L’Estelle and Rainey’s Evolution

L’Estelle and Rainey’s Evolution

As far as Rainey bars go, I really like The Drafting Room at 88 1/2 Rainey.  Located on a plot of land right behind The Shore Condos in downtown Austin‘s Rainey Street District, and owned by inveterate downtown-er and Architect Craig Nasso since 1994 (read: WAY before Rainey Street was “cool”), the lot has evolved with the neighborhood and transformed what was an already a lovely home and office into two delightful, separate but intertwined (both are owned by Craig and Holly), pursuits of food and drink.

L’Estelle’s story on it’s website is actually much more eloquently written – check it out here.

If you don’t have time to read it all, here’s my favorite excerpt:

The architect of L’Estelle, then 26 years old, drove down Rainey Street in 1994 and spotted a little piece of “half-lot” that was merely a patch of dirt.  The fact that this lot was on a street named Rainey was especially of interest since his mother’s maiden name was Estele Rainey.  He bought it, nurtured it, planted every tree and bush and designed a plan for a long life on this little lot.  Twenty years ago, he built the back house as a live work office and decided to wait to build a front house when he could design it with a wife if he got married one day.

The architect eventually got married, but during that period, Rainey Street changed from a residential historic neighborhood into a bustling night life district. So the architect changed plans but held sensitively to his dream.  He designed and built a front house with his wife which would serve as a kitchen for the people and he converted his office into a quaint beer and wine bar – now the Drafting Room.  Together, they open their yard and their hospitality to all who enter, offering a real and authentic connection to the district, its history, and the comfort casual style of gathering under the stars with good drinks, food, and folks.  L’Estelle pays respect to their mother, Estele Rainey, the best cook in the family who serves as the advisor and contributor of many homestyle recipes for the preserves and sweets offered in the kitchen.

88 1/2 Rainey, Circa late 2012

88 1/2 Rainey, Circa late 2012

There’s truly a lot to love when it comes to what Craig and his wife Holly have carefully, tenderly created.  Their story is unique and their tie to the neighborhood is genuine; the architecture (and, hence, the vibe) is elegant, modern and comfortable; but, most importantly, the wine is great and the food is TO DIE FOR.

Bottom line: Go there.  You won’t regret it. And say hi to Holly and Craig when you visit; they are almost always there making sure things are running right.

p.s. – They are open for Sunday Brunch, too! Starts at 11am…

Drafting Room Facebook | L’estelle Facebook

Want a trip down memory lane?  Check out our 2012 Mega Post on Rainey with pics of what the street looked like not but 5 years ago…

The Other Downtown Austin

The Other Downtown Austin

It’s an exciting time to live in and be involved with Downtown Austin.  Major developments being announced, and construction commencing pretty regularly.  Population and commerce increasing exponentially each year.  More places to eat.  More feet on the street. More energy.  Austin, and downtown Austin specifically, garners a lot of local, regional, and even national attention… well, most of downtown gets attention.

See, there’s this “other” downtown.  A hidden-in-plain-sight curiosity.

Let me preface the point.  Take look at a map of downtown Austin.  Visualize downtown as four quadrants, with axes along 6th Street and Congress Avenue.

First, the southeastern quadrant of downtown is home to the monumental Waller Creek redevelopment, has fortunate proximity to most downtown and East Side venues, quick access to the Hike & Bike Trail, several exciting and new hotel developments, including the The Fairmont and the Hotel Van Zandt, and an array of existing and proposed apartment and condo developments.  70 Rainey, for example.

Second, the southwestern quadrant, the media darling of downtown Austin, with heavy economic investment, has a rich mix of residential, office, and recreational uses, and seems to be constantly boasting some sort of development activity.  Major, sexy condo tower projects like the Seaholm, the Greenwater Treatment redevelopment, and the newly announced Independent have put the area on the forefront of media coverage.  Substantial office projects like the recently completed Colorado Tower and the under-construction office tower at 5th and Colorado are also making news.

