The Compleat Rainey Street

By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 07.17.12
Rainey Street is like trick-or-treating in a ramshackle neighborhood, one where most of the houses are dark. But the houses with the lights on have LOTS of lights on — and they give out the best candy.
The transformation of this blue-collar street into an open-air house party started with Lustre Pearl in 2009. That was four years after the street’s zoning was changed from single-family residential to central business district. Since then, the quarter-mile stretch of Rainey from Driskill to River streets has added 17 more bars, restaurants and trailers on paper, under construction or in full-tilt operation.
Just getting to Rainey Street is half the battle. There’s a parking lot at the mouth of the street on Driskill next to the IHOP. Feed your credit card into the meter box, get your dashboard card and you’re set for $5 all day. But your card expires at midnight, and then it’s time to pay for another “all day.” On the weekends, the lot is $10, but you get to stay until 6 in the morning. Then come the dreamers who crawl along Rainey in their cars jockeying for the handful of spaces that don’t block private driveways. They crowd the walkers into the crawlspaces between side mirrors and back bumpers, because the sidewalk ends after a block and a half and then you’re the guy with a foam sword in an Obama mask playing chicken with a shuttle bus.
Through the rest of July, I’ll walk you through every open door in the Rainey district, starting at the northeast corner with Lustre Pearl and winding up at Bar 96 on the other side. Here’s what you’ll find in the Rainey Street district:
The east side
 97 Rainey St.: Lustre Pearl, a bar with a courtyard that includes the Bomb Tacos trailer.
 87 Rainey St.: Nova Kitchen and Bar (under construction, in photo at bottom right). This is the restaurant project from Austin chef Brad Sorenson, who competed on “The Next Food Network Star” and “Chopped.”
 85 Rainey St.: El Naranjo, the interior Mexican restaurant that started as a food truck in the driveway.
 83 Rainey St.: Icenhauer’s, a bar with intimate dens in front and a garden-party patio out back. All the drinks have women’s names.
 79 Rainey St.: Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden (under construction, in photo at top). More than 100 beers on tap and a zoological bounty of hot dogs and sausages. Anyday now. (UPDATE: Banger's has set July 30 as its opening date.)
 75½ Rainey St.: Under construction. The TABC permit notice in the window of this haunted-house of a bungalow lists “75½ Rainey Street” as the applicant for a “mixed beverage late-hours” and other alcohol permits.
 75 Rainey St.: The Backyard Eatery, a trailer court with a Spanish street food truck called Tapas Bravas (photo, bottom left) and a trailer called the Art of Tacos. BYOB.
 69 Rainey St.: Javelina, a bar and grill with the feel of a hunter’s clubhouse and a long privacy screen made of rough-shag cedar.
 61 Rainey St.: Craft Pride (under construction). “Proudly serving beer crafted by Texas.”
The west side
 86 Rainey St.: Blackheart (photo, bottom left), a drinker’s bar in a weathered white cottage with a front porch and lazy front courtyard for people watching and a stage in back for live music.
 609 Davis St. (corner of Davis and Rainey): Clive Bar (photo at top), with a main building like a ski-rental lodge leading to a wooden deck and a backyard set with sawed-off picnic benches and fortified fruit-crate tables.
 609 Davis St.: Bar Ilegal, a pocket-sized stone building in Clive Bar’s courtyard that deals mezcal — and mezcal only — Thursdays through Saturdays.
 91 Red River St. (facing Davis, across from Clive Bar): G’Raj Mahal, an Indian food trailer with shaded pavilion seating and table service. BYOB.
 90 Rainey St.: Container Bar (planned). The idea is to weld together a half-dozen reclaimed shipping containers. The architect’s rendering looks like the Swiss Family Robinson meets Thunderdome.
 92 Rainey St.: Bungalow (under construction; photo, bottom right). A straightforward transformation of an old clapboard cottage into a modern party bar.
 96 Rainey St.: Bar 96, the street’s default sports bar, with the Cazamance food trailer out back. A trailer called the BackStage Grill opens July 20. (UPDATE: Cazamance has moved out. BackStage opened as scheduled, even though the city held the trailer back for modifications. The guys laid out tables, warmers and a grill.)
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)