Bar-hopping in Austin Texas

A happy accident has created one of the quirkiest collections of pubs in the US.

In the pantheon of evil-genius ideas, installing a dog run next to a pub beer garden has to be up there. Bangers, a combined sausage house and craft beer haven, seems to be single-handedly revitalising enthusiasm for walkies among Austin's dog owners.

The dogs, however, don't appear to be getting quite as much exercise as they might originally have anticipated. An extraordinary wall behind the bar is furnished with 101 beer taps. There are so many options, the beers have been divided into categories to make the list manageable, Belgian styles, hopmonsters and amber ales are kept in groups. And, outside on the Munich-esque communal benches, people who are supposed to be walking portly pooches are happily working their way through the menu.

Anywhere else, a pub with its own dog run would be a piece of stand-out weirdness, but on Rainey Street, everything's a bit different. 

At first glance, the street looks like a suburban time warp. It is lined by a series of fussily dainty old houses that ought to have a feisty old grandmother rocking back and forth in a chair on the verandah. 

But walk past these photogenic homes, and the noise indicates it is no quiet, residential street. It is as if the little old ladies have gone away for the weekend, and their grandchildren have taken the opportunity to throw massive house parties. Country duos, rock bands, singer-songwriters and DJs blare out from cunningly fashioned stages, and the bars all have a distinctive character to them. Clive's has a bit of a country club air; Bar 196 goes heavy on the big-screen sport; the Blackheart goes for a New Orleans bordello vibe.

There is a strong call for Rainey Street being the United States' most wonderfully likeable nightlife strip, but the fun is a result of the most boring thing imaginable: a local authority rezoning decision.

In 2004, a few boundaries were shifted and Rainey Street found itself part of the central business district. In practice, that meant far fewer restrictions on what could be developed there. But the nature of the houses – many are on the National Register of Historic Places – meant there were big red-tape hurdles for major developers to clear.

Anyone who just wanted to repurpose the houses had far fewer barriers to overcome than those who wanted to knock them down and build something else. First up was Houston-based bar entrepreneur Bridget Dunlap, who bought a couple of the more dilapidated homes and turned them into bars. Lustre Pearl was the first, quickly followed by Clive's, and things mushroomed from there.

Bar-hopping down Rainey Street feels like it should be done with a skip in the step. There's something so giddily silly about the whole happy accident, but part of the joy comes from being of the moment. There's a huge "enjoy it while it lasts" factor – and big-money developers are beginning to muscle in, getting remaining restrictions removed.

The beginning of the end was marked in March 2014 when the original bar, Lustre Pearl, closed down to make way for an eight-storey apartment complex. But the kill-off will take a good few years yet. Until then, every drinker - and his somewhat unwitting dog – is happy to indulge in the most homely pub crawl in the US.  

The writer visited Austin, Texas, as a guest of the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau. 

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