The Compleat Rainey Street: Bar 96 & BackStage Grill

Through the rest of July, I’ll walk through every open door on Rainey Street. See the directory here
Bar 96
96 Rainey St. 512-433-6604,
Hours: 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday-Friday. 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday-Sunday.
BackStage Grill
96 Rainey St. in the courtyard of Bar 96. 512-944-8386,
Hours: 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday-Friday. 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday-Sunday. That’s the plan. Hours in the early weeks will vary.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 07.30.12
“I know we act a little crazy, but we love you guys.” This is what the alpha female of a group at Bar 96 announced to the guys in shorts and shower shoes at the table behind them. “But I will punch you right in the Superman if you say that again,” she continued in that three-beer buzz language that makes sense only to people on a three-beer buzz.
On a one-Mexican martini buzz, I understand that Bar 96 is the most stripped-down drink-sports-score bar on Rainey Street. It’s just an old peekaboo house with a big front patio and a spartan main room where the bar is, leading to a courtyard out back with the BackStage Grill trailer, a couple of bean-bag cornhole games and a long green carpet of artificial turf in case a game of Putt-Putt breaks out. Bar 96 handles the overflow from Lustre Pearl across the street, drawing the ones more interested in watching sports on high-mounted flat-screens than hula-hooping or playing ping-pong-ironica.
It’s packed on most nights, the first place in and the last place out for a night on Rainey Street.
The drink menu is a high-test roundup of rum (frozen mojito with Sailor Jerry’s, $8), vodka (the Ophelia with a citrus triumvirate of lime, lemon and orange plus Stoli Citros, $8) and gin (a Collins with Hendricks and cucumber, $9, or a French 75 with Death’s Door and champagne, $8). Among the 11 beer taps are Magic Hat, Brooklyn Lager, Victoria and Thirsty Goat Amber. My Mexican martini was a puckeringly sweet glass of Milagro Silver, lime, agave and olive juice with a cucumber floater for $9.
As if to demonstrate the blink-and-you-miss-it nature of Rainey Street, the Cazamance African trailer that had camped out in Bar 96’s backyard rolled away between the research phase and the rundate of this series. Food trailers have come and gone behind bar 96. There was an early version of Ms. P’s Electric Cock and its fried chicken, an Italian tapas place called Tasca, even the second East Side King trailer before it migrated to be with its kindred trailers on East Sixth. Now Cazamance has come and gone, retreating to its brick-and-mortar home base on Cesar Chavez Street. It was replaced July 20 by BackStage Grill, holding down the courtyard with a barrel smoker, buffet warmers and white cafeteria tables while they fixed last-minute problems with their trailer. As a downpayment against the real thing, I went with tacos dressed out with chicken bathed in Jarritos tamarind soda, mango pico de gallo, queso fresco and avocado at $7.50 a pair.
BackStage Grill owner Kelly Knapper (above left) said Rainey Street was ready for this kind of food, something filling and real to fit the district’s big backyard aesthetic. Even under the dive-bomb conditions of a wired-together grand opening party, the tacos from the trailer’s food crew led by Rick McClure (above right) were balanced but still appropriately misbehaved. The menu will expand when the trailer’s rolling full speed, with sirloin-and-chorizo sliders, fries with carnitas and ghost pepper aioli and a brunch menu that includes chicken-and-waffle sliders.
The best part? When you order, they give you a BackStage Pass with rock-star names so they can find you when the food’s ready. You’ll hear them yell for Rob Zombie, Axl Rose, Tommy Lee ... Meat Loaf? For a fleeting moment, I was Flea. There’s never a sock when you need one.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)