There seems to be a winning formula for the bars that flourish in far South Austin — they tend to be quirky, beer-focused dives with massive, dog-friendly outdoor spaces.
Three of these concepts are on Manchaca Road south of Slaughter Lane. Two of them, Indian Roller and Moontower Saloon, are already open and regularly packed with people. Farther south is a rundown-looking blue building whose front was recently adorned with the letters SABG, for South Austin Beer Garden, but the bar that has transformed the old house into a welcoming place isn't quite ready for customers yet.
Although major construction is wrapping up in the next week or two, the three owners of SABG have a couple of inspections still scheduled and need one last permit to be able to open. David Pearce, Christopher Cantu and Ryan Thomas have been pushing back the opening date for years and don't want to keep jinxing themselves by giving any kind of firm ETA to hopeful neighbors. (Eater Austin wrote about the bar as early as March 2015.)
"'Soon' is what we like to say," Thomas said.
Nonetheless, South Austin Beer Garden is beginning to look exactly like what the three founders and friends had hoped it would. It's all about the outdoors: There's more space for hanging out outside than in, with a 2,000-square-foot deck and a recently mulched yard where tether ball, corn hole and other games will be set up. One food truck, the award-winning Cluck-n-Burger, is already in place in the yard, and owners hope to add another option.
SABG is intended to be for everyone, Pearce said, and he and the other two owners have gone out of their way to make sure that's the case. Even kids and adults not drinking alcohol will have fun beverages to sip, such as frozen Coke.
"We want to build a place for the community, especially South Austin, so they can come and feel like this is their home. Like a backyard party," Pearce said. "I can envision it. It's hard to see now, but I definitely see this place being very full, kids running around on the weekends, enjoying the day."
Like the name suggests, South Austin Beer Garden will serve a variety of craft beers, many of them local or from across Texas. (Tap handles include those for Celis White, Whitestone's Konverter Kolsch, and Friends & Allies Noisy Cricket Session IPA, but these might change in the lead-up to opening.) The indoor bar at SABG has 56 taps, although not all of them will be devoted to beer. Expect cocktails and wine — and nonalcoholic root beer from Saint Arnold — on tap as well.
Esteemed local mixologist Justin Elliott helped to create the cocktail menu, which is divided into sections such as draft cocktails, frozen cocktails and beer cocktails. Draft drinks like the Rusty Spike Old Fashioned (George Dickel Rye, Drambuie and aromatic bitters) are helpful because they guarantee consistency, Pearce said. Frozen options like the frozen Coke that you can pour mini bottles of booze into are sure to be popular, too.
An outdoor bar offers a smaller selection of beers and cocktails, but don't miss South Austin Beer Garden's vintage interior. When they secured the lease on the blue house in late 2014, "everything was dry-walled up," Thomas said. "When we took the dry wall down and saw the original shiplap was in good shape, we fell in love with that and kept it really, really rustic. The shiplap's beautiful. That's the original blue paint, the original wood."
Pillars decorated with old Texas license plates and a wooden bar made of square blocks that have been treated to the Japanese wood-burning process round out the inside space.
South Austin Beer Garden is just like the surrounding area it will soon serve, Pearce said — it'll be both laid-back and welcoming.
"This is the last part of Austin that I think still feels like Austin. It feels like home," he said.
He and Thomas recently quit their jobs bartending at Dirty Dog Bar on Sixth Street, where they worked when they hatched the idea for SABG. They wanted to open a restaurant showcasing Thomas' barbecue skills, but Pearce lives near the blue house on Manchaca Road, would pass by it every day and thought it would be a great place for a bar. Cantu, who manages the retro bar 8 Track on Manor Road, joined them as a partner about two years into the project.
Opening SABG has taken so long in part because of the lack of essential things such as sewer lines on the property. But the owners did have ample time to come up with the concept, including the name. They brainstormed potential names on a white board during Monday planning meetings, Pearce said.
"We went through so many names at first — 'oh, this sounds good, this sounds good' — but South Austin Beer Garden sounds like a destination. It's simple. It's something you can remember," he said.
SABG will open at 10700 Manchaca Road. For more information, visit southaustinbeergarden.com.