Hole in the Wall Could Close, or Not

Sep 11, 2015

Hole in the Wall, a 41-year-old bar and music venue on The Drag that’s provided a stage for local performers for decades, may be the next venue in Austin to shut its doors forever, according to the Hole in the Wall’s manager Will Tanner.

“We’re at loggerheads because they’re running into the reality of owning a 41-year-old dive bar," Tanner says. "My business doesn’t make sense, you know. They want to make as much money as possible."

The “they” he refers to would be his landlords Cencor Realty Services, which manages the property for its owner, Guadalupe Hole Realty. Tanner owns Hole in the Wall — the brand — and manages the business. He's also part-owner of the East Austin bar Stay Gold, and he's invested in two bars in El Paso.  

The building sits on a desirable location in a highly populated campus area. Just to the north of the bar sits a former Jack in the Box, now a paid parking lot and de facto campsite, and to its south sits the kebap restaurant Vertskebap.

Tanner says he heard from friends in the real estate industry that the property managers were “pitching to national clients” without telling him, something Cencor denies. 

The 10-year lease on the building is up at the end of this year, and Tanner hasn’t negotiated terms of a lease renewal yet with Cencor, though he says they sat down in early September to discuss possibilities. Tanner says he can’t afford a rent hike.

“They wanted me to propose how much more I should pay to them, and I just said, ‘Prepare to be wildly disappointed.'"

Scott Freid of Cencor says he and his partners have made clear to Tanner since he bought into the lease eight years ago that they want Hole in the Wall to stay open.

“We want him to renew and have given him every opportunity to work something out, which included several concessions from the landlord,” Freid said via email. “Instead of telling the public that he is ready to move on, it seems he has chosen to make the landlord responsible for the demise of his business.”

Freid says that while the partners do receive calls from other parties interested in the Hole in the Wall property, that’s normal for such a desirable property.  

“There is nothing new about tenants wanting to lease this great site," Freid says. "Will has been non-committal for years and did not exercise his renewal option. But to be clear, the partnership that owns the building has not engaged a broker to lease the space nor has a marketing program commenced.”

Freid also calls Tanner out for having “obviously done a poor job” maintaining the building, which, he adds, has been one of the “sticking points” in negotiating the lease renewal.

All this comes at a time when Austinites are feeling on edge about losing the city's iconic music venues. Demonstrators have taken to the streets in the Red River district to protest the rent hikes that forced the owners of venues like Holy Mountain and Red 7 to announce they're closing.

An online petition calls for Hole in the Wall to be designated a “culturally significant landmark” — a designation that would apply to the building itself, not the business housed within it, according to a spokesperson for the city's zoning and planning department. 

For now the future of Hole in the Wall — and consequently, that of the East Side King location on the same lot — remains uncertain.