Next stop on Jonas’ quest to shed light on the underworld that is Austin’s speakeasy scene: Firehouse Lounge. As my Austin’s Speakeasy Secrets series continues, I’m noticing some similarities among my subjects.
For example, the term “speakeasy” is not necessarily synonymous with uppity in our great city, nor are these bars secretive in the sense of exclusivity. Finally, just as you’d find at your neighborhood dive bar, friendliness permeates all interactions.
Nowhere are these observations more apparent than on this next stop, Firehouse Hostel. Wait, this is a speakeasy series, not a hostel series, right? Yes, but let me explain.
As you walk toward Firehouse Hostel’s reception desk, you’ll notice a bookshelf. But wait…is that just a bookshelf? Slide it over to the side, and the bookshelf and wall disappear. Welcome to Firehouse Lounge.
Located at 605 Brazos Street, directly across the street from Here Nor There, this speakeasy is a regular drink spot for me.
History of Firehouse Lounge
For clarity’s sake, Firehouse Lounge is on the ground floor of a real hostel with real rooms. The hostel holds about 70 people, and visitors to both the hostel and bar are part of Austin history.
This is the oldest standing former firehouse in Austin, hence the name. Constructed around the same time as The Driskill Hotel in 1885, the building has gone through various iterations and uses.
Paul Neuenschwander, the current manager, has been operating the bar since its genesis in March 2012. As Austin bars are wont to do, Firehouse Lounge rushed to open in time for the SXSW crowd. The bar then took a month to redecorate and establish a cocktail menu, reopening full-time in April 2012.
Firehouse Lounge has been going strong for over seven years now, and the business and offerings have only increased.
Entrance to the Speakeasy
Let’s get back to the entry, as that’s probably the first way a fellow Austinite would refer to it: “You know Firehouse Lounge? The speakeasy with the sliding bookcase?”
How did that iconic bookcase come to be?
According to Neuenschwander, it was initially built as a practical way to get between the bar and hostel. The current Firehouse Lounge exit continued to serve as entrance and exit for at least a year, before they decided to make the bookcase a separate entrance to the bar. And as Neuenschwander said, “That started the ‘do you know about this bar?’ element.”
Firehouse Lounge Interior Vibe
When Neuenschwander started the bar seven years ago, it had a speakeasy vibe through and through. There was jazz music, table service, and an all around chill vibe.
“The music at first was what you would expect,” Neuenschwander told me. Yet, that changed gradually and organically in the first couple years. Eventually, Firehouse Lounge made it known that drinks should be ordered at the bar. The music was turned up a bit, and a different atmosphere emerged.
“We decided you can have a cocktail in a speakeasy setting, while listening to the Beastie Boys,” Neuenschwander said. I like it. These days, there are DJs on the weekend and live music on Thursdays, with various events sprinkled in on the other weekdays.
Just because the music has changed, doesn’t mean the decor has shifted dramatically since those early days. Once inside the bar, you’ll immediately feel the speakeasy vibe. From the furniture to the wallpaper to the candle-lit aesthetic, this place screams 1920s Prohibition-era speakeasy. “It’s fun that we get to balance the speakeasy element with the fact that it’s a party on the weekends,” Neuenschwander said to me.
Upon a closer look, you’ll notice firehouse-related motifs and homage to the long history of the building. I love when this rapidly changing city shows pride in its immense history.
Drinks at Firehouse Lounge
As with any speakeasy, the quality of the cocktail matters. Find Firehouse’s permanent cocktails listed above the bar–you can’t go wrong. My default order is the classic old fashioned, which is one of the best in the city.
The Moscow Mule is also a popular choice, as is the Fitzgerald. Additional, seasonally-changing cocktails are listed on the “House Creations” page of the menu, which can be found on the bar counter.
The drinks are simple, yet artful. “A lot of what we sell and what we’re known for is grounded in well-executed classics. Not a lot of ingredients,” Neuenschwander shared.
Neuenschwander is quick to remind me that despite the speakeasy decor and focus on delicious craft cocktails, the staff wants you to order whatever you’re craving at the time. “You can get a good, speakeasy-esque cocktail, but you can also get a shot and a beer, no problem,” he said. “Drinking shouldn’t feel like work or be over-studious.”
And thus the balance between top-tier cocktail-making secret speakeasy, and the neighborhood bar Firehouse Lounge also represents. This bar is accessible to all. In other words, it’s very Austin.
“We can be an everyday bar,” Neuenschwander summarized. “Even though I wear an apron, I’m happy to grab you a Lone Star.”
When you walk in to Firehouse Lounge, you’ll notice a list of nine rules. These rules aren’t meant to signify high class or any type of pretentiousness, but they’re really a code for how everyone can have the best time.
Having a good time has been the goal of this bar and staff ever since the speakeasy opened. “We try to represent a fun-loving vibe,” Neuenschwander told me. “We want to have a good time because you’re having a good time.”
The final ingredient to a great speakeasy: the staff. This group has actually won awards for their work, and the results don’t lie. “Whether it’s luck or something we can give ourselves credit for, we have a remarkable staff tenure.” Neuenschwander said. “There’s a formula that works.” You’ll notice it right away; there’s something special going on at Firehouse Lounge.
A secret bookcase entrance, great cocktails, top-of-the-line staff, and a speakeasy environment without the stuffiness. Firehouse Lounge has it all. This is a bar worth checking out for a cocktail…or a Lone Star. There is something for everyone here.
@theAustinot wants to know:
Have you been behind the bookshelf yet?