2019 in Review

Austin's first alcohol-free bar shakes up the 10 most popular stories of 2019

Austin's first alcohol-free bar shakes up 2019's most popular stories

Chris Marshall headshot Sans Bar
The story of Sans Bar was our most popular story of 2019. Photo by Richard Leal
Virgin Hyperloop One
U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao called projects like Virgin's Hyperloop One a priority. Courtesy photo
Mercury Hall
Mercury Hall is closing in 2021, citing rising property costs. Mercury Hall/Facebook
Morehouse College Robert F Smith billionaire
Robert Smith made headlines as being one of the richest Austinites — and for paying off the tuition of every Morehouse College graduate this year. Morehouse College/Twitter
Southside Market & BBQ
Texas' oldest barbecue restaurant fired up plans for an Austin location this year. Photo courtesy of Southside Market & BBQ
Chris Marshall headshot Sans Bar
Virgin Hyperloop One
Mercury Hall
Morehouse College Robert F Smith billionaire
Southside Market & BBQ

Editor's note: Reviewing trends, specifically what compels readers and why, is one of the most interesting things about being editor. Unlike in past years, however, finding the common theme within 2019's most popular stories seemed elusive. This random collection of top stories seemed just that: random. 

Delving deeper, however, and the thread that runs through each story is just the same as it's always been — unequivocally Austin. We care about health and traffic and affordability. (See: Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 10.) We love barbecue (Nos. 8 and 9) and want to know about changes to our neighborhoods (Nos. 3, 7, and 8). Sure, there were surprises (um, No. 5), but in the end, each story tells the story of Austin, a city that has spent the last decade teetering on the brink of explosion, and will likely spend the next decade trying to figure out its new place in the world. 

Throughout it all, CultureMap will be here to help tell the story. Cheers to 2020.

1. This Austin entrepreneur is shaking things up at city's first alcohol-free bar. Sober, sober curious, Cali sober, whatever the name, mindful drinking was a hot topic in 2019, something proved by the mega-popularity of this story. Sans Bar, Austin's first alcohol-free bar, was started by a former substance abuse counselor looking to give patron an alternative to traditional watering holes. Throughout the last six months of 2019, this piece continually remained popular with readers, earning it the top spot by a wide margin. 

2. 25-minute hyperloop from Austin to Dallas on fast track with push from federal government. Imagine traveling to Dallas without getting on I-35. During an appearance at this year's SXSW, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said she has established a council to help clear regulatory and legal roadblocks for the traffic-busting Virgin Hyperloop One concept and similar transit innovations, meaning a life free of I-35 gridlock could be on the horizon.

3. Longtime South Austin wedding venue unveils closing plans due to soaring property taxes. If you've lived in Austin long enough, you've probably attended an event at Mercury Hall, the charming church turned event space in South Austin. In November, citing rising property taxes, the property's ownership group announced Mercury Hall was closing in 2021. The owners are putting the property on the market, meaning there is still a chance the venue will be saved. 

4. 9 festive Texas towns to visit for a magical holiday experience. Austin has its share of darling holiday traditions (hello, Trail of Lights!), but sometimes, it's fun to hit the road and see how other Texas towns celebrate. Obviously this roundup published this year, but that doesn't mean we can't start planning for 2020.

5. 7 Austin billionaires cash in on Forbes' list of richest Americans for 2019. Knowing that there are seven billionaires in the entire country is kind amazing. Realizing there are seven billionaires in Austin alone boggles the mind. These seven locals are worth a combined $48.1 billion. For the record, that number is almost equal to the entire GDP of Uzbekistan.

6. Swanky Austin restaurant nabs Texas' only spot on Esquire's Best New Restaurants 2019. Comedor, downtown's newest jewel box of a restaurant, has racked up a few spots on local year-end top 10 lists and best-of roundups, but in November, it received a national accolade when Esquire chose it for the magazine's prestigious Best New Restaurants 2019 list. For the record, it was the only Texas restaurant to earn a spot.

7. Massive 6 million-square-foot development breaking ground in North Austin neighborhood. This project made a big splash when it was announced in 2018, so it was a bit surprising that it went bonkers again when it officially broke ground in 2019. The campus — currently anchored by about 800,000 square feet of offices for IBM — is on Burnet Road, close to the Domain.

8. H-E-B's massive new Tarrytown store fires up barbecue restaurant and full bar. Boy howdy, do we love barbecue, y'all. Just before Labor Day, H-E-B fired up the city with news that it's opening a new store in Tarrytown, complete with a bar, patio, and an outpost of True Texas BBQ.

9. Oldest barbecue joint in Texas reveals opening date for first Austin location. See? We love it! News that Elgin's Southside Market BBQ was opening an outpost in Austin was big news, but its opening date was even bigger, earning it a spot among our most-read stories of the year. The oldest barbecue restaurant in Texas is now open, so if you haven't visited, consider this your first New Year's resolution.

10. This Austin ZIP code proclaimed the most expensive place to rent in Texas. Sadly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, Austin has not one, not two, but three ZIP codes among the most expensive in Texas.