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Next Rainey Street bar will be built from shipping containers

Lori Hawkins
lhawkins@statesman.com
This model shows architect Jay Knowles' concept for a Rainey Street bar project called Container Bar. It will feature 10 metal shipping containers, each 40 feet long and 10 feet high, around a courtyard with a stage. The owner of three nearby bars, Bridget Dunlap, is behind the project.

Coming soon: Austin's first bar built from recycled metal shipping containers.

Container Bar, located on Rainey Street on downtown's southeastern edge, will feature 10 containers — each 40 feet long and 10 feet high — stacked on top of each other and arranged around a courtyard.

The interiors will be new, but the exteriors will retain their industrial look.

Austin architect Jay Knowles designed Container Bar, which will feature stacked containers at its 30-foot entrance. Each four-ton container will include bathrooms, air conditioning and LED lighting, and is big enough to hold 24 bar stools.

With construction starting next month, Container Bar is scheduled to open in January.

It will be the fourth and last Rainey Street project for nightclub entrepreneur Bridget Dunlap . Her other bars on the street — Lustre Pearl, Clive Bar and Bar 96 — have served as a cornerstone for the burgeoning entertainment district on downtown's eastern edge.

"I've refurbished dilapidated homes for my other bars, but I wanted to do something different this time," Dunlap said. "Shipping containers have been repurposed for other uses, such as art exhibition spaces, for many years. But this is the first time they've been used to create a bar in Austin."

Dunlap began pursuing the idea two years ago, when she bought six metal containers on eBay for $6,000. She acquired the final four through brokers.

The project, which is being funded by private investors, will cost about $900,000 to complete, she said. That doesn't include the 7,000-square-foot property, which is leased.

"It's a fun idea, but it's not cheap. It's really just a hot tin can, and you have to add insulation, windows, doors, electrical, plumbing and much more," Dunlap said.

In addition to a full-service bar, the courtyard will feature a stage for live music and a large screen for movie screenings. "We want to be a one-stop hot spot for movie premieres and other big events," Dunlap said.

Cazamance, a West African-inspired food cart currently on the property, will continue operations on another side of the lot.

Rainey Street, once a quiet neighborhood of bungalows and modest homes, has been in transition since it was rezoned for commercial development in 2005. That made it possible for houses that date back to the early 1900s to be turned into businesses.

Since then, a number of condominiums and apartment buildings have been built, and new bars and food trailers have built a citywide following.

The transformation has brought complaints from nearby residents about parking, traffic, noise and pedestrian safety. In January, the Austin City Council voted to uphold a neighbor's appeal of an outdoor live music permit for Lustre Pearl, which opened in 2009.

Dunlap said "there has been some friction," between bars and longtime neighbors, and said that she would apply for permits for live music and other special events at Container Bar.

Rainey Neighborhood Association board member Don Grillo said the majority of the board opposes permanent outdoor music permits for area bars, but said that he would support them for special events such as South by Southwest.

"We don't want this to be another Sixth Street, with one bar after another," Grillo said. "What we'd like is to have is a mix of shops, a grocery store, beauty salons — the things that help make a nice community neighborhood."

lhawkins@statesman.com; 912-5955