You might have a difficult time locating the Good Life Bar Bar in downtown Austin — it’s underground, with no windows and a single red light outside above the main entrance on East Fifth Street notifying customers the bar is open.
Co-owner Brian Hummel, a longtime local bartender, opened the tucked-away spot in the Brazos Lofts building as a "neighborhood speakeasy" in August. More casual than some of the other hideaway bars in the area like cocktail-focused Midnight Cowboy, the bar puts "a strong emphasis on real, genuine service," he said via email.
Perhaps the most striking feature about his place, next to the Good Life Barber Shop also below ground, is the brick wall across from the bar. Original to the historic downtown building erected in 1925, it’s covered in lipstick kisses — three of which came with the place when the barber shop’s owners, Debbie Vidotto and her son Ryan, moved in 12 years ago.
Now, customers can leave their own makeup mark on the wall when they visit. Hummel keeps a supply of fresh lipstick tubes on hand and will offer a toast of champagne to anyone who leaves behind a lipstick kiss.
In addition to champagne, the Bar Bar, as it’s called by regulars, sells only local beers and Texas wines, but you’re able to bring a bottle of the booze of your choice for a $10 set-up charge, getting you a glass, ice and garnish. You can also buy mixers, like soda, tonics and juice, for $3. Didn’t come equipped with your favorite spirit? All American Liquors is located directly upstairs.
But Hummel loves beer the best.
"My favorite part of my job (I have several favorites) is choosing which local beers I'm gonna sell each week. We have 12 tap handles and far too many quality breweries," Hummel said.
He had been looking for a bar of his own after getting his start in the local service industry at B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub in 2002. For more than a decade, he was part owner of the Sixth Street pub and was able to figure out what he wanted in a bar. Finding a place for it, however, proved the tricky part.
"I couldn't find the right fit for me or my concept," he said. "I was starting to think that it might not happen. Then one day, while I was sitting in Miss Debbie's chair, I had a thought. What if the perfect spot was right next door? A couple haircuts and several beers later and the Good Life Bar Bar concept was born."
While running the barbershop, Debbie Vidotto had been living in an adjacent apartment but had grown tired of having a place with no windows. It was vacant for a few years until Hummel came along and proposed the idea for his bar.
He and the Vidottos aren’t sure how the lipstick kisses originated. As noted in the history page of the Bar Bar’s website, they could’ve been on the brick wall since as early as 1925 or as recently as 2005.
"Once you successfully navigate our sneaky entrance (not all do)... you'll notice a few ‘kisses’ on the wall," according to the website. "We're not really sure who left their mark or when. Was it during the early days of the building during Prohibition? Or perhaps they were left more recently. Our space was once home to one of the most underground and exclusive gentlemen's clubs in Austin."
In any case, the wall is now covered in kisses, and anyone is welcome to leave their mark, Hummel said.
He’ll soon be adding a couple of beer and sake cocktails to the menu. And if you prefer liquor but don’t want to lug around your bottles, the Bar Bar has monthly storage lockers on-site. These are running low, he said, but there is a waiting list.
The Bar Bar is open at 201 E. Fifth St., Unit 100-B, with the hours of 3 p.m. to midnight Monday-Friday and 2 p.m. to midnight Saturday. If the red light is off during those times, it means the bar has reached capacity. For more information, visit thegoodlifebarbar.com.
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