cheer up charlies
Posted on December 14, 2013 · Posted in General

Dear La Corsha Hospitality,

I stepped foot in Austin for the first time in 2003 and since then I’ve seen the city change dramatically. The downtown skyline as you know it today didn’t exist and Rainey Street was a quiet neighborhood where parking was never an issue. East 6th was just starting to blossom but the neighborhood still had that vibe of “You live on the east side? Aren’t you afraid of getting shot?” that added an edge to it and made rents ridiculously low.

During my time in Austin the city has changed but as it evolved, new and exciting places to frequent often replaced the older facades and tired lots where they were installed. Sure there were some great places that bit the dust in the name of progress but I think the Austin we have now is still a very exciting city that offers a rich array of experiential hot spots to people of every age and interest.

Yet when I read your plans to open a dive bar by destroying an existing dive bar that I really like, I felt compelled to write you and let you know that you should really reconsider.

Dive Bars Manifest, They Don’t Appear Overnight

A dive bar doesn’t appear overnight. I can’t open “Will’s Dive Bar” in the empty retail space next to the Papa John’s by my house and expect in a week to have a dedicated crew of first-name basis regulars knocking back tallboys with a chain smoking bartender named Margaret while a jukebox of obscure 1980s Brooklyn hip hop plays in the background and a cool scene envelops the space and keeps everyone coming back night in and night out. It doesn’t happen that way because you can’t manufacture culture, you have to grow it organically.

A dive bar isn’t a dive bar because you choose to define it as such in your marketing plan. Instead a dive bar becomes a dive bar because a community builds and grows around it. Cheer Up has that scene, in fact go there tonight (or any other night) and look at the people who come to see friends, friend’s bands or hang out and feel like a part of something bigger than themselves. Then imagine those same people never returning because you’ve alienated them and they’ve chosen to go elsewhere.

I would expect someone like your own Jason Stevens who has worked at Tigress and East Side Showroom to know what makes/breaks a community and have the common sense to tell you not to make this move. But then again someone whose job title is Professor Emeritus at a restaurant company likely means they’re completely divorced from reality.

No Experience Necessary

If your group had experience opening night spots that attracted 20 somethings who eat ramen just so they can afford to go out on the weekends, that might make sense. The problem is that you’ve developed some great restaurants and bars for people who are miles away from your target demographic.

If I wanted to open a modern American dining concept targeting people with household incomes of $120k or more, I would call you guys in a heartbeat. I had the pleasure of eating at Second (many times I might add – the pizzas and pepperoni soup are what I look forward to when I’m in town) in addition to drinks at Bar Congress. Your team has done very well to capture that upscale demographic but take a look at your floor tomorrow night and look at the sea of upwardly mobile 30 to 50 somethings and tell me how many of them, once they finish their drinks and fine cuisine, will take a cab down to East 6th because their friend’s New Wave Screamo band is playing a show at Wonderland. The answer is zero.

In fact the only people who will likely end up at Wonderland by the night’s end are your waitstaff but will they want to spend their hard earned tip money at a “dive bar” hawking $10 cocktails?

Don’t Let Scott Walker Give Any More Interviews

I don’t think I would have written anything had it not been for the attitude of Scott Walker in the Austin360 article covering the land purchase and new concept. It’s clear that Scott should really practice his lines before talking to the press because all he managed to do was piss me off enough to write this article.

“Walker says they will make some minor renovations to the space and plan to open by South by Southwest in March. The bar will serve dive classics like Jack Daniels and Coke”

I don’t know what dive bars you go to but a Jack and Coke is not a dive bar classic by any means. A shot of whiskey and a beer are more the hallmarks of a dive bar than a Jack and Coke – and at a dive bar, a jack and coke is really an Evan Williams and coke.

“and will bring over some Bar Congress favorites, such as the Green River (vodka, basil/grapefruit agave, Green Chartreuse and lime).”

Obvious disconnect. The crowd at Cheer Up Charlie’s might appreciate a drink like the Green River but they don’t actively seek out the drink and its $9 price tag. This is dollar beer and cheap booze territory and last time I checked, they weren’t crying out for elements from an upscale mixology concept (and if they were Weather Up is only a few blocks down).

When was the last time you went to a “dive bar” and heard someone tell a story of how they asked for a Green River at this other dive bar and the basil/grapefruit agave ratio wasn’t right so they immediately left and never returned.

“We’ll serve quality drinks in a dive bar fashion with a couple of tricks here and there that will keep people happy,” Walker said.

Define dive bar fashion? Are you going to serve my Green River cocktail in a non-cocktail glass? Is my craft beer going to be poured into a red solo cup? Will the bartender be given a style guide that requires an unwashed heathen look and a minimum of two strokes of his coarse beard as he hands me a PBR and complains about Sony licensing Lou Reed for their PS4 launch commercials? Or will you guys not mop the floor and wipe down the tables so you can get street cred?

So let’s recap

Dive Bars According to La Corsha Hospitality/Scott Walker

A couple of beers on tap
+ A signature drink or two
+ Some funky decor
+ A few gimmicky thingies to be determined later
= Dive Bar!

Actually I can find the exact same thing at places like TGI Friday’s, Applebees and Chili’s.

Wonderland, which will be open seven days a week, will host live music and serve food in the back from a trailer concept to be named later. The pending real estate purchase includes the food trailer park at East Sixth and Waller Streets, where La Corsha will eventually build a hotel that will include another bar, a restaurant and a full tiki bar.

A tiki bar? So that’s what’s been missing from Austin! To think of all the years I wasted going to loud shows in dimly lit bars and having a good time when I could have been holding an expensive cocktail in a tiki bar while watching an Affliction covered 50-year-old man with a serious midlife crisis hit on every girl at the bar. If destroying a quaint food trailer park is all that’s standing between me and a tiki bar … hand me a chainsaw and let me go to work.

At this point, why didn’t you have Scott just say “Yes, we’re destroying some cool stuff that people enjoy but we promise the Tiki Bar will be just as good if not better than Malaia.”

All snark aside, the vision put forth by Mr. Walker is not only bland but something you can find throughout Austin. A bar with music and food (or next to a food place) isn’t so hard to find that Austin’s residents are crying out for someone to make it a reality and La Corsha is the only restaurant holding company brave enough to do something about it.

(IMO: Bangers has already mastered this concept so you’re a few years late).

I mean this new dive bar to replace a dive bar that will also get a tiki bar and hotel is just the thing this city needs to keep residents from fleeing to Portland with their hard earned beer money!

In Closing

Was Cheer Up Charlie’s so inherently flawed that you felt the need to swoop down from your heavenly perch and save it from itself? Or was the reality that you thought you could make a lot more revenue per square foot and the land was a bargain and that in 5 years, you can tear the bar down and sell it to a developer eager to build luxury apartments in the cool part of Austin (maybe the apartments can have an elevated walkway that connects directly to the tiki bar?)

I don’t want you to fail. In fact I’m hoping that what you build is actually able to bring back the people you alienated but it’s hard for me to see that happening.

Sincerely,

– William Gallahue

(Photo credit: Bill Oriani)