Austin’s Historic Rainey Street Busts Myths of Shutting Down
By Brenda Lau, Sarah Poe and Rachel Steinkamp
It’s a hot, lazy summer Sunday in Austin, Texas. People are waking up from their Saturday activities and have begun to venture to the popular Rainey Street for brunch.
The streets have long since been awake with bustling exercise aficionados that help keep Austin as one of the most active cities in the U.S. However, don’t think that outdoor recreation is limited to exercise. Eating and drinking can be just as difficult in the Texas swelter.
Young professionals dress in their best Sunday Funday attire keeping in mind the increasing heat of the day. The canopy of trees that line the street offer some shade as do the growing shadows of Rainey’s soon-to-be high rises.
Even with the increasing popularity of Rainey, myths of the historic street closing had begun to circle.
“All of my friends and I thought Rainey was closing eventually… We assumed it was closing because of all of the high rises, I thought that was pretty common knowledge. I’m so happy we were wrong. We really didn’t know what we’d do if it closed,” said recent UT graduate Sloane Schaumburger.
As crowds seem to grow larger each week and as the rise of the population continues, one thing is certain – Rainey Street is here to stay.
“There’s been a lot of growth and I think it’s going to continue. And I think people are excited about it and that’s why a lot of people are moving there,” said Doug Kissner, a board member of the Rainey Neighbor Association.
Austin was the fasted growing city among those with a population larger than 500,000. The city grew by 15.5 percent from 2010 to 2014, according to the United States Census Bureau.
Plans for Rainey Street include the building of new apartment complexes, Skyhouse Austin, Millenium Rainey, North Shore Lofts and 70 Rainey Tower. Other buildings include the Waller Center and hotels such as Fairmont Austin and Hotel Van Zandt.
To prepare for this explosion of people and already vibrant atmosphere, one Rainey Street bar, Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden, is expanding. They are, “…hoping to be able to serve somewhere between five to six hundred patrons at any given time,” said owner and operator, Ben Siegel.
Rick McMinn, the grandfather of Rainey Street and owner of Image General Contracting is responsible for building the “house-like party” atmosphere. His company has helped preserve the street for the historic committee while leaving the façade alone.
“Watching the preservation of Rainey Street… it’s exciting hearing [Siegel] say how he wants to maintain that residential house look from the outside. But the insides are awesome commercial projects and it’s like watching that preservation continue to take precedence on Rainey Street.”
Along with preservation, Lustre Pearl, the first bar on the street has gone in for a makeover. Jesse Lunsford, a property developer and Co-Founder of Rainey Ventures has literally picked up the bar, put it on the back of a truck and moved it to it’s new location on 3000 E. Cesar Chavez to be transformed into a restaurant. It is set to open in October of 2015.
No need to fret though. Lunsford reassured that, “It’s going to be exactly the same in the interior… that’s gonna have a kitchen and some outdoor space.”
Another similar, but not the original, Lustre Pearl will be filling in the lot space where the original used to be.
The crowds begin to dwindle as the sun sets. The shadows are now larger on the street and the construction signs shadows begin to look like people. Bar signs still blink, giving light to the those remaining.
People who have come from all over the world drunkenly order an Uber, Lyft, good ole taxi or get into a friends car and not blink at what they have just experienced.
“There’s nothing like this in you know Minnesota, and New York, and wherever it may be that they are, this is Austin. And I really believe that it is Austin,” said Siegel.
They have experienced Austin at its finest.