Facing threat of closure, gaming hangout Vigilante rebrands, pleas for patronage

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Facing threat of closure, gaming hangout Vigilante rebrands, pleas for patronage

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Kyser Lough for American-Statesman
Relax with a beer and a board game at Vigilante, which is rebranding to become more of a gastropub with a strong food menu.

We’ve heard this plea before — from a brewery in the very same North Austin multi-use complex, in fact. This time is no less urgent. Last week, the gamer’s paradise Vigilante announced that it would have to close if business didn’t pick up.

It’s not dire, at least not yet. And certainly not after a recent record-breaking weekend following the announcement.

“Unfortunately, it has become clear that Vigilante will close its doors if its current level of patronage continues. While the danger is not imminent, without a course correction it is inevitable,” according to a blog post on the Vigilante website.

That course correction arrives in the form of a slight rebranding. The hangout opened earlier this year with more than 150 games, booze including local beers and a menu of fusion food and called itself Vigilante Gaming Bar. But with a more sophisticated dining program now in the works comes a new name: Vigilante Gastropub and Games.

Vigilante is also introducing sake cocktails and has set up a video game rig in the bar area with Mario Kart, Super Smash Brothers and Zelda. 

The previous food menu had been panned at times by visitors otherwise enthralled with the myriad game titles available for playing at custom tables around the 3,800-square-foot space. But now, according to the blog post, the food is better than ever thanks to “new kitchen leadership and a whole new fall menu.” Expect an expanded roster of items like salad rolls, pizzas, sliders and shakes.

Social media is a powerful thing: Not long after writing the blog post, Vigilante saw “a massive response from our patrons and friends,” selling more plates than ever before. General manager Preston Swincher shared the success on Vigilante’s Facebook page, noting that “if Vigilante maintains this trajectory, we will be able to grow into an Austin staple for y’all to enjoy for years.”

Another plus about the gastropub that he noted? There’s expanded parking just for Vigilante at the multi-use complex off North Lamar Boulevard where Black Star Co-op is also located. Previously, finding a free space not for residents of the apartments above the retail stores and restaurants there was hard to come by.

That’s no doubt in part why Black Star issued a call to action for customers — specifically the member-owners with a stake in the cooperatively owned brewpub — at around the same time that Vigilante debuted this winter. Black Star faced “historically slow sales” and had “reached a breaking point,” former kitchen team leader and co-op co-founder Johnny Livesay said at the time. 

He asked for increased patronage to keep Black Star afloat. Thankfully, Austinites also rallied to Black Star, leading to its biggest sales day ever, and it remains thriving with locally sourced food, beers made in house and fun updates like the addition of a crowler machine so that customers can more easily take home Black Star beer.

But now Vigilante’s having troubles, and these are far from the only two restaurants in mixed-use developments suffering from a lack of business. (To be sure, owning any kind of restaurant in Austin, as Livesay pointed out months ago, just ain’t easy anymore.) Certainly, there’s an extra level of difficulty that retail and restaurant spaces face when they’re in a multi-use complex.

The Statesman’s restaurant critic Matthew Odam explored that subject following the closure of Delicious in another mixed-use space in South Austin: “The Lamar Union complex has become emblematic of the difficulty many mixed-use developments have in fostering successful ground-floor restaurants and retail.”

Consider one of those developments to be the Midtown Commons, where Vigilante and Black Star are located. The businesses within it seem to have fallen victim to many of the problems of those at Lamar Union, including a lack of foot traffic and a lack of interest from potential customers in having to find parking in a garage and then walking a distance to the restaurant. 

At least the Crestview Station of the Capital MetroRail is next door to Black Star. 

Like the brewpub, which is now seeking donations to improve the patio, Vigilante is doing what it can to stay afloat and has been receptive to customer reviews.

 “With the help of your feedback, we have been driven to push ourselves every day,” according to the blog post about the need for more sales. “Vigilante is a challenging, ambitious and original concept. But with your input we have grown into the restaurant we wanted to be when we opened in February.”

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