Clubbing with Austin's Carmack team of bar owners
Michael Barnes, Out & About
They don't own and operate the most bars in Austin. That distinction likely goes to Mike Yassine, the nightlife entrepreneur who is currently redeveloping the former 219 West slot on West Fourth Street. That will put 10 local nightspots on his tab.
Yet on the street, or behind the bar, more people would likely recognize the Carmack Concepts team — Wes, Brad and Chad Womack along with business partner Jason Carrier — who own Dogwood and Molotov on West Sixth Street, as well as Chuggin' Monkey and the Dizzy Rooster on East Sixth Street.
Their collective Q Factor can be attributed to Brad Womack's double appearance on the fantasy/reality show "The Bachelor." To confirm what is already widely known, the exceedingly polite and patient identical twin of Chad Womack long ago stopped dating contender Emily Maynard and says he's "happily single."
More to the point, the Carmack team — the company combines the foursome's last names — opened their first bar 10 years ago. Along the way, they have matured. Three are married with children. And they've watched Austin's nightlife scene evolve as they grew up.
At this time a decade ago, the four bartenders — an undeniably handsome bunch — decided that their first business, set in the former Lucy's nightspot, should employ the image of a lovable animal. The monkey won out.
"Who doesn't love a monkey?" Carrier asks, rhetorically. Thousands of T-shirts later ...
Chuggin' Monkey opened in early 2002, put together with "credit cards and Home Depot paint."
"We already had a following," Carrier says. "So we knew could fill the bar with people."
Carmack hit it big when another reality show, MTV's "Real World: Austin," parked its rowdy cast at their next venture, the Dizzy Rooster, across East Sixth Street from their first bar. That won them national exposure to the street's core constituencies: tourists and college kids.
What made the concept work was the team's personal attention to each customer and employee, a novelty in an entertainment district where most of the clubs are owned by rarely seen investors.
Years later, when their slightly older and better-heeled customers migrated to West Sixth Street, the foursome followed by purchasing and reviving the anchor club Molotov.
"Our customers had graduated," Brad Womack says. "Literally and figuratively."
"You turn around and one day you're too old for East Sixth Street," Carrier says.
Not that they abandoned their original stomping groups, the much-maligned but still vibrant and vital East Sixth.
"We've never seen East Sixth like it is now," Wes Womack. "It's all out-of-towners."
"A lot of people refer to it as Dirty Sixth," Chad Womack says. "That makes us grit our teeth."
Seeking something even classier on West Sixth, in 2010 they built, from the ground up, their crowning achievement to date: Dogwood. Inspired by the Womacks' native Atlanta, the low, lean hospitable club opens onto a spacious patio that remains fairly full from early in the evening until late at night.
"It's been phenomenal," Chad Womack says. "We put our heart and soul into this place."
Not all Carmack concepts stood the test of time. They ventured onto West Fifth Street with the Marq, the Red River district with the Velvet Spade and tried a third East Sixth Street bar, the Thirsty Nickel. All are gone.
Now the club group is taking the Dogwood concept to midtown Houston, where it will attempt to please urbanites not far from that city's outpost of Tyson Cole's Uchi. (Is everybody watching Uchiko's Paul Qui on "Top Chef"? We are shamelessly hooked.)
As East and West Sixth streets' nightlife begin to converge, and the Rainey Street area, far East Sixth Street, Warehouse District, Convention Center cluster and Second Street District spin off in related orbits, the Carmack team is watching the fast-changing opportunities on spokes like South Congress Avenue, South First Street and South Lamar Boulevard.
"We love seeing how each entertainment district has a demographic all its own," Chad Womack says. "Yet all of them seem to be doing well."
"Everybody has a place to go," Brad Womack says.
Even Dogwood gets clogged with the dating crowd, so the partners are looking for another fresh concept.
"And as we get older, we see the need for a more and more sophisticated place to buy a drink," Carrier says.
"The economics of Austin nightlife are changing, too," Chad Womack says. "There's a level of accountability that wasn't there when we were maxing out our Home Depot cards to open the first bar."
"At one point, you could get away with just opening a bar," Wes Womack says. "Now you have to provide an experience."
Having four full partners means that each one can rotate out from the crash-and-burn nightlife industry, even to appear on a reality show.
"It would have eaten me alive, so we are lucky to have this dynamic," Brad Womack said. "We are still having the time of our lives."
Our best wishes go out to Austin Chronicle owner Louis Black,who suffered massive heart failure in late November. Black revealed his condition and a long hospital stay in the Dec. 16 edition of the Chronicle. May he soon return to the publication that has entertained, challenged and informed our city for 30 years.