Though the Austin hospitality industry continues to be volatile, it may have found some stability in 2019. While the Capital City scene hemorrhaged restaurants in 2016, 2017, and 2018, the less frenetic pace of openings this year meant fewer disappointments. But that doesn’t mean that the dining scene made it through unscathed. Below are the casualties of the ongoing restaurant wars.
Though the gimmicky salmon roe-topped Raw Dill cocktail was a blip of inspiration, just about everything else at this Warehouse District spot was a Tina Fey eye roll. From the half-baked decor — more Hogwarts than Harvard — to a $100 chocolate martini using a “From the Bar to the Bedroom” syrup (ick), no aspect of the bar lived up to its high-minded thesis. When Academia’s Fourth Street home was unceremoniously vacated in April to eventually make room for Texas Tavern, Austin was too exhausted to pour one out.
Boiler Nine Bar + Grill
When La Corsha Hospitality Group president Jeff Trigger announced the February shutter of this ambitious three-level Seaholm District restaurant due to nonpayment of managing fees, there was still a glimmer of hope that it would live on. Those hopes were dashed in April with the liquidation of all equipment and furniture. Now, Austin only has memories — and dozens of Instagram posts of its Metropolis-like downtown view.
One would be hard-pressed to find folks who actually mourn the July passing of Daphne’s. Over the years, the fast-casual chain went through a series of slapdash name changes that started when Verts Mediterranean decided to put the kibosh on kebap. Still, Austinites had a morbid fascination with the saga of the concept’s fall from grace. When CultureMap Austin reported that Daphne’s was hightailing it out of Texas, it became one of the most-read stories of the year.
When Elaine Martin and Dorsey Barger first welcomed guests into their little white house in 1988, it felt like it would be eternal. A pioneer in the farm-to-table movement, Eastside Cafe felt more homespun than hippie with its menu of familiar dishes and its brood of chickens clucking out back. Little changed after Barger left to form HausBar in 2011, even though some locals feared the Manor Road classic wouldn't survive much longer. Eight years later, that dreaded day happened. In January, Suerte owner Sam Hellman-Mass took over the property to open an as-yet unannounced concept. One can’t blame Martin for retiring after more than three decades. Still, for generations of local diners, this one hurt.
The year in Austin food can perhaps be best be summed up like this: In June, this iconic and affordable burger joint shuttered after 80 years of business. In October, it was announced that Sammie’s, a red-sauce Italian restaurant from Jeffrey’s owner McGuire Moorman Hospitality, would take its place. No word yet on whether 2020 will see locals happily chowing down on $35 eggplant Parmigiana.
Milto’s Mediterranean Cafe
Hey, but at least there’s still Milto’s. Oh…wait.
Noble Sandwich Co.
Though the brand will live on at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and owners John Bates and Brandon Martinez have a hit with Interstellar BBQ, it’s hard not to think of the September closure of this Burnet Road sandwich shop as the end of an era. True to its name, Noble represented a time when craft ruled Capital City cuisine. Before the digerati remade the Austin dining scene in their own heavily filtered image, slices of exquisite smoked duck pastrami on housemade bread were all the buzz that was needed.
Opal Divine’s/Red’s Porch
When the flagship Opal Divine’s closed in 2016, co-owner Michael Parker said, “Austin's 'Keep Austin Weird' fascination is fading into a search for the latest and greatest new restaurant/bar/concept.” Turns out, he was prescient. Where Opal’s and Red’s Porch once captured Bat City’s homegrown spirit by offering alternatives to corporate behemoths like Chili’s and Applebee’s, by 2019, they felt just as staid. Austin did indeed keep searching for the latest and greatest, and by the end of the year, both concepts gave up the fight. Opal’s closed its last standalone location in April; the remaining Red’s Porch followed in October.
For owner Shalou Barth, juggling the demands of motherhood and owning a restaurant proved to be too much. In May, she closed her beloved neighborhood pizzeria after four years in business. It’s not all bad news, however. The Patrizi’s team will soon be opening another neighborhood concept — Vic & Al’s — in the same space.
Unlike Academia, this New York import did have something new to say when it first settled into the east side in 2012. A harbinger of the local craft cocktail movement, it arrived with a dedicated ice program and hard-to-find spirits — and an environment that defined a certain sort of Austin cool for much of the decade. In June, aging hipsters added another “remember when” to a list that already included Fun Fun Fun Fest and truly secret SXSW shows. Remember when we all used to down daiquiris at Weather Up?