It’s About To Get Loud On Rainey Street

The Rainey Street District is showing signs of maturation as stakeholders are coping with the growing pains that come with such rapid growth.  On August 19th, Bridget Dunlap, owner of the thriving Lustre Pearl bar, was approved for an Outdoor Music Venue permit (OMV).  The OMV permit (new window), expressly for “winter months,” allows the venue to host amplified music.

Rainey Street proper is zoned CBD, a flexible zoning definition that enables a multitude of uses for properties.  Little of the street’s CBD density entitlements are being used, as they are sitting idle waiting for big capital to return.  The district is currently dominated by bungalow homes, and flanked by mid- and high-rise residential condos.

It was late 2008, early 2009, when Lustre Pearl became the first bar to open on Rainey Street.  With smart design that preserved much of the historic bungalow aesthetic, Lustre Pearl seems to have set the trajectory for Rainey Street development over the next few years.  Clive Bar, G’raj Mahal, El Naranjo, are all thriving in addition to three more bars under construction.  According to Lustre Pearl’s General Manager, Scranton Twohey, Lustre Pearl is shifting to become more of a music-centric destination.

Dunlap and Twohey operate four venues: Lustre Pearl, Clive Bar, “96” (upcoming sports bar theme across from Lustre Pearl), and an upcoming outdoor/mobile concept on the corner of Rainey St and Davis St (where Container Bar was planned).

What is it about Rainey Street?

  1. Nearly 1,000 residences anchored by Rainey Street.
  2. Big capital dried up, so no more big CBD projects for the next few years.
  3. No commercial infrastructure, little parking, intermittent sidewalks
  4. A creative surplus of funky bungalow houses

During the requisite notification period the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association (DANA) submitted a letter in opposition to Lustre Pearl’s OMV application.  The Downtown Austin Plan expressly calls for limiting the number of cocktail uses, and further encourages uses that complement the quiet neighborhood character of the district. (pdf)

Mr. Twohey made assurances to DANA’s Public Policy Committee about limiting the genres of music, hiring a sound mitigation consultant, and withholding applications for his company’s three other venues.  Despite those assurances, DANA and Rainey Street residents remained concerned that approving this Outdoor Music Venue permit will encourage more bars into the district, and those bars will also pursue Outdoor Music Venue permits.

The cost to apply for an Outdoor Music Venue permit is $50.


NIMBY disclosure – I live at the Shore condos, which is one block from Rainey Street

About Jude Galligan

Jude Galligan, REALTOR, Principal of TOWERS Realty and publisher of Downtown Austin Blog (aka. "DAB"), spends his time matching remarkable people with remarkable properties in Austin’s urban core. A resident owner in downtown Austin, Jude has served on the Board of the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA) and the City of Austin Downtown Commission. Contact Jude.


  1. People, this is Austin we are talking about! The LIVE MUSIC CAPITOL OF THE WORLD, not Podunk ville Texas. Live music defines this city and is intertwined with it’s culture!! The OMV permit should stick and should not be revoked if the bar stays within te reasonable decible levels.

  2. Out of curiosity, does the CBD have different noise ordinances than the rest of the city? I live in Bouldin Creek, which has a number of outdoor live music venues (e.g. Freddie’s and Guero’s), and we successfully coexist with them because the city has strict regulations on both decibel limits and playing music after 10pm, and APD is happy to enforce them if anyone gets out of line. If Rainey St. lacks such limits due to its CBD location, might it be possible to appeal to the City Council to require them?

    • A property’s zoning, and the zoning of surround properties, is expressly part of the City staff’s decision making criteria. I don’t believe CBD has any fewer or greater sound ordinance restrictions than CS zoning, though.

      They’ve restricted the times to midnight on weekends. I’m confident that music and residential can happily coexist, but the Rainey Street district could benefit from some planning. Issuing OMV permits is ad-hoc urban planning by city staff. At minimum, the vetted Downtown Austin Plan should be looked at for guidance. Otherwise, a $50 OMV application, can fundamentally alter the character of the neighborhood.

  3. Great piece, Jude!

    Normally I’m against the limitation of noise on pre-existing venues. What makes Lustre Pearl and the Rainey St District interesting is that this isn’t a case of people moving in and wanting to stop a 20+ year tradition. In this situation, it’s an already quiet neighborhood that wants to stay quiet.

    My brain might explode!!

    • Indeed, the circumstances here are unique. The district began and remains dominated by quiet residential use.

      The concerns seem to be focused on what the future holds. Does this permit set a precedent for a district that only has infrastructure suited to new bars? Will all of those new bars apply for a OMV permit? It’s so cheap to apply for an OMV permit, that an astute business operator should seek one out.

      Even though the Downtown Austin Plan – which has not been adopted, but has been thoroughly vetted – has clear design priorities for Rainey Street District, without a comprehensive neighborhood plan, the district is at the mercy of city staff making permit decisions without a guiding light, which results in undesirable ad-hoc neighborhood planning.

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