For decades, Rosalio "Rabbit" Duran made his bar on East Sixth Street a hub for Chicano community politics.
The bartender and former athlete seemed to know everybody and helped anyone who passed his way, especially those who came through the door of his welcoming bar, Rabbit’s Lounge, which opened at 8 a.m. Monday through Saturday, noon on Sunday, to a mix of professionals, politicos and working-class folks. It also was a popular spot for the Mexican American community.
Duran died Monday afternoon at age 87 of continued complications from a triple bypass surgery performed July 8.
"He was happy and lots of fun," said Angela Duran, one of this five children. "He was benevolent and joyful, and no matter what time of day you woke him up, he was happy to see you. He served his church and anybody in the community who needed help, for hospital bills, funerals, sports teams, political campaigns."
Born on May 18, 1933, in Austin, he was the son of politically active parents, Ezequiel Duran and Eva Gonzalez Duran, and earned his nickname from his speed in youth sports.
"I could outrun anybody in my neighborhood," he told Katy Lutz of the Voces Oral History Project at the University of Texas in 2014. "That's how I got my name."
Duran recalled how his family aided others during the Great Depression.
"My dad and grandma and everybody used to give everybody food," Duran told Lutz, "and they would bring eggs, vegetables and chickens, what have you, in return for the food that my folks had given them."
Duran joined the Navy when he was 19 and served in the Korean War on the USS Oriskany, an aircraft carrier.
Duran began working full time at his family's service station right after the war.
"I could fix a tire in no time," Duran said in 2014.
In 1969, he married Mary Rousos Duran. She died in 2013.
His family still owns a store and gas station at Webberville Road and East Seventh Street.
"He was raised on the East Side, played halfback for the Austin High Maroons — where he earned his nickname," said former Judge Bob Perkins, who credits Duran with his first political win. "He opened his first bar behind Cisco’s In 1967, and then in 1969 bought the building at 1816 E Sixth St. and moved there."
Everyone was welcome at Rabbit’s Lounge.
Some of his best customers were the softball crowd. Those players then volunteered for political campaigns.
"Some of them drew signs," Duran told Lutz. "We had people who could talk good and go into the neighborhoods and talk about voting."
Back when Austin politics was personal, local and close to the ground, Rabbit's Lounge played a key role in electing breakthrough Austin City Council Member John Treviño Jr., Justice of the Peace Bob Perkins, Travis County Commissioners Richard Moya and Margaret Gomez, and state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos.
In 1974, when Perkins ran for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 4, with no money, Duran let him and other new office seekers use his vacant second floor as headquarters.
"We borrowed our furniture from Lois and Charles Villaseñor at Mission Funeral Home," Perkins said. "The night Gonzalo won his representative race and I won my runoff, seven guys from the losing campaign came to Rabbit’s and started a fight with my people. Politics was different in those days."
Years later, a bill sponsored by state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez honored Duran for his service to the "political and cultural legacy of East Austin." Rabbit’s Lounge closed in 2011, but Duran, a night person, still went out.
"It’s the passing of an era," Barrientos said when Rabbit’s closed. "I guess it was our era."
"He loved parties," Angela Duran recalled. "He treated everybody to beer and tequila shots. He had a number of grandchildren that he adored. He officially raised five children, but he helped raise a number of others who passed through our home when we were growing up."
"He was proud to be Austin born and raised with five generations of heritage here and all the community efforts for the East Side," said daughter Catherine Ferrell. "He had a big personality. As a bar owner, he was always big with a joke."
Of the Durans’ other children, Ryan died earlier this year. George and Lisa join Angela and Catherine among the survivors.
Duran died within days of two other key East Austin leaders, Lois Villaseñor and Johnny Limón.
He once said that he knew how he will be remembered: "Rabbit ... I'm gonna have it put on my ... tombstone."
A Catholic Mass will be said in Duran’s honor at 11 a.m. Aug. 25 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church on East Ninth Street, his longtime parish.