malls next to nail salons, kung fu centers, and barber shops. Not exactly what you'd find in cultural districts.
"We realize there's a cool factor missing," says Strange Brew owner Scott Ward, who converted unused space next to his 24-hour coffee shop into a listening room two years ago and now rivals veteran landmarks like the Saxon Pub for roots rock, songwriters, and homegrown up-and-comers. "People who come to our venues – places like the Saxon Pub and One-2-One – are people who used to go Downtown 20 years ago. They're in the older age bracket.
"Now, they don't want to mess with it."
His plans call for changes to the coffee shop side of his venue so that it promotes socializing over laptop use during evening hours. Ward also notes nearby hangout Radio Coffee & Beer's presence on Manchaca and Ben White as a hipper spot that could eventually help bring more young concertgoers to Strange Brew.
"People think about East Sixth because there's a lot of fun and music," he says (reacquaint yourself with the first half of this story, "We Built This City," February 2, 2012).
"'We're going to go to the east side of the freeway.' You want to be able to get them in and bounce around."
The new spot that's managed to become cool in the eyes of Austin's beholders is the ABGB on West Oltorf. Under partners Amos Lowe, Brian Peters, Mark Jensen, and Curt and Jill Knobloch, the brewhouse and concert venue has become a popular destination for the latest iteration of urban cowboys, who flock to the venue as much for the music as for its expansive, laid-back atmosphere.
"We're lucky that we have beer," says Jensen, who moved back to Texas after a two-decade advertising stint in New York. "People come here specifically for it. No one's going to One-2-One for the beer they have on tap."
The place was packed two Fridays ago for Little Mikey & the Soda Jerks, a country act that should be opening at the Broken Spoke for Mike & the Moonpies, and Will Cope and Silas Lowe, songwriters you'd expect at Spider House and the White Horse. ABGB's parking lot was full by 7pm.
Like many others, I had to park on nearby Havenside Drive. There, staked into the grass outside of a house on the first block, a sign notified patrons that the area will soon require a residential permit.
"We'll have to make accommodations," acknowledges Jensen of the looming restrictions. "We've talked about shuttling people here. Red's Porch, they've shuttled people around before. We may have to look at things like that."
1. Strange Brew 5326 Manchaca rd.
2. The Roost 2113 Wells Branch Pkwy.
3. Sahara Lounge 1413 Webberville rd.
4. One-2-One Bar 1509 S. Lamar #600
5. The Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co. 1305 W. Oltorf
6. Radio Coffee & Beer 4208 Manchaca rd.
7. Sweetwater 730 W. Stassney
8. Carousel Lounge 1110 E. 52nd
9. Little Longhorn Saloon 5435 Burnet rd.
10. The Lost Well 2421 Webberville Rd.