Tiny Dive Bar Indian Roller to Close

Far South Austin’s boutique roadhouse calls it quits

photo courtesy of Indian Roller

On Oct. 6, Indian Roller, the teeny bar just south of Slaughter Lane on Menchaca Road, announced its closure via Instagram alongside the lineup for its 8th anniversary party, which muffles if not softens the blow. It allows time to visit, and mourn the loss of another independent, eclectic Austin business that welcomed everyone inside.

Indian Roller is on the surface a postage-sized dive bar in which a variety of memories may be made: singing karaoke, playing drag loteria, watching bands, eating from food trucks. But the little roadhouse lives on an eight-acre lot with a total of four buildings, all of which are zoned to sell drinks, and spots for five food trucks including water and electrical hookups and ethernet connections for each. All that, plus a lot of green space. Owner Brenna Robertson took time to speak with me on what was a beautiful sunny Saturday, Oct. 8.

Austin Chronicle: You had events booked through the end of 2022. Why the sudden closure at the end of October?

Brenna Robertson: October is our anniversary. Me and my brother own the bar, and had been discussing [closing] for a few months. Our lives have drastically changed recently, and it's difficult to continue operating with how the block has changed so much. Neither of us are in a position to take that on right now. And we want to go out with a bang. Historically, November and December are always difficult in the bar industry, so we decided to go ahead and close it out. Our souls have not been doing good. The block is a different beast now.

AC: What would you want to improve on the block?

BR: Well, we have a lot of space, and when we bought it ten years ago, we wanted to build a live music venue. We nixed that right before the pandemic, and I’m glad, because we would have put a lot of resources into that. And we wanted to create a space that is weird and nature-focused, and [local competitors] have more money to put into infrastructure and marketing. What it boils down to, compared to what they are able to do, we can accomplish like a third of what they do in the same time frame. Everyone else has several partners and lots of financial support. We only have a GM, a wonderful GM, his name is Jaime Zamora, and he needs more help. The bar can’t succeed, and it’s not far to the bar, or even our employees, to continue. They need to be making more money, and we want to be a good steward to the land.

AC: Could you possibly name all of the food trucks that have served at IR? What was your favorite?

BR: Frank was our first ever food truck, serving hot dogs and waffles. Then came Belly Up! That was one of my faves. We operated our own food truck, Panchita, for two years. We had amazing luck in hiring chefs, but eventually our chef had to move back to San Antonio. We tried and couldn’t do it without the right people. We’ve had Salvation Pizza, tacos, a lot over the years.

AC: What constitutes the perfect roadhouse? And how is yours “boutique”?

BR: My sound guy came up with it and I just loved the idea and the name. It’s the idea of a roadhouse, especially when there was no one here but Sam’s [Town Point], and then Moontower. It was kind of like the South Texas highway [laughs]. ‘We’re just a stop on the way to San Antonio,’ you know. And we used to have a lot of motorcycle groups come in the beginning. We always wanted to stay cool and unique, but accessible to everyone. And also a hotspot for dates, a lot of people met here and fell in love. The house itself has a lot of history. And I never considered us a dive bar until people started saying that. I don’t even know what makes a dive bar.

AC: I’d say for a dive the building should be old, and the drinks should be, well, not cheap, but surprisingly affordable. Once I went to IR with my husband for karaoke and when we settled up he asked, ‘Why is our tab so low?’ I said it’s because I was having the $3 drink specials. That’s the beauty of a dive bar: the surprise at the end of the evening.

BR: Oh, I love that. And it’s going to be missed, it’s a part of my soul. That area deserves something amazing. I hope to partner with someone and curate, in that sense. I love the change and growth in Austin, it’s a beautiful thing. But I want to see that heart and soul I saw in Austin 20 years ago. Where people can walk in and be accepted no matter who they are. Like their grandma’s house.

AC: Do you have a buyer in mind? What about the space would you want them to maintain?

BR: We’re talking to way too many people right now. It's all preliminary. [Laughs] We do the most parking of anyone down here. Right after this, I have a call with someone who is very like-minded. Not ready to say who. I mean, we have eight acres, four buildings, the bar, a building we plan to convert to a restaurant. The crazy part is, we just put in a large transformer with a 1200 watt amp, for the venue. We allocated a lot of that power to the buildings onsite. And the five food truck spots and stubs are in, water and electric ethernet. We are just waiting for the final stamp of approval from the city. And I’m all for keeping the ‘keep Austin weird’ culture alive. I can't say it enough I guess. I am building a venue out in Lampasas. I thought I could do both, but turns out I can’t. That spot, the Diamond Dog, opens at the end of October. We’ll start with just a DJ and some karaoke, and we are BYO. There will be some glamping and camping, and we have some domes and RVs on site. My passion is in rescuing kill pen horses, and our ranch has an Instagram: thunderwolfranch.

Indian Roller’s 8th anniversary party is on October 22, kicks off at 4pm, and is free. David Ramirez, Weed Martyr, The Kelly Doyle Trio, The Heavenly States, and Heartchaser will play. There’s a photobooth and the East Austin Handmade Arts Market will be on site. October 23 will be the bar’s last day of operation.

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Indian Roller, Brenna Robertson

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