If you love going out drinking with friends on the weekend, but you’re tired of hard-partying Sixth Street regulars, Rainey Street may just be your new favorite place. Located a few blocks from “Dirty Sixth” by Lady Bird Lake and I-35, this up-and-coming district’s houses-turned-bars are full of old school charm.
Bridget Dunlap, whose ownership of three of the properties has deemed her the “queen of Rainey Street,” was the first person to breathe life into the block when she moved to Austin from Houston in December 2008. She first created Lustre Pearl and Clive in 2009, and later Bar 96. To Dunlap, the idea of turning the old houses into bars was obvious, partially because she had done a similar project in Houston. Her past success, combined with the location’s proximity to downtown, the construction of the Four Seasons residential tower and, as she puts it, simply because the houses were cute, made Dunlap confident in her new venture.
The district’s popularity has risen so much that The New York Times wrote a story about it in 2011, calling it “the latest hot spot for locals.” But, popularity comes with a price, as overcrowding on weekends has become an issue for some customers. Although Dunlap doesn’t have a solution for the overcrowding, she indicates that city officials may be working on a plan for meter parking in the area or a pedestrian-only Rainey Street.
The bars all have outdoor porches or backyards with food trucks readily available. The outdoor spaces help to spread the crowd, rather than keeping people confined indoors. Dunlap is also working on another bar in the district called Container Bar, but there is not a set date for the opening.
“Lustre Pearl is my alter ego and she’s a party girl,” Dunlap said. “Clive is her boyfriend, and he’s a handsome gentleman and very laid-back. Bar 96 is their love child and is more rowdy.”
These descriptions give an accurate feel of the bar aesthetic — Clive is generally calmer than the others, Lustre Pearl can get rowdy and Bar 96 is the Rainey Street version of a sports bar.
Austinites also enjoy the dog-friendly atmosphere.
Dogs were initially allowed at Lustre Pearl, but it quickly became a problem.
“It was like a dog park — people were just tripping over them,” Dunlap said.
After a brief hiatus, dogs are allowed back at Lustre Pearl, but with much fewer four-legged patrons it is more manageable.
It’s hard to say what demographic frequents Rainey Street, because it is often an eclectic mix of students and nonstudents.
Bryan Herrera, a 2012 UT graduate, likes the atmosphere of Rainey Street more than Sixth Street.
“It’s more laid-back and mellow and not as raunchy,” Herrera said. “It is more for the locals and less for tourists, who might not know about it.”
Senior social work major Sofi Khan agrees that the setting is much more laid-back and quaint than Sixth Street, as well as being “less tourist-y,” but there are other reasons she likes it, as well.
“I think converting houses into bars is a genius idea,” she said. “It offers a more relaxing atmosphere, which puts everyone at ease and allows them to have a better time.”
Khan favors Clive for its natural, earthy feel and friendly bartenders.
“During the week days, Rainey is a great place to go on a date or catch up with friends because the crowds are thinner,” she said.
Although customers sometimes have favorite hangouts, Dunlap won’t choose a favorite among her bars.
“I like them all, and they’re like kids to me. It would be rude to choose,” she said.
There is a lot of development happening on and around Rainey Street, including new bars and restaurants, as well as residential spaces. Whether or not it will affect the charm of the downtown alternative has yet to be seen, but the businesses are here to stay.