By: Will Bruner, Karen Martinez, and Nicole Rusli
He sat on a red diner barstool with a beer in hand. A giant hole in the red plastic peeked out from underneath him. Randy Echels has been going to the Hole in the Wall since it opened in 1974. It has proven to be a place of cheap beer and live music for 41 years. Hole in the Wall, or the Hole to its regulars, is now in danger of closing when its lease expires at the end of this year. Rising rent rates have threatened the future of yet another Austin music venue.
Austin’s booming real estate market has led to increased land values, and has increased rent for music venues. Encor Realty group, which manages the building of the Hole in the Wall on Guadalupe Street, implied in earlier reports that they had kept rent down as long as possible.
Dive bars such as the Hole have struggled to keep up with rising rents, yet owner Will Tanner is hopeful that an agreement can be reached. Advocacy group Austin Music People are involved in mediating the negotiations between Tanner and Scott Friedman, the representative from Encor. Negotiations have improved gradually, according to AMP Director, Jennifer Houlihan.
“We are still working with the Hole in the Wall and I spoke with the owner Will Tanner yesterday. The lines of communication are open. He is cautiously optimistic that they can come to an agreement and Hole in the Wall can stay where they are for a little bit longer,” said Houlihan.
UT Professor, Wanda Cash, complicated negotiations by starting a well-intentioned petition to designate the Hole as an historic venue. However, because the building was not 50 years old, this only complicated negotiations with the owner.
“We knew that wasn’t going to fly…not because it didn’t deserve it, we just know how that commission works and what Will was saying was that it was causing him difficulties when negotiating with the landlord, because it was putting the landlord into a corner,” said Houlihan.
Although the petition closed, it shows just how much the Hole in the Wall means to the community. Because of its proximity to UT, It has become a popular drinking spot for grad students and professors. Cash, who has been going to the Hole since she was a grad student in the late 70’s, is concerned that the drag is losing its character.
“My concern was that one day we’re going to walk on Guadalupe Street and it’s going to be a chain store – and the identity of the Drag won’t be there anyway and you might as well be anywhere in the United States,” said Cash.
Connection to the Journalism School
Wanda Cash, Associate Director
Tom Johnson, Professor
Rusty Todd, Professor
Hope is not lost for the Hole in the Wall. Houlihan believes that an agreement can be reached.
“The agreement would probably include some sort of investment from the club owners in the physical space; keeping it up, maybe repainting the bathroom…to keep the property value up. So when they do finish their lease it’s in good condition,” said Houlihan.
Tom Johnson, a Professor in the School of Journalism, has tried to reestablish the Hole as the journalism bar by inviting colleagues and students to go.
“It just feels to me like an Austin bar. It connects me to when Austin was starting to develop the idea of “being weird.” It still has that hippie vibe – that old Austin vibe. It’s important to keep those places alive because we’ve lost so many others, like the Armadillo …that are really music icons that just shut down,” said Johnson.
Successful artists like Townes Van Zandt, Spoon, Shakey Graves, and Bob Schneider have all jump-started their careers performing at the Hole. Austin Attorney and UT alum, James Forrest, remembers one of their very first live performances.
“Townes Van Zandt…was an Austin music legend. He was bringing his child to this bar and would sing. People would take care of him. Just being part of something original and something authentic that is Austin…. it is probably what’s most precious to me,” said Forrest.
Forrest has been going to the Hole in the Wall for over 20 years and even displays his own artwork next to the music wall of fame.
“For what Austin is, it is one of the last remaining places where original Austin art are welcomed and celebrated. Come by, have a beer, have a dance, have some memories – keep the tradition going,” said Forrest.
Increased rent on Guadalupe, and other Austin music venues, has put pressure on the local music scene as a whole, but Houlihan still believes that we can find a balance between landlords and local music businesses.
“There’s a sweet spot that I think we can find, where we are keeping Austin’s creative spirit, we’re keeping Austin weird, we’re keeping our city affordable enough for our creatives to stay here, but we’re also leaving room for that prosperity for everyone, and I think it’s absolutely possible,” said Houlihan.