The bar that launched the bustling, booming Rainey Street entertainment district is turning 10 on Feb. 21, 2019. They grow up fast, don’t they?
Here’s the story behind the bar that started it all.
Disclosure: This is my honest opinion, but it is not unbiased. Bridget Dunlap is a lifelong friend, and I am incredibly proud of her and her achievements. I also do some marketing for her and her company, Dunlap ATX.
Dunlap’s story is the stuff of legends, the entrepreneurial success story we all need to hear. The then-single mom was trying to carve out a better life for herself and her son by opening her first bar, Pearl Bar, in Houston. She paid off her investors within four months and moved back to Austin. Rainey Street beckoned her with equal parts poetry and business savvy.
Poetry came in the form of an endearing old house with a breezeway through the middle, a fireplace, and hardwood floors. Dunlap’s business savvy whispered the value of opening a bar within walking distance of Four Seasons hotel and luxury residences. Lustre Pearl took off fairly quickly, gaining loyal patrons and nods from large-scale publications including Texas Monthly, LA Weekly, and The New York Times. Dunlap met with The Austinot’s Editor-in-Chief Brittany Highland in 2013 for a feature article.
In the early days, Rainey Street felt like a grown-up antidote to Dirty Sixth Street. Lustre Pearl gave off an Austin vibe right away, with the old house’s dive bar charm, plus an enormous wrap-around patio stocked with hula hoops and ping pong tables, the “Welcome Home” wall.
Dunlap ATX and Lustre Pearl have grown and changed with the neighborhood over the years. The team opened Clive, Bar 96, and Container Bar on four of Rainey’s spacious corner lots, while Lustre Pearl continued to attract more customers.
New Home for an Old Soul
While some mourned (and still mourn) the old neighborhood, change was already slated for the area when Dunlap rolled in. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Even as Lustre Pearl’s popularity grew in Austin, a difficult reality loomed for Dunlap and her team, including her husband and business partner, Chris Parker.
Growing pains are inevitable. Lustre Pearl has lived through its share.
When Dunlap signed the initial lease on the Lustre Pearl space, developers had already earmarked the lot for new condos. In March 2014, Lustre Pearl at 97 Rainey closed her doors. Dunlap, of course, went out in style, performing Stevie Nicks songs with a full band to a packed crowd.
But wait…if Lustre Pearl closed, then how is she celebrating a tenth birthday?
If you think Bridget Dunlap would roll over and let Lustre Pearl’s story end there, then you, my friend, have never met her. Dunlap refused to let the Lustre house be razed to make way for developers. Instead, she and Parker had the house cut in half, moved to a rented lot on the east side, and then they constructed a whole bar around the house that–in Dunlap’s words–“has good bones.”
What to Expect
Simultaneously, Dunlap ATX was rebuilding on Rainey Street, at 94 Rainey. Both Lustre Pearl East and Lustre Pearl Rainey have features the original bar lacked.
Lustre Pearl East has a large concrete wall to provide privacy for patrons and somewhat of a sound barrier for neighbors. It also has more inside space with a second bar, designed with sliding glass garage-style doors in case of fine weather, and a kitchen. The location has great bar food; try the carnitas- or brisket-loaded tots.
Lustre Pearl Rainey has an ample dance floor, upstairs deck bar with a view of downtown, and large downstairs patio. The team added to the patio when they had to close Bar 96. Fortunately, they still had the lease to Bar 96’s backyard, so they added that space to Lustre Pearl. Both bars retain Dunlap’s cool aesthetic, excellent service, hula hoops, ping pong tables, and laid-back feel.
As soon as things started settling down after those projects, Dunlap ATX started building a third Lustre Pearl in Denver. Loyal, long-time bartenders and bar managers in Austin comprised nearly all of the starting staff in Denver. Now open more than three years, Lustre Pearl East brings in a healthy flow of visitors and locals, some who remember the original Lustre Pearl and some who don’t.
It goes to show you hard work, grit, sticking to your guns, and perseverance can pay off. Most of the other Rainey Street bars express gratitude (either enthusiastically or begrudgingly) to Dunlap for her vision and not giving up along the way. She paved the way for all of the other Rainey bars.
Lustre Pearl 10th Birthday Party Details
For better or worse, Austin has stuck by her side. Congrats, Bridget, Chris, and team! It’s been a joy to watch you grow and thrive.
Lustre Pearl is located at 94 Rainey St. and Lustre Pearl East at 114 Linden St. Stay updated at LustrePearlAustin.com.
@theAustinot wants to know:
When did you visit Lustre Pearl for the first time?