When Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the mask mandate and said businesses could open at 100% capacity, some Austin bars rejoiced. For bars that have opened as restaurants for months now, however, shifting back wasn't something they felt ready for.
Going against the governor's wishes, Austin leaders are urging businesses to follow the local order that keeps the mask mandate even as Abbott's restrictions are lifted statewide. On Wednesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton even threatened legal action on the city if Austin continued to hold the order in place.
With tensions high and a city in limbo, Austonia staff visited several bars across the city to see how both businesses and customers have reacted. But it wasn't exactly the roaring 20's the day the order was lifted. Here's what they saw.
West Sixth Street
Austonia's Reporter Laura Figi said that much of West Sixth Street was slow or empty, with one exception. While Kung Fu Saloon saw slow business with masked staff helping masked and socially-distanced customers, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot was busy and crowded with no masks in sight, Figi said. Figi said other bars, including Buford's, Star Bar and Little Woodrow's, were pretty empty, as was much of the street. UnBARlievable, which seemed the emptiest of all, had a crowd of unmasked employees standing at the entrance, Figi said.
Austonia's Senior Producer Sonia Garcia said that Rainey Street had a calm Wednesday night. At Augustine's, staff were wearing masks but customers were not required to, Garcia found. Photos have shown this particular bar with crowds on the weekend, but Garcia said that the bar was "completely dead" on Wednesday.
Unlike its counterpart on Sixth, Rainey's UnBARlievable had a good amount of people, with employees telling customers they can take off masks as they walk in, Garcia said. Live music in the back attracted the most people sitting at tables. Garcia says she saw employees taking down social distancing signs at around 8 p.m.
At Craft Pride, temperatures were checked and masks were required, Garcia said. Garcia said she could tell that social distancing rules were still strictly enforced despite having a decent crowd there.
At both Yellow Jacket Social Club and ATX Cocina, everyone was wearing masks except for at tables, and everyone was socially distanced, said Austonia Senior Reporter Emma Freer. Freer said signs were posted at both locations, and ATX Cocina had a makeshift outdoor tarp area as well as dining inside.
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What would Austin be without its City Hall, Central Library or iconic 360 Bridge?
For 50 years, Austin developer Hensel Phelps has shaped Austin with city-focused landmark developments across the metro, gracing the top spot on Austin Business Journal's best general contracting list for years in a row.
In 1972, the company broke ground for the first time in Austin with the Town Lake, or Mopac Bridge project, connecting the developing areas of West Austin to the rest of the city.
Hensel Phelps broke ground for its first project, the Mopac Bridge, in 1972. (Texas Freeway)
The Town Lake Bridge was one of eight available bridges in Austin at the time of construction. (Hensel Phelps)
Since then, it's headed several projects, including:
- The Pennybacker (360) Bridge: After the Town Lake Bridge success, the company set out to build the world's second cable-supported bridge. Newcomers and native Austinites alike take to the nearby 360 Bridge Overlook Trail to see sunset views of the cliffside, copper-colored landmark.
- Dell Diamond Baseball Stadium: Since it opened in 2000, the Round Rock Express, the metro's Triple-A- Minor League baseball team, has held countless games at this 85-acre, 11,000+ capacity stadium.
- Samsung Fab 2 Chip Fabrication Facility: When Hensel Phelps helped Samsung with its second semiconductor project in the area in 2007, the grand opening ceremony was commemorated with the University of Texas Longhorn Band, UT Cheerleaders, pop singer LeAnn Rimes and a bald eagle to boot.
- Austin Central Public Library: With six floors, a rooftop garden and plenty of window views of downtown, Austin's Central Library project quickly became a central hub for the city when it opened in 2017.
- Darrell K. Royal-Memorial Stadium: The company has had a hand in all major expansions of the Texas Longhorns' longtime football stadium.
Austin's new Central Public Library first opened in 2017. (Hensel Phelps)
Through dozens of projects dotted throughout the region, Hensel Phelps' Southwest district manager and Vice President Brad Winans said the company's focus has always been the public sector.
"That's where we think we support and develop the city, from truly grassroots, truly local support and involvement in the community," Winans said. "Our job is to develop things that truly support the city, not specific to one business."
Austin's City Hall was constructed with native Texas limestone and built with sustainability in mind. (Hensel Phelps)
A University of Texas graduate and 30-year employee, Winans said that the company's 2004 City Hall project felt most impactful to the community. The building, built from both native limestone and recycled materials, embraced sustainability and high-tech qualities, including solar panels in its garage, while maintaining a classic Texan identity.
"It's a very hard industry to be a part of, but it's also very rewarding," Winans said. "For me, City Hall means a lot because the back in the day, we called it 'The Jewel,' and so it's great to be part of that."
The company has constructed at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in the past and will continue to help expand the airport. (Hensel Phelps)
With 50 years under its belt, Winans said the company will continue to work on the "endless" development opportunities coming to the city, from expansion of the rapidly-growing Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to projects in the tech sector.
"Everybody seems to want to come to Austin," Winans said. "It'd be nice if things did kind of spread out a little bit, but right now there's still a very eager push to develop in and around Central Texas and I think (Hensel Phelps) will be a major part of that."
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Starting the next season for the San Antonio Spurs, you’ll see an Austin-based financial tech company on the team’s uniforms.
Self Financial announced a partnership with the Spurs this week, in which a patch with their logo will replace where Frost's was on the jersey.
RC Buford, chief executive officer for Spurs Sports & Entertainment released a statement on the partnership, which will involve community engagement. The organizations are launching an annual $10,000 award that will be presented to a leader of a local nonprofit or community impact organization.
“Self builds credit, the Spurs build talent and both build dreams,” Buford said.
“Our partnership will draw parallels between people looking to build credit and a talented young group on the basketball court committed to building a championship team. We believe the Self-branded Spurs jersey will become a symbol of this mission—self-improvement in pursuit of building dreams.”
This trails another announcement earlier this year from Self as the official credit building sponsor of the Moody Center.
At the beginning of the year, the team of nearly 300 employees switched to a new office at 901 E. 6th St. to accommodate the growing team.
Priding itself on helping people build their credit, Self launched in 2015 after CEO James Garvey went through his own credit mishap. Automatic payments on his credit card weren’t set up correctly. Months passed, causing his credit score to dip.
The Self team set up credit builder plans to help people budget and meet their financial goals. Here’s how it works: plans range from small to extra large, with the small requiring $25 a month for two years and the largest $150 a month for a year. With that, users can track their credit score and automate payments with the option to cancel anytime.
Currently, Self has more than a million active customers, and Texas is its top market.
Self is working with Spurs guard Josh Primo as a brand ambassador. In 2021 at 18 years old, Primo moved to the U.S. from Canada and became the youngest San Antonio Spurs player ever.
“As a young international player, Josh has no credit history in the US, and represents millions of young people who need to build credit and are working hard to achieve their dreams and goals,” Garvey told Austonia via email. “We’re excited to work with him as he gets started building credit and he continues to build his career.”
On Thursday, Self will be the presenting partner for the Spurs 2022 NBA Draft festivities, which will include official watch parties in both San Antonio and Austin.
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