Third, the northeastern quadrant is bubbling as an “Innovation Zone” – with developments bringing new life to the medical and tech industries, as well as activity related to our state Capitol.  Very recently, Foundation Communities opened it’s affordable housing development: Capital Studios.  This area is also filled, FILLED!!, with blighted parking garages.  Fortunately, Texas State Capitol complex has started getting some attention in recent years.

And, now we’ve arrived at the subject of this post.

Fourth, and finally, the “other” downtown.  The oft overlooked top left corner of downtown.  The tranquil, lush, historically quaint, attorney office dense, northwestern quadrant of downtown!  (Bookmark this: OANA’s terrific historic online tour, block by block)

We simply don’t hear much from this neck of the woods, even though it’s among the most peaceful and pleasant places to live in downtown, with plentiful tree canopy, open parks, myriad law offices, Shoal Creek, ACC, and tasteful restorations.

It’s also some of the most expensive residential property in the City.  Most of the residential in this area is comprised of single family homes, like this, and this, and this one.  Many of these homes have become office uses, generally of the law firm or other office-practice variety (although some other fun stuff is starting to pop up!).

Austin Panic Room

The Austin Panic Room, a fun new concept that just opened in NW downtown Austin.

The reason we don’t hear of these big, shiny, fabulous, skyline changing developments?  Zoning.  It’s as simple (and as complicated) as that.

For better or worse, many of the lots in the northwest part of downtown Austin simply aren’t zoned for high-rises.  It’s no simple task to get an area that’s this passionate with historic sentiment and neighborhood protections to simply approve mass zoning changes willy-nilly.  Some of the City’s most prime and walkable downtown real estate is almost completely untapped as far as density goes, with most lots being inhabited with one-story or two-story Victorian style homes.  To be clear, we like it this way, too!

There are a few dense developments in northwest downtown, like the newly constructed apartment tower, Seven.  And, Aspen Heights is under construction.  So are the Celia’s Court at 908 Nueces. Also notable, are Westgate and Cambridge Towers, which are along major boulevards.  Typically, in this part of downtown, we expect to see mid-rise developments like 904 West, Park West Condos, and the Nokonah, along with a handful of off-the-radar apartment communities, like the Nueces Flats.

You can be on W 6th Street at midnight, then walk stumble 2-3 blocks north along Nueces and it feels like a different, quieter, world.

No doubt we will continue to read headlines about downtown Austin.  Along the way, it will be interesting to observe how the “other” downtown Austin remains relatively media mute.  Maybe it’s better that way.

-Jude

Things to do in Downtown Austin – Austin Panic Room

Things to do in Downtown Austin – Austin Panic Room

Are you itching for something a little different – a little outside of the normal weekend routine of brunch, shopping, frisbee golf in Zilker, etc?

Well, have I got a recommendation for you – Austin Panic Room.

It’s one of the funnest group activities that I’ve done in a very long time, and they have recently relocated from East Austin into downtown Austin at 1205 Rio Grande, near ACC and Pease Elementary.

Here’s the scoop:  Austin Panic Room is basically just a big puzzle you solve with your friends (and maybe some strangers) in about an hour.

[Read more…]

Downtown Austin Alley Activations – Open House for Rainey Alley

Downtown Austin Alley Activations – Open House for Rainey Alley

A little over two years ago today, we wrote about a very cool Alley Activation project done by Art Alliance Austin.  In the article, we said that many cities around the world are starting to embrace alleys as more than just loading / unloading and trash dumpster zones.  We think that for certain alleys, the concept of revitalization and activation makes a ton of sense.

