The Austin Chronicle

Austin Landmarks on the Menu

By Mick Vann, September 12, 2008, Food

The Tavern

922 W. 12th, 320-8377
Sunday-Wednesday, 11am-12mid; Thursday-Saturday, 11am-2am

Back before Lamar Boulevard existed, R. Niles Graham hired builder Hugo Kuehne, who, using building plans brought from Europe, modeled the building after a German public house. The Enfield Grocery Store opened in 1916 on Ruiz Street and at that time sat on the outskirts of a town of 30,000. Cows from Frank Hill's Capital City Dairy grazed just to the northwest of where the Tavern now sits, and Clarksville and the remains of the Pease plantation sat up on the top of the hill to the west. The grocery operated on the corner until 1929, when it was moved next door to the east so that a steak restaurant could be opened. Austin's finest steaks were sold there for 50 cents, while upstairs a speakeasy and brothel operated semisecretively.

The ending of Prohibition in 1933 meant that the speakeasy could come out in the open, and the Tavern was born. It was known citywide as a popular gathering place for politicians, educators, soldiers, UT students, and the informed general public, and the food was considered first-rate. In 1934, master woodcarver Peter Mansbendel was commissioned to create the ornate carvings that line the eaves and entrance of the historic building. When the city was developing and paving Lamar, they wanted to tear down the Tavern, but there was such a public outcry that they had to back off of their threats.

The Tavern operated as a restaurant and bar of varying quality until 2001, and for years the modern city health codes had bypassed the building due to grandfathered business arrangements. In 2002 a partnership of long­time Austin­ites Steve Harren, Stan Miller, and Bob Cole bought the building, bringing it up to modern codes, conveying the menu into the modern age, and once again creating a vibrant haven for quality food and drink.

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