Considering all the fanfare and hand-wringing that accompanied the Hole in the Wall's closing last June, it's appropriate that the venerable bar at 2538 Guadalupe reopened last Friday night almost completely under the radar. That's not a misprint: The Hole in the Wall is indeed open for business once again, a development that comes as almost as much of a shock to management as the public at large. "We opened practically overnight," says general manager Matt Allen, pointing out that as of Friday afternoon, the club lacked carpet, a jukebox, pinball machines, and most importantly, booze. Miraculously, all those materialized one by one throughout the day, and by 8pm, drinks were being poured, and word was rapidly spreading. By Sunday night, musicians were showing up wondering if there was going to be a Free for All. Not as of yet, though Allen says he and Paul Minor are "in talks." It will be a few more weeks before music returns to the freshly carpeted, kitchenless Hole, as Allen has barely had time to sleep, let alone book bands. "We're moving slow, and will be moving slow for a while," says Allen, adding that the Hole is likely to start slow with the music, two or three nights a week at the outset. "There's no reason to dive headfirst into this." For now, patrons will have to be content with $5 pitchers of Lone Star, free shuffleboard in the back room, and a jukebox featuring Willie Nelson, ZZ Top, Neko Case, the Meat Purveyors, T. Rex, and Pavement. "It feels so good," affirms day manager/bartender Brooks Brannon. "It's hard to explain -- like wandering around in the dark and the light comes on."
Zero hour is rapidly approaching for Austin's bars and nightclubs vis-à-vis the city's proposed smoking ordinance, which passed its first reading at the May 8 City Council meeting. Barring a last-minute reversal by one of the three council members who voted for the ban last time -- Daryl Slusher, Betty Dunkerley, and Danny Thomas -- the ordinance could become final as early as tonight (Thursday), when the second reading is scheduled. If the ordinance passes the second reading, the council could immediately conduct a third reading, which would then presumably pass. Since the first reading passed with amendments exempting bingo parlors, billiard halls, and fraternal organizations (e.g. VFW halls), many club owners believe the council's actions are motivated more by politics than public health. "Workers [in those places] are not magically safer," says Beerland proprietor Randall Stockton. "Those places have been protected by some political action." Stockton adds his belief that the general public is unaware the ordinance extends far beyond bars and music venues -- that it would in fact make it illegal for Austinites to smoke anywhere outside their dwellings, including their cars and even their back yards. Elysium's John Wickham says downtown business owners have been pursuing a three-pronged plan to head the ordinance off at the pass: making their patrons aware of the ordinance's full implications, meeting with council members to discuss a compromise, and speaking with attorneys about legal recourses. With other cities that have passed similar measures finding themselves stripped of between 25% and 40% of bar/nightclub revenue -- a figure that amounts to around $180 million a year in Austin -- local residents, both smoking and non-, could find themselves feeling the effects should Austin's pass. "There's only two ways for the city to raise money: property taxes and sales taxes, and bars pay more sales taxes than any other business," Wickham says. "If the city loses that money, they'll have to make up for it in some way." Reading of the item, will be sometime after 2pm at the council chambers, 3700 Lake Austin Blvd.
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