Cedar Door Goes Central
The twisting, turning story of Austin's most nomadic bar
Susan Toomey Frost may have lost a tenant in the Cedar Door, but she gained the necessary zoning from City Council last week that would have allowed the popular bar to sell alcohol on her Toomey Road property near Lamar and Barton Springs Road. Despite the loss of an Austin institution, Toomey Frost says she's "pleased as punch" that the council granted the zoning request anyway. But if City Council members were left with the impression that longtime Cedar Door manager Jim Lemond (who has mixed countless drinks for the City Hall set) would open a new watering hole on the Toomey Road property, they weren't the only ones. Toomey Frost also thought things were moving in that direction -- until she learned this week that Lemond had been hired away by Steve Potts, who bought the Cedar Door from Gus Koerner on April 30.
"This story has more twists and turns than a corkscrew at that bar," Toomey Frost observed yesterday (Wednesday). "But I can completely understand Jim's decision."
As for the Cedar Door itself, the quaint structure took another midnight journey late Tuesday -- back across the river to its new home on the northeast corner of Second and Brazos, west of the Austin Convention Center. The move, which took about an hour, marks the fourth in the nomadic bar's storied history. It had sat idle on the Toomey Road site for seven months while landowner Toomey Frost jumped through a series of zoning hoops and mediation meetings with concerned neighbors. Meanwhile, bar owner Potts was anxious to get going on his new business, and began having second thoughts about the South Austin location. He scouted around for a site downtown and happened to find a spot that already has the necessary zoning in place. Potts, who is making the leap from the telecommunications industry to bar ownership, wants to have the Cedar Door open by Labor Day.
"Aesthetically [Toomey Road] was a beautiful location, but driving back and forth there every day I just found it impossible to get in and out of the place, with the traffic the way it is," Potts said. He credits sheer luck for helping him find the new location at 201 Brazos -- 100,000 square feet of land next to the Hampton Inn under construction. "My wife [Heather] and I had looked into owning our own business, but we never thought about owning a bar. But when we started looking into the Cedar Door -- and the fact that it's one of the last remaining Austin institutions -- we decided it was the right one for us." Other than changing the bar's hours (it will open earlier, at 2pm), he says most everything else will remain the same.
Why did Lemond drop his plans to open a new bar on Toomey? Originally, he says, he had wanted to buy the bar from Koerner, but Potts beat him to it. When that happened, he then began pursuing opening his own bar on Toomey Frost's property, with financial backing from some old Cedar Door regulars. Lemond told the council last Thursday that he'd like to have a "nice and quiet" place similar to Cedar Door's old days on 15th Street. But those plans were scrapped when Potts called Lemond last Friday with a job offer. Potts says his phone call to Lemond -- the day after the council meeting -- was coincidental.
Lemond is just happy to be back at the Cedar Door, and back on salary, which kicks in next month. "I've been standing behind that bar for 15 years," he says. "I need to get back behind that bar."
Where do these change of events leave Toomey Frost and her newly zoned property? As it turns out, her site is currently being eyed by an undisclosed nonprofit organization looking to relocate.