For 90% of the world, there’s only one Man in Black. Forget the Will Smith movies; ignore the X-Files. Johnny Cash, one of country music’s original rebels, is the only one who matters.
While you can trek to Nashville to pay homage, there’s a joint right here in Austin that honors the legend through its décor, drinks and demeanor. With more than just a novelty name for a dive bar, Mean Eyed Cat Bar hides quality cocktails, great food and exceptional service behind its roughneck exterior. The result is your new favorite local hangout.
Classic Roots Meets Changing Scene
Before it was a bar, 1621 5th St. was home to a chainsaw repair shop. As a tribute to his father and the music he grew up with, former owner Chris Marsh converted the building into Mean Eyed Cat and filled it to the brim with Johnny Cash memorabilia.
The joint soon got a reputation for its divey vibe, great jukebox and live music. But when the bar changed hands in 2013, new owner Jed Thompson spent nine months renovating it into the hang-out you see today. While live music isn’t a focal point, bands still rotate through on occasion. The real focus is making sure Mean Eyed Cat remains a cool, friendly bar that serves the neighborhood and die-hard Cash fans alike.
Home Town Feel
The first thing you notice when you walk in isn’t the posters, pictures and paraphernalia. It’s what you hear: a friendly hello from the bar staff. Don’t let the gruff exterior fool you. The service at Mean Eyed Cat is exceptional. Everyone, from the bartenders to the waitstaff, are quick with a smile, even if they’ve never met you before. How often do you leave a new bar knowing half of the staff members’ names?
The wonderfully down-home vibe continues to the décor. Despite being covered in memorabilia of the Man in Black, the bi-leveled interior isn’t kitschy or museum-like. On the contrary, it feels like the saloon from “A Boy Named Sue,” without the fighting and gunplay. A place of spirited conversation where friends come to drink, chat and share good times.
The main bar gives way to a spacious outdoor patio, perfect for hanging with your dog or getting some fresh air. Couches, bar tables and picnic benches dot the floor space, giving the bar a decidedly weird, yet homey, energy.
Slinging Back Drinks at Mean Eyed Cat
But this isn’t “A Pub With No Beer” (sorry, I had to go there). Mean Eyed Cat boasts a fantastic collection of craft beer and cocktails. The tap wall is full of craft beer options, most of which rotate on a weekly basis.
Attention, beer geeks: Mean Eyed Cat had Founders Backwoods Bastard (a barrel aged scotch ale), Austin Beerworks’ Bloodwork Orange IPA and Lakewood’s Sin Mint Temptress (a stout that tastes like a Girl Scout cookie) on tap over the last couple of weeks. Get those Untappd check-ins ready.
For those not into hops and yeast, the cocktail list is also exceptional. From a rock-solid Austin Palmoa (tequila and Fresca, rimmed with salt and lime) to the whiskey kick of the Orange Blossom Special (bourbon, Cointreau and OJ), the drink list is impressive. If you’re looking for the owner’s pick, Jed Thompson recommends the Mean Marg, a blend of tequila, fresh lime juice, habanero syrup and jalapeño with a splash of Cointreau.
Same Old Bar with New School Feel
But when all is said and done, the goal of Mean Eyed Cat is simple: becoming your favorite spot to drink, eat and be merry. From the barbecue supplied by Stubb’s to Baylor games on football Saturday, Mean Eyed Cat has adjusted to the wills and wants of their most important people–their customers and the Clarksville community at large.
“As soon as you walk through the door, I want you to feel like you walked into your own party,” says Thompson. “When you leave, I want you to feel like you have made some new friends.”
Mission accomplished. With a balance of charming grit, quality drinks and good times, Mean Eyed Cat feel authentic to its name’s inspiration. Johnny Cash would be proud.
Mean Eyed Cat is located at 1621 W. 5th St. For hours, drink lists and event schedule, go to themeaneyedcat.com. Mean Eyed Cat is celebrating Johnny Cash’s birthday on Feb. 26 from 8-11 p.m. with live music, a Johnny look-alike contest and drink specials.
@BillTuckerTSP wants to know:
My favorite Johnny Cash songs are “Sunday Morning Come Down” and “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town.” What’s your favorite?