Bungalows into Bars in a classic Historic District
Not that long ago, this was a regular residential area. But, only 2 blocks long, this little street has more activity than neighborhoods 100 times its size.
When I say not that long, I mean less than a decade. Beautiful, but dilapidated craftsman style homes, were re-zoned in 2004 into the central downtown district, and more than several were added to the national register of historic places.
As a result many of the homes still here are worth only a fraction of the land they are built on, and many developers are jockeying for control of the future development of the once sleepy neighborhood.
For now, Rainey street is a vibrant gathering place, especially at night. The once old and tired homes have been converted into trendy neighborhood bars, with a much different scene than the “dirty sixth street” just a few blocks away.
My first visit to Rainey St was on a Monday around lunchtime. The place was a ghost town. Wandering up the two block stretch took just minutes as all the joints were closed.
I returned later in the week, and again over the weekend, and each time, I learned more and more. This isn’t a place you come once, and have seen it.
Nor is this the place to go for a coffee or a sandwich on a break from lunch. The only store with any activity was the Royal Blue Grocery, an Austin take on the big city neighborhood bodega serving the residents and renters in the condos that shadow the street.
One side of the store is stocked with ready made sandwiches, walls of glass-door refrigerators full of energy drinks and Topo-Chico, and even a cheese display, the other side is full of wine and beer choices.
People were coming in this morning to grab a bite to eat on the go, or reaching for an energy drink before they headed off to their job.
Heading out of the little market, You can actually watch gentrification happening before your eyes.
Alternating between the bars and high-rise condos are little houses. Run down, and un-cared for. It’s hard to imagine anyone still living in these shacks.
Currently, on one side of the street are large yellow, earth moving beasts, leveling the ground, and pounding new footings into bedrock, preparing for a new upscale hi-rise to magically grow and cast more shade on the tiny bungalows.
This will be 70 Rainey St. When finished in 2018 there will be 164 new residences above more street level businesses.
The construction doesn’t stop people from coming down after work, and in the evenings.
From craft beers to handmade cocktails, appetizers to Entrees, Rainey is good for singles, couples and small groups heading out for an adult evening.
For me, this area became what it is when The Queen of Rainey St, Bridget Dunlap, opened Lustre Pearl. The genesis of the transformation. She has gone one to open many other watering holes, and spearheaded the gentrification of the street.
Just like Austin street names, there are 2 Lustre Pearls. The original which was moved to the East side (to make way for condos), and a newer was constructed, with downtown views from the rooftop deck.
The beer selection is limited to bottles, but the cocktails are not to be missed. Be sure to try the signature Lustre Lemonade, and yes, you can still do do the Hula-Hoop in the backyard.
For an amazing beer selection cross the street and head down to Bangers Sausage House and Beer Garden. Boasting the 3rd largest tap system in Texas (the largest in Austin), with 104 varieties on tap and another 4 dozen or more in cans and bottles. My favorite is a hearty stout turned into a Beer Float with a scoop of vanilla icecream.
This is one of the busiest places on the street, with farmhouse seating in the huge backyard, and live music on the weekends, and frequently the line to get in extends down the street.
My friends rave about the food, especially the home-made sausage, pig roast, and the Chili-cheese-fries. As a vegetarian, I’ve only had the liquid selections and the fried pickles, but there’s a great option for me a few doors down at the G’Raj Mahal.
Only in Austin, could a garage that is full of bike parts be turned into a restaurant. The origins are with a food truck, that is now a brick and sprocket.
While they have a lot of different options for a vegetarian, and carnivores, too, the wait times can be long, and for the experienced the tasty food isn’t as authentic as it could be.
Better tasting food can be found at the food trucks parked in the vacant lot. Be prepared to wait here, too, as the lines can be quite long around meal times.
Up to half a dozen different vehicles park here, and deliver savory, sweet, and everything inbetween. Menus can be fixed or vary day to day, and when they run out of an item, they simply cross it off the list.
Parking can be challenging once you get here. There’s a pay lot at the north end of the street. Forget about street parking, unless you drive down to the south end, where there is some city metered parking along the hike and bike trail
Avoid parking at the Mexican American Cultural Center unless you visit there. It’s a fantastic building with a growing collection of items that have shaped the history of Texas from a Mexican cultural position. Not an all day visit, but a good way to spend an hour in the late afternoon while you wait for Rainey Street to “open”.
Mapping your experience
Rainey Street is only 2 blocks long. More bars and restaurants are at the north end, and condos and apartments at the south, near the hike and bike trail