Nightclubs Are Nothing New on the Northwest Corner of 12th & Chicon. But the Clientele Is.

Oct 11, 2016

Austin is built on the bones of old bars, at least it seems that way, when you start looking for them.

The historic Liberty Lunch once stood among warehouses in what is now a swanky part of downtown. Rainey Street quickly morphed from a home for mostly Hispanic families, to a bar drag packed with revelers, to the center of a condo and apartment boom. Now, on the northwest corner of 12th and Chicon streets, things look like they're heading in the same direction.

So, what does it mean that new bars are popping up on 12th and Chicon?

First stop, Full Circle.

The Full Circle Bar is fairly new to the block. It features six lanes of skeeball for people to play as they party and is the sister bar of another Full Circle in Brooklyn.

“The clientele here is awesome,” said bartender Cooper Moon. “Everybody here is interested in having fun.”

Moon sports tattoos and an impressive beard. Despite the changes, he says the rent he pays nearby is still affordable. It’s a different story around Sixth Street east of I-35, another place he likes to hang out.

“All the new apartments that are coming up [on East Sixth], and all the spikes with the rent and whatnot, it’s driving us either further east or further south, ” he said.

He says, now that the bars are here, the higher prices and higher-end housing developments were kind of inevitable.

“That’s why I’m thinking about moving more farther south," he said.

Like some other Austinites, Moon says he sometimes considers leaving the city completely and moving to Lockhart.

'Everyone Would Joke About It'

Back on the street, resident Marriam Thompson loves it.

“Now, walking around I don’t really feel unsafe, as I would have several years ago. I would have been like ‘Oh my God, where’s my mace?’” said Thompson, who is white and grew up in the Austin suburbs.

Back when she was growing up, the intersection of 12th and Chicon was the butt of an ongoing joke. 

"[E]veryone would joke about it, because that’s where the crackheads would hang out, the prostitutes and stuff like that," Thompson said.

Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Overhearing that conversation, Bill Binion said he wanted to set the record straight about the neighborhood.

“No, no and no again – not true,”  Binion said later. “It was very much a family-oriented, family community where everybody was close knit and tight.”

There’s a lot going into these different perspectives. But part of it is how far back they’re thinking. Thompson’s talking about the block’s recent history. Binion’s talking about the decades when this was the heart of black East Austin. Binion, who is black and is in his mid-sixties, grew up here.

"There were nightclubs lining both sides of the street. Just a vibrant, vibrant area, with a different variety of people," he said.

So, in a way, the resurgence of clubs here is a return to the old 12th Street. The question is who are the new clubs catering to?

'Austin is America'

At Dozen Street, the crowd here is full of people of different races, so is the band. It’s the kind of scene a lot of people wish there was more of as new transplants flock to the East Side. That’s no accident, says Reggie Coby.

Reggie Coby
Credit Mose Buchele / KUT

Coby helps his friends host a jam session – though, he personally calls it a vibe session – every Wednesday night. He went to high school nearby. So, he’s seen things change first-hand. He says it takes work to be inclusive – work he’s not sure some people are willing to put in. But, he says it happens in Austin, in pockets.

“Austin is America, you know what I mean? Like all in a small enclosed space. It's a microcosm,” he says.  “So when you think about Austin and what you want to have happen here. Think about what you want to see happen outward in the world."

This story is the final segment in a story that looks at a day in the life on the corner of 12th and Chicon streets. You can listen to the full story below.