Image source: austinchronicle.com
When many people think about going out in Austin, the infamous and ever-bustling Sixth Street often comes to mind AKA “Dirty Sixth”. And, given that the street is blocked off every weekend to let bar crawlers roam freely, that’s no surprise. However, many Austin locals have moved on from seeking entertainment in the tourist trap that Sixth Street has become in favor of the whimsical and charming vibe of Rainey Street.
The Rainey Street neighborhood is truly unlike any other, due in large part to how much it’s transformed in just a few years. Before it became the unique day-and-night bar destination that it is today, it was a largely forgotten wasteland on the border of Lady Bird Lake.
Image source: austin.towers.net
The neighborhood’s proximity to Lady Bird Lake made it particularly susceptible to damages from a major 1935 flood that destroyed many of the neighborhood’s homes. As city expansion moved forward, it did so without Rainey Street, with the construction and subsequent daily noise of nearby I-35 leading most Austinites to peg the area as largely unlivable. However, a handful of diehard Rainey Street residents refused to let go; some because they loved the neighborhood despite its noise and deterioration, and some because they didn’t have the means to move.
In the 1960s, the city of Austin took initiatives to renew the entire downtown area, and a 1967 study recommended that Rainey Street be cleared of its single-family dwellings in favor of large commercial and residential developments. However, Rainey Street residents pushed back, and despite reports that nearly half the dwellings in the area were dilapidated, they joined preservationists in a movement to secure Rainey Street as a protected, historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. This formal recognition ultimately prevented developers from constructing large developments, but it didn’t prevent them from shifting the culture of Rainey Street to what it is today.
As the decades wore on and the tech boom brought droves of people to the once small and overlooked city, the residents of Rainey didn’t have the cohesion they once did, ultimately making way for re-zoning laws to take effect in 2004. The re-zoning laws made it so that Rainey Street became part of Austin’s Central Business District, inviting developers and entrepreneurs to make their mark on the neighborhood.
Over time, the single-family dwellings, featuring a mix of quaint, Victorian designs and charming bungalows, were slowly bought out by folks who intended to turn them into bars and restaurants. But Rainey Street’s position on the National Register meant that those businesses needed to protect the historic value of the houses, resulting in the rows of houses-turned-bars that you’ll find today.
While some long-time Austin residents may view the transformation with a bit of a heavy heart, many Austinites and visitors alike revel in the influx of tasty food, live music, and boozy bars in the uniquely charming, homespun, and walkable environment.
Notable Rainey Street Destinations
If you want to get a taste of what this historic neighborhood has to offer, start with the following bungalow homes-turned-bustling bars and restaurants.
Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden
Image source: austin.eater.com
With its 103 beer taps, outdoor beer garden, and repurposed bungalow design, Banger’s epitomizes Rainey Street’s transformation. Come during the day and enjoy a brew alongside your pup at its off-leash dog park or head over at night for live music and cocktails.
Image source: facebook.com/bungalowatx
Aptly named, Bungalow is a former single-family bungalow that’s been transformed into a casual yet lively bar complete with a projection screen in its backyard for movies, sports, and other entertainment. There are also two stages—one indoor and one outdoor—for the live music that frequently comes through.
Image source: javelinabar.com
Like nearly every other bar and restaurant on Rainey, Javelina is a repurposed bungalow that was once home to a family. With its craft cocktails, family recipes, regular live music, and ongoing stream of special events, it’s equally great for a taco brunch or a night out on the town.
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