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In New East Austin Spot, Rio Rita Hopes To Return To Its Roots As A Neighborhood Bar

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
Rising rent prices forced Rio Rita to move from East Sixth Street to 12th and Chicon.

Walk into Rio Rita’s new location at 12th and Chicon on a Friday night, and you’re likely to see a single-file line leading up to the bar. Behind it, two bartenders mix up complicated craft cocktails with homemade infused spirits. Sarah Tibbits, Rio Rita’s manager, says the line, which customers form on their own, is a carryover from the old location on East Sixth Street. 

“I feel like our regulars who followed us over just do that because that’s what had to happen at the old spot," she says. "There wasn’t enough space for people to gather at the bar.”  

Owner Randall Stockton says the line is not the only thing that’s stayed the same since the bar was forced to move over rising rent prices.

“I’d say a lot of the customers we had at Sixth Street have followed us, because it’s not really that far away,” he says. “And there’s definitely some people who were already living around the 12th and Chicon area that are coming to see us more often than they used to.”

Among them are Ashley Kressin and Sarah Hernandez. The roommates moved from East Third Street up to East 12th in January, around the same time Rio Rita re-opened on the northwest corner of 12th and Chicon. 

Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT
Owner Randall Stockton says he's happy with Rio Rita's new location, but he sees some of the same signs of development that forced it off East Sixth Street.

“It was just an added bonus that Rio Rita was coming here. I like it," Kressin says. "It’s a good place to hang out, and now it’s in walking distance yet again."

Hernandez says she and Kressin moved north to get away from the traffic and tourists around East Sixth Street. 

“Around here it’s a little more cultured. People are a lot friendlier," she says. She says she appreciates being able to go to the bar alone and not having men hit on her all the time.

Rio Rita, which is a coffee shop during the day, is returning to its roots as a neighborhood hangout, Tibbits says. 

“I feel like there’s an opportunity here to revisit the feeling of a neighborhood bar that I think Rio Rita started out as,” she says. That aspect got lost as East Sixth Street became more crowded, she says.

Rio Rita is welcoming to parents who want to bring children, says Alix Reissman, who moved to the neighborhood with her husband five years ago, just before they had their first child. 

“I can go in and grab a drink with my daughter in the afternoon,” she says. "I’m hoping that some of the new families [in the neighborhood] will take note of the fact that it is a coffee shop and a bar and maybe start utilizing it the same way.”

Stockton says he’s happy with the bar’s new location, but he’s seeing some of the same signs of development that eventually forced Rio Rita off East Sixth Street.

"It’s already happening. They’re building condos and things like that just a block north," he says. "You know, we thought we would be on Sixth Street forever." 

How long before Rio Rita is forced to move again is anyone’s guess, Stockton says. "You sign a lease and then hold on as tight as you can."

Kate Groetzinger is a part-time reporter at KUT. She comes to us from Quartz, a digital media publication based in New York City, where she served as an Atlantic Media fellow. Prior to working at Quartz, Kate graduated from Brown University with a bachelor's degree in English. While at Brown, Kate served as an intern at Texas Monthly. Her work has been published online by Texas Monthly, CultureMap Austin, The Atlantic, Quartz, The Gotham Gazette and Paste Magazine, and in print by Rhode Island Monthly. She is happy to be back in her home state reporting on news for her fellow Texans.
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