A Walk Down Rainey Street
We sent Cathleen Cher down to SXSW to listen to music and get into trouble. Here she tells us about the Austin hot spot Rainey Street that is halfway between a food truck mecca and abandoned neighborhood.
During SXSW, I got booked at the last minute to do a gig at a place called Container Bar on Rainey Street. Before I arrived, all I knew was that this was it was entirely made of shipping containers and this was its grand opening week. I made my way down to Rainey Street, a healthy several blocks from the craziness of Sixth Street and immediately fell in love with the small street lined with quaint houses converted into bars, food truck stops and restaurants. My mouth dropped when I finally reached Container Bar. I thought I knew what to expect—it was indeed crafted solely from shipping containers, but it was an open air space unlike anything I’d ever seen. I looked across the street to see Clive Bar, the only landmark that looked familiar to me from this area from SXSW a year prior. It was amazing to see how much had changed.
After talking to Ryan King, a friend and longtime Austinite, I found out that Rainey Street got started a few years ago when bar whisperer Bridget Dunlap realized that a bunch of the old houses had become zoned for mixed use. She bought up a bunch of them and turned them into some of the earlier restaurants and bars—Lustre Pearl being the first.
As the area has become more commercial, the venues continue making use of the existing houses that were on the lots, thus you end up with a lot of "backyard" bars and restaurants. One of my all-time favorite Indian restaurants, Garj Mahal, relocated to this street and built a fence around it with old bicycles. Bangers, a neighboring sausage and beer bar, looks like what happens when a friend host an epic BBQ (if he invited a bunch of strangers and spruced up his place a bit with a fancy sign). The juxtaposition of these packed houses and abandoned, boarded-up vacant lots was almost a little concerning—so many people walked by (myself included) barely noticing that there were so many of these dilapidated spaces flanking the new establishments.
Unfortunately, rumor has it that the area is scheduled to be torn down and turned into condos. Some of the buildings may be spared, but no one seems to know which ones, or when it will happen. According to Ryan, it’s a fairly common theme as Austin grows from a "weird" town into a modern city. The area around South Congress is undergoing a similar change (they closed down a popular food trailer park to build a boutique hotel). Still, as the quirky areas get developed, the "weirdness" just moves to other areas. For example, the food trucks from that trailer park moved to places like South Lamar, Rainey Street, or the east side. I’m just glad I got to experience this “weird” street in all of its quirky Austin glory– it’s one of the biggest reasons I fell in love with this city years ago.