Tears in our beer
Trailblazing craft beer bar fizzles out of North Austin after 31 years
With the last decade’s explosion of breweries and multi-tap bars and restaurants in Austin, it is difficult to believe there was ever a time when craft beer didn’t rule the scene. But when B.B. Rover’s Cafe & Pub first opened on Research Boulevard in 1987, running a bar that only focused on beer and wine was still a risky proposition.
Unfortunately, co-owner Eugene Downing tells CultureMap that the trailblazing pub’s run is likely coming to an end. If the business does not find a new owner soon, it will close before Christmas Day.
“Rising costs is the biggest factor,” explains Downing, “and two of the owners are in their mid-60s and ready to retire.” Although there is a possibility of a last-minute Hail Mary, the owners chose not to renew the lease that expires at the end of 2018. According to Downing, the bar needs “an infusion of energy and resources” to keep going.
The closure would mean the end of an era. B.B. Rover’s debuted in November 1987 under original owners John Gross and Jack and Diane McClary. The bar was named after the McClary’s African grey parrot, Rover (the couple also had a dog named Polly), whose mispronunciation of the nickname Terribly Vicious — or T.V. — was the inspiration behind the B.B. part of the name.
After the McClarys died, Downing and David Dunn came on board, keeping the focus on beer. In the early days, Downing says the bar worked with every distributor in town to buy imports. When Austin's craft beer scene started to grow, B.B. Rover’s played a pivotal supporting role.
Downing notes that the bar was one of the first local places to carry Pierre Celis’ iconic witbier. When Live Oak started brewing in 1997, it made its way to the tap wall, where it has remained ever since. As the Austin craft beer industry boomed, B.B. Rover's followed suit. For the last five years, it has been an essential place to try local brews.
If a new owner does sweep in, Downing hopes they keep the spirit alive. The bar’s history looms large, and includes longtime staff members and rows of plaques listing membership in the 101 Club, a group of customers honored for trying 101 different beers. Unless new owners decide to keep the tradition going, Downing says they will give members a chance to purchase their plaques. He is also planning to keep the Facebook page active as a way for regulars to stay in touch and follow their favorite bartenders and servers.
And B.B. Rover’s will be going out with one last party on December 16 — an all day event featuring open mic sessions led by some of their most popular hosts, and musical sets from folksy duo The Better Halves and Americana band The Kaye Pasa Trio.