Sometimes you don’t know what you’re looking for until you’ve found it. One day you’re getting a haircut at the barbershop you’ve been going to for 10 years, and the next you have an offer to open your own bar behind said barbershop. If that feels like a fairly specific example, it’s because…surprise!…it’s based on a true story. Meet Brian Hummel, owner and operator of the The Good Life BAR BAR, a cozy and unique speakeasy in the heart of downtown Austin.
Hummel, who’d been working in Austin bars and restaurants for years, found his venture when–during a routine haircut–he asked the owner of The Good Life Barber Shop what she was doing with the vacant room behind the shop. When he learned it wasn’t being used, a lightbulb went off. “What if we open a bar back there and I run it for you?” he asked.
A year and a half later this “neighborhood speakeasy” is a successful bar with diverse drink offerings and a homey vibe. The Good Life BAR BAR is more than worthy of being the first entrant in my new series on The Austinot: Austin’s Speakeasy Secrets.
Your Neighborhood Speakeasy
The Good Life BAR BAR quickly built up a regular clientele. There are customers who come for a drink before, after, or while getting a haircut. Then there are customers who are looking for a low- key, intimate setting where they can take a break from the chaos of the real world upstairs. Hummel has purposely designed the setting for just that. “The biggest component of any bar or restaurant that I’m running is that I’m going to welcome you like it’s my living room,” he told me. “That’s my business model.”
Look around and you’ll see The Good Life BAR BAR has the intimate feeling of a home. The space is decorated with memorabilia that has been in Hummel’s New York City-based family for generations. From his father’s old records on display, to a scorecard of a Brooklyn Dodgers game featuring Jackie Robinson in one of the bathrooms, the decor reflects old-school New York. “The ’50s and ’60s, the Sinatra days, were one big cocktail party,” Hummel explained. “That’s what I’m trying to get back to. Just being real.”
The Good Life BAR BAR Secrets
There isn’t any signage for The Good Life BAR BAR out on the street, so you need to know what to look for on 5th Street and Brazos. A veteran’s trick: look for the red light.
As a nod to the Red Light District, this light signals to patrons that this neighborhood speakeasy is open for business. If the light isn’t shining, then the bar is either closed or at capacity.
Once you see the light, come on in, walk down the stairs, and go past the barbershop and through the door on the right at the end of the hallway. Note from a regular: you can see the red light all the way from Sixth Street, so you can take a peek from a distance if you’re looking for a break from the craziness of Dirty Sixth.
Oh yeah, the lockers. The Good Life BAR BAR doesn’t serve hard liquor…but you can drink your own. Hummel offers lockers for a monthly fee, where you can store bottles of liquor you’ve purchased.
Yes, this place is BYOB: Bring Your Own Bottle. Buy the liquor you want and leave it in your own personal locker. Pay a small fee for a “liquor setup,” glasses and ice (and mixers, if you want), and you’re good to drink your own booze in the comfort of your neighborhood speakeasy. “We’re not going to compete with high-end cocktail bars. We don’t want to,” Hummel explained. “But BYOB is a box that other bars don’t check.”
Note: lockers are all currently taken, but there is a waiting list. So add your name if this is calling to you!
Drink Menu at The Good Life BAR BAR
If you don’t have a locker, then fear not. There are still plenty of drinking options at The Good Life BAR BAR. Local wines, rotating taps with Texas beers (mostly from Austin), and creative cocktails. Creative cocktails? Let’s talk a bit more about those…
Hummel created all of these cocktails, and continues to add and rotate the drinks seasonally. My favorite I tried was the Tokyo Mule: a Moscow Mule with a twist. This is the most popular order at The Good Life BAR BAR, and with good reason. It features carbonated sake from Texas Sake Company and will be a regular order on my visits. Make it a “must-order.”
The Beer Fashioned features Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale and the Gringo Michelada comes with a dash of soy sauce. These drinks are original, delicious, and worthy of this intimate and welcoming space.
Downtown Austin’s Little Oasis
The Good Life BAR BAR is open Tuesday through Saturday, with expanded space on Friday and Saturday nights. With the barbershop only doing business on weekdays, Hummel expands the bar space, and invites bands and DJs to perform on the weekends. People can get down to the music and cut a rug where others cut their hair (sorry, I had to). “On the weekends, we bring this place to a whole other level,” Hummel told me. A party with the intimacy of a living room? Yes, please.
Sure, it’s fun to go to speakeasies. It proves you’re “in the know,” that you’re part of an exclusive crowd. But if the quality isn’t there, then the novelty quickly wears off.
I love this place. It understands what it is, and does it well. Yes, this bar has a sense of self. As Hummel told me, “If you want a little oasis, something different, then go see Brian down at the Bar Bar. It’ll be a fun experience. That’s us!”
201 E. 5th St. #100B
@theAustinot wants to know:
Which speakeasies should we feature in our new series? It’s okay; you can tell us.
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