As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the United States, many esteemed local businesses have been forced to shut their doors permanently. Austin is no exception, and over the last six months, some of the city's most beloved local establishments have had to say goodbye. This non-comprehensive list includes some of Austin's most iconic businesses that have closed for good due to COVID-19. May they live in the hearts and minds of Austinites forever.
Iconic Austin businesses that have closed due to COVID-19:
Austin Java (three out of four locations)
Popular local coffee chain Austin Java announced in August that it was permanently closing three of its flour locations: in Austin City Hall, Dripping Springs and the Met Center. The cafe opened its inaugural location in 1995 on Parkway Street off North Lamar, which closed in 2017 to make way for the four new spots. Austin Java devotees can still get their caffeine fix at the chain's last remaining location on Menchaca Road in the Westgate neighborhood.
The Wild West-themed watering hole and pool hall announcedlast week that it was permanently closing its doors after 21 years on 6th Street. Long before it became Buffalo Billiards, the historic space was known as the Missouri House, built by the Ziller Family in 1861 and reputed to be Austin's first boarding house (and rumored brothel). Home to many a drunken cowboy brawl in its past life, Buffalo Billiards served as the perfect destination for a revelrous night on the town.
Capitol City Comedy Club
Austin's Cap City Comedy closes its doors for good in the wake of the pandemic earlier this month.
The longstanding laugh factory situated on Research Boulevard took its final bow earlier this month after nearly 35 years in business. Houstonians Howard and Sandy Marcus opened the venue, originally called the Laff Stop, in March of 1986; it was rebranded to Capitol City Comedy Club in 1996. "Laughing will always be the key to moving forward," co-owner Margie Coyle said in a statement to KXAN. "I love Cap City, but if you see the light, get off the stage!"
Dart BowlAustin's iconic Dart Bowl to close Friday after COVID slowdown hurts business
In July, Dart Bowl co-owner John Donovan announced that the adored bowling alley was permanently closing after 62 years of family-friendly fun. Donovan's grandfather, Harry Peterson, and local businessman Justin Dart co-opened the original Burnet Road location—then outside city limits—in 1958 and operated there for nearly four decades before relocating to Brentwood in 1997. Peterson also partnered with Jerry and Betty Ray to open Highland Lanes and Westgate Lanes, which thankfully remain open.
If you haven't washed Easy Tiger's fresh-baked bread or pastries down with a cappuccino or craft beer, you haven't really lived. Unfortunately, Austinites can no longer indulge in that pleasure at the bakery's downtown location, which boasted a gorgeous beer garden overlooking Waller Creek and offered a reprieve from heavy 6th Street foot traffic. The flagship Easy Tiger announced its permanent closure last week, ending an eight-year run downtown. Thankfully, its North Austin location at the Linc is still open for drive-thru, delivery, curbside and patio dining, and its pop-up truck could be bringing delectable fresh bread to your neighborhood soon.
The beloved West Campus deli closed its doors for good in April after serving mile-high sandwiches to hungry college students for 14 years. Fricano's first opened in 2006 on East 31st Street, later expanding to Nueces Street in 2011 and closing its original location a year later. Perhaps no testament to Fricano's quality speaks louder than its famous Ainsworth, a constantly-changing variety sandwich that employees assembled from the best ingredients of the day. No matter what each day's Ainsworth yielded, you'd be hard-pressed to find an unhappy customer.
I Luv Video
I Luv Video, located on Airport Boulevard, serviced film enthusiasts in Austin for 35 years before owner Conrad Bejarano announced that the self-proclaimed "oldest and largest video store in the world" was closing for good on Sept. 1. But rather than sell his inventory and cut his losses, Bejarano is looking for a potential new owner to faithfully steward his collection of roughly 120,000 films. "It would bring me the utmost joy to pass the torch to a group or individual that has the financial capacity to preserve our immense catalog of films," Bejarano wrote in his closure announcement. "My only stipulation is that whomever does so gives the community access to our vast film library."
Magnolia Cafe West (Lake Austin)
For more than 40 years, Magnolia Cafe welcomed weary students and wired festival-goers, serving up dinner plate-sized pancakes and bottomless coffee 24 hours a day. The omelettry owner Kenny Carpenter originally opened the Lake Austin space in 1979 as an auxiliary location called Omelettry West; he later sold it to partner Kent Cole, who rechristened it to Magnolia Cafe in 1986. The restaurant announced in April that it was closing for good, but mourners can still get their fix at the South Congress location, which opened in 1988.
MugshotsIconic MugShots Bar closes after 18 years
Since 2002, 7th Street dive bar Mugshots offered a respite from the Dirty Sixth mayhem while still giving patrons plenty of opportunities for debauchery. True to its name, the downtown haunt plastered its walls with photos of customers that were taken in the property's photo booth. In a Sept. 13 Facebook post, owners Marcos Canchola Brian Hyde announced that Mugshots permanently closed its doors on Aug. 31. The watering hole is survived by a handful of other Canchola-and Hyde-owned properties around Austin, including Barfly's, the Hideout Pub, Bender Bar & Grill, Violet Crown Social Club, the Pour House Pub, and Pourhouse Pints & Pies.
After fielding Zilker Park foot traffic for 28 years, Shady Grove slung its last green chili cheeseburger in May. Opened in 1992 by Chuy's co-owners Mike Young and John Zapp, the Barton Springs Road eatery became an Austin staple with its iconic lasso signage, Southwestern cuisine and live music Thursdays during the summer. The one-two punch of skyrocketing rent and COVID-19 closures likely forced Shady Grove to shutter, but patrons can still get their Tex-Mex fill at the walking-distance Barton Springs Chuy's.
