Words by Jacob Kerr, Video by Jewel Sharp, Photos By Megan Breckenridge
Rainey Street has seen its fair share of change over the years.
Situated near Lady Bird Lake, Rainey is a small street tucked away between downtown and I-35. But over the past six years, Rainey has also developed into a popular bar district, serving as alternative to Austin’s well-known Austin’s Sixth Street.
“Everybody’s your best friend, and you want to hang out there for a while, have a couple beers [and] go on to the next,” said Natalie Williams, a visitor from Chicago. “That’s how I feel here.”
Long before becoming part of Austin’s nightlife scene, Rainey was a Mexican-American neighborhood. In 1985, the street was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Partly due to its close location to downtown, the city rezoned the street in 2005 as part of the Central Business District.
Beginning in 2009, the rezoning allowed for several developers to refit the historic bungalows along the street into bars.
But in more recent years, the street has seen even more change: high-rise condominiums and apartments – such as SkyHouse Austin and Windsor on the Lake – have slowly popped up on and around Rainey.
Last year, the development directly impacted the young bar district when Lustre Pearl, the first bar on Rainey, closed last year to make way for a new high-rise called Millennium Rainey. The new building is currently under construction on the northeast corner of Rainey.
Some regular visitors to Rainey feel the new construction is taking away from the bar district’s charm.
“I enjoy the atmosphere of Rainey a lot, and I feel like it’s being diminished to a certain extent because of these high rises and the commercial parking garages being built,” UT student Jeffrey Parabo said.
While more high-rise construction is underway or planned for the area, the bar district isn’t showing any signs of caving soon. In fact, a few months after it closed, Lustre Pearl announced the bar would return to Rainey across the street from its original location.