One such alley in the Rainey district of downtown Austin is getting a second look, compliments of the City’s recent acquisition of funding to pave what’s currently little more than a dirt passage littered with dumpsters behind all of your favorite Rainey Street bars. The alley goes from River Street to where the construction for the Millenium Rainey apartments begin (Millenium Rainey received an alley vacation so they were able to build right over the alley).

downtown-austin-rainey-alley-map

downtown-austin-rainey-alley-today

Rainey Alley today, looking north

Millenium Rainey Dead-ends Rainey Alley

Millenium Rainey dead-ends Rainey Alley

We think this is very exciting for the neighborhood not only in the broad sense of representing “out-of-the-box” thinking to maximize public space within the limited confines of an urban area, but more practically and specific to the location – we think this activation may have the effect of “bringing in” the businesses on East Avenue that currently face I-35, encouraging more serviceable and integrated uses to make them fit into the neighborhood they inhabit, rather than being hunkering warehouses with chain-link fences, or out of place and isolated highway bars like the ill-fated Agora.**

The establishments on East Avenue are technically part of the Rainey Neighborhood, but many couldn’t feel more incongruous with their surroundings.

We encourage those interested in upgrading the alley to come to the Mexican American Cultural Center at 600 River Street on On April 7, from 9am-7pm. The City is inviting the public to come and give input on current uses of the alley and solicit constructive ideas for future uses that also preserve the “essential service functions” of the alley.  Feel free to share constructive ideas in the comments below, too.  We’ll be dropping by the Open House and are happy to share any cool ideas on our readers’ behalves!

More info here.

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**Legacy leather bar Chain Drive is currently residing in part of the structure at 84 East Avenue today.  It was formerly tucked away and hidden in plain sight on Willow Street off of Red River before being pushed out – likely due to parcel consolidation for the Waller Park Place / Waller Center.  Even though it’s not a bar we personally visit, we’d actually like to see it stay around for posterity, if nothing else.

Prioritizing Pedestrians Over Parking With Proposed Pocket Patio

Prioritizing Pedestrians Over Parking With Proposed Pocket Patio

Lot’s of Ps there.

There’s a new plan in place to put a pocket patio in front of the building at 804 Congress (the Bosche-Hogg office building).  This is the vision of building owner David Kahn, and if it happens we think it will be a major step towards activating Congress Avenue north of 8th Street.

Somewhat similar to the extremely successful patio concept first introduced to Congress Avenue by Royal Blue Grocery at 609 Congress in 2012 (a concept that won the ULI 2013 Award of Distinction for Public Impact), and designed by the same firm (dwg), we expect great things for the Bosche-Hogg patio.

This patio, which will benefit all the pedestrians walking along Austin’s “main street” will also have the effect of eliminating 4 city parking places.  We think this is a small price to pay for better pedestrian experience.

The City of Austin seems to agree:

Downtown Austin is comprised of more than 1,050 acres, the streets add up to 34.5% of downtown and parks and open space only consist of 12.3% of the entire area. In any city, the places between buildings need to be designed for people; well-designed, people-friendly places can beautify our city. A typical metered parking space downtown Austin will serve around 6 vehicles a day, while a parklet can serve hundreds who desire safe, attractive and welcoming public space.

The reality is, there are plenty of parking spaces downtown and the reason that there is a perceived lack of parking has only to do with the underutilization of existing parking garages – many of which remain largely empty for long periods of time.

A 2013 article from Community Impact sites:

According to city staff, in 2012, the average occupancy rate of existing off-street parking was 26 percent, with peak occupancy reaching about 67 percent. Two reasons Riley pointed out for the underused parking include garages that are not open to the public and drivers having difficulty in finding available parking.

We think Congress Avenue is the perfect place for this sort of concept to thrive.   Congress Avenue is downtown’s gem and making it more beautiful benefits the entire city.  Especially in the northern part of Congress, which needs more “non-Capitol Complex” pedestrian life breathed into it. Downtown Austin condos like Brazos Place should be extra supportive of these upgrades to their little corner of the neighborhood. We hope to see more of these concepts pop up.

Parklet-map