Threadgill's owner Eddie Wilson announced in April that he was selling the restaurant, beer joint and music venue, closing the curtain on one of Austin's most iconic businesses. Bootlegger and country music enthusiast Kenneth Threadgill secured the first beer license in Travis County and opened the converted Gulf filling station on North Lamar—then outside Austin city limits—in 1933, as soon as Prohibition was repealed. Wednesday night singing sessions attracted droves of hippies, beatniks and folkies in the '60s, including burgeoning blues-rock howler and University of Texas undergrad Janis Joplin. Wilson—who also co-founded the hallowed Armadillo World Headquarters music venue in 1973—bought and renovated the property in 1981. For nearly four more decades, it drew locals and tourists alike with its electrifying performers and mouth-watering chicken-fried steak. (A second location, Threadgill's World Headquarters, operated on Riverside from 1996 to 2018.)
After servicing movie buffs for 35 years, Vulcan Video announced in April that it was cutting to black and permanently shutting its doors on Russell Drive. The beloved independent movie shop opened in 1985 amid the VHS rental boom and weathered several seismic industry shifts over the decades, including the rise (and fall) of mega-chains like Blockbuster and the dominance of streaming services. Vulcan Video's inventory comprised renowned classics, underground gems and rare imports, weaving a rich tapestry of movie history and giving fellow cinephiles a place to hang out and talk shop.
Iconic Austin businesses that are still open
Thankfully, some iconic Austin businesses have weathered the pandemic by experimenting with new business models, implementing new safety regulations or receiving much-needed relief funds. Here are a few of them:
Tex-Mex trailblazer Paul Joseph began working at the Schoonerville restaurant in the early 1950s, and in 1954, he bought the building and transformed it into El Patio. The Guadalupe Street mainstay was one of the first Tex-Mex restaurants to grace Austin, and customers can still enjoy savory enchiladas, crispy tortilla chips and frosty margaritas there today. The dining room is currently open for business, and patrons must wear a mask upon entering and being seated.
Fonda San Miguel
Modeled after a colonial-era hacienda, Fonda San Miguel has remained one of Austin's most venerated and visibly striking Mexican restaurants since opening in 1975. Customers can marvel at the exotic plants and breathtaking artwork as they enjoy interior Mexican cuisine from Oaxaca, Puebla, Veracruz and Yucatan. Fonda San Miguel reopened in June, encouraging reservations and requiring customers and servers to wear masks.
Sam's Bar-B-Que is one of Austin's most celebrated and resilient restaurants. Established in 1957 by Sam Campbell, the legendary BBQ joint has survived two devastating fires, a $5 million buyout offer and, now, a pandemic. Still, the East Austin institution remains open for business, serving up dangerously delicious brisket, ribs and sausage along with the promise, "Don't need no teeth to eat our beef."
Top Notch Hamburgers
This Burnet Road institution has been serving charcoal-grilled burgers and fried chicken via carhop since 1971, and it was immortalized in Richard Linklater's 1993 coming-of-age stoner comedy Dazed and Confused. Top Notch and Galaxy Cafe co-owner Kelly Chappell received a PPP loan in April, and Top Notch is currently open for pickup orders placed in-person, over the phone or online.
Quality Seafood Market
Quality Seafood Market opened in 1938 as a humble stall in Starr's Fruit and Vegetable Market on Congress Avenue and has since evolved into one of the city's best-known seafood markets and restaurants. Now situated on Airport Boulevard, the market and restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday. Curbside dinners for two are also available with a 24-hour notice.
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The colorful little robots roaming the streets of Austin, delivering burritos and fried chicken, are likely not going anywhere soon. If anything, this might only be the beginning of the era of robotic delivery.
At least that was the sentiment at the City Council Mobility Committee meeting Thursday when the Transportation Department gave a presentation on the future of personal delivery devices, or PDDs, in the city and outlined the rules they must follow.
PDDs are defined as automated devices operating in pedestrian areas, like sidewalks, or on the shoulders, such as bike lanes. They are currently piloted by employees with a 360-degree view of the road via the cameras built into the machine. Think remote-controlled car but bigger.
PDDs were first seen in Austin in July 2016. In 2019, Senate Bill 969 went into effect, enacting statewide regulations for the robot delivery drivers. The robots aren’t permitted to exceed a speed limit of 10 miles per hour on a sidewalk and 20 miles per hour on a shoulder of a road, according to Texas code. They must have a braking system, front and rear lights if operating at night, and must display the operating company’s information on the device.
“I just see (the delivery robots) as a pretty effective way to get people some of the things that they need in a timely manner. And from everything that I can tell, it’s pretty safe,” Council Member Mackenzie Kelly said.
Currently, only two companies, Coco and Refraction AI, are using PPDs in Austin, but other PDDs on Austin streets or even in the air are on the horizon. One delivery robot, developed by Ford, takes parcels from trucks to customers’ doors, and Uber and Amazon Prime are preparing to deploy – or have deployed – drone-like devices.
“These are not currently in Austin, but these are things that have been developed and are operating in various parts of the world,” said Jacob Culberson, division manager of mobility for the Transportation Department.
Transportation has partnered with Coco and Refraction AI to ensure they are operating in compliance with state rules. The department is currently working with the companies to create best-practice guidelines, with rules such as prohibiting the use of parkland or avoiding state Capitol grounds.
“We think that transportation is important from the standpoint of getting things places more efficiently and more sustainably,” said Luke Schneider, CEO of Refraction AI.
Though the reception was mostly positive, Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison raised concerns that automating delivery services could take jobs away from people who might deliver items by bike, car or foot.
“Is there some sort of counterbalance for the workforce when we start to automate?” Harper-Madison asked.
“We are hiring, and we are hiring fast. We have plenty of places for these people to work who would ever be displaced by such a thing,” Schneider said.
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