Austin Lakefront Institution Closes Doors For Lack Of Water

Originally published on September 8, 2013 2:54 pm

Carlos 'n Charlie's restaurant on Lake Travis in Austin, Texas, will be having its last last call on Monday. But don't bother coming by boat.

The restaurant has been a lakeside hotspot since it opened in 1995. Back then, docking at the restaurant's wharf was a popular way to take in the party atmosphere, which part-owner Pete Clark describes as like "a cheap Spring break movie."

Speaking to Weekend Edition Sunday, Clark says "lots of people, most of them in their swimwear" would come to Carlos 'n Charlie's in their loud powerboats to soak up the fun and sun.

No more.

A historic, years-long drought has left the restaurant's dock high and dry. So, Labor Day will be the last bash before it closes for good.

"If you'd asked me five years ago, I wouldn't have been able to even see it," Clark tells Weekend Edition Sunday guest host Wade Goodwyn. "The water went down and kind of stayed down."

Low water, high water, it used to be part of a yearly cycle, he says. Carlos 'n Charlie's has "been through floods and droughts, but nothing that's lasted this long."

"After the first year, we expected that the next year would be better," he says.

"We rode through it and the next year came. We did that again, and the next year came and we did it again," he says. "We just can't continue doing that."

Clark says after one last party on Labor Day, the restaurant will "auction off some of the mementos" so that customers can take a piece of the place home with them.

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Carlos'n Charlie's is an Austin, Texas, institution. The bar and restaurant with its huge decks overlooking Lake Travis has long been the place to be in the summer. Boaters dock and landlubbers drive over to dance and sing along with the bands, watch fireworks on the Fourth of July, and, of course, put away plenty of burgers, burritos and beer. But that's all changed. Over the last three years, the water level in Lake Travis has dropped so much that you can't get there by boat anymore. And tomorrow, Labor Day, will be Carlos'n Charlie's last big bash. Pete Clark owns the place with three partners, and he joins us now from member station KUT in Austin. Pete, welcome to the show.

PETE CLARK: Thank you.

GOODWYN: Take us back to Carlos'n Charlie's and what it's like when the water's up.

CLARK: For people that have never seen it before, I like to explain it as, you know, maybe a cheap spring break movie. Lots of people - most of them in their swimwear - loud boats pulling up, elbow-to-elbow crowds dancing barefoot on the dance floor all night, you know, just a real party.

GOODWYN: So what happened?

CLARK: The water went down and, you know, kind of stayed down. I've been working on Lake Travis for 28 years, and if you'd asked me five years ago whether this was even possible, I wouldn't have even been able to conceive it. We've certainly seen it go up and down several times, been through floods and droughts but nothing that's lasted this long. That's what's really getting us is, you know, the roll of the dice if, you know, gee, will it come back next year? Maybe, maybe not.

GOODWYN: Well, of course, at first you expected it to. You expect it in the winter. We'd get a lot of rain, as Austin and the hill country usually does, and Lake Travis fills back up.

CLARK: That's correct. I mean, after the first year, we said, OK, next year will be a better year. And we rode through it and the next year came and we did that again. And the next year came and we did it again and we just can't continue doing that.

GOODWYN: What are you going to do for the last weekend?

CLARK: Well, we're having kind of a final last call, if you will. We've got one of our favorite bands out of Houston, a band called Rat Ranch. And then on Monday, we're actually going to auction off some of the mementos, if you will. You know, let our customers come in and take a little piece of Carlos'n Charlie's home with them that they can put in their man cave or their backyard patio, things of that nature.

GOODWYN: Well, Pete Clark is the owner of Carlos'n Charlie's on Lake Travis in Austin. Pete, good luck.

CLARK: Thank you.

GOODWYN: And you can go to WEEKEND EDITION's Facebook page to see a photo of Carlos'n Charlie's and the damage the drought has wrought. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.