Is East Cesar Chavez Street becoming Austin’s latest nightlife epicenter? With the opening of Craftsman next door to Stay Gold and across the street from Drinks Lounge (and Blue Owl Brewing purported to be launching within the next few months), these bars are certainly making a strong argument for the area’s growing draw for entertainment.
The two-lane street has managed not to lose all of its old identity — colorful mom-and-pop shops still intersperse the newer buildings — even as gentrification has transformed the east side. Craftsman’s owner, Brandon Testa, is among those who don’t want to completely tear down the old to make room for the new. Instead, he’s preserving a piece of East Cesar Chavez’s past, having transformed a 1920s-built house into a laid-back bar offering craft beer and cocktails.
Now softly opened until a grand opening celebration the first Sunday in May, Craftsman will have 12 draft beers, 3 draft wines, 8 craft cocktails and a barrel-aging spirits program. Just as important to the bar as the drinks, however, is the atmosphere inspired by the old-time feel of the building: the brass taps, the vintage seating spread throughout the inside and the mix of stone and wood walls. Out front, a wraparound porch with white pillars charms as you walk up to the sky-blue bar.
“I named the bar after this craftsman-style 1920s building,” he said, adding that when he bought it, carpet, plaster walls and a popcorn ceiling hid its vintage charm. Once he stripped away these outer layers, he discovered gorgeous wooden paneling beneath and ultimately decided to keep it.
Now, if you walk within the bar’s cozy interior, you’ll notice the words “Austin Lumber Co.” stamped on some of the original wood panels. The lumber company is no longer open, but it was once located on East Seventh Street, Testa said.
A fixture in Austin’s service industry since he was 17, most recently as the general manager of downtown’s Speakeasy, he’s long dreamed of opening his own bar and liked that he was able to find an available place near his neighborhood.
Integral to his vision is an expert but accessible drinks program, he said. He’s aiming for “quality rather than quantity,” so he’s focused on a few things the bar will specialize in, from barrel-aging whiskeys to featuring prosecco in many of the cocktails. Plus, many of these drinks feature unusual ingredients, such as grappa in the Italian Stallion (a play on the French 75) and cold-brew coffee in the Dead Man Walking (which also has vodka, orange juice, amaretto and prosecco).
On May 3, the day of the official opening, Testa said the celebration will hopefully double as the first of many “Sunday Fundays” between Craftsman, Stay Gold and Drinks Lounge.
Craftsman, 2000 E. Cesar Chavez St. 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Mondays-Fridays, 12 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.