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What happened to Austin's Spider House Café? Here's what you likely missed and what's next for the property

Eric Webb
Austin 360

If you don't remember hearing an official closure announcement for Spider House Café, the coffee house at 2908 Fruth St. just north of the University of Texas campus, don't feel bad. Former proprietor Conrad Bejarano tells the American-Statesman there wasn't one.

The Austin hangout's Yelp page and chatter on social media indicate that it closed quietly after a quarter of a century in business. The Spider House website now focuses entirely on the brand's next-door Ballroom, a live performance venue. The cafe's Instagram account, @spiderhouseatx, is defunct. It now points people to @ballroomtx, devoted to the Ballroom's programming.

"We never announced closure, for the possibility of reopening," Bejarano told the American-Statesman on Monday.

The popular Spider House Cafe closed quietly in 2020.

The café shuttered in March 2020 when the coronavirus hit, and it never reopened. If visitors walk up today, they'll find an empty space. The front door bears a "No Trespassing" sign, shielded by a wrought metal gate. Old bed frames still form a whimsical barricade to the patio, which is now mostly bare of the café's idiosyncratic décor.

After it opened in 1995, Spider House Café operated as a funky Austin original. With a full bar, an array of coffee drinks and, for a long stretch, a kitchen operation, the all-ages haunt became a popular spot for a couple of generations of Austinites — including both local kids and UT students.

Christmas lights, an old fountain on the spacious patio and lovingly vandalized walls inside made for a cozy slice of classic Austin weird. The house was said to be haunted, and celebrity sightings included Bill Murray and Quentin Tarantino.

Bejarano also was the proprietor of I Luv Video, the Austin indie video store that closed down its last location in 2020. (That Airport Boulevard site will become a new Lazarus Brewing Co.) 

Passersby on Fruth Street will see that the former Spider House Cafe is now vacant, with only a few markers of its former life as a popular social spot.

Bejarano says that when he and former business partner John Dorgan opened Spider House, there were only a handful of coffee houses in town, like Quack's, Flightpath, Mojo's and Ruta Maya. He was enamored of coffee culture in Europe and thought that such a business would be fun to open near UT.

The house at 2908 Fruth St. was built on a dairy farm in 1931 by German immigrants Erhardt and Teresa Fruth as a home for one of their daughters. At some point, it became abandoned and known as a party house in the '70s.

"I have run into dozens of people who are like, 'Yeah, I used to hang out there, because that was a crashpad,'" Bejarano told the Statesman's Deborah Sengupta Stith in 2016. "It was a house that you always got weed at. It's a house that (bands) always used to play all the time."

Bejarano was enamored of the old house's charm. He says Spider House opened for about $25,000. 

"One of the visions was to create an atmosphere for people of all ages," he says. "It was a cool environment. It was a place of destination."

The Ballroom next door first opened as United States Art Authority in 2008 and became a popular performance space.

Bejarano cites several factors that led to the permanent closure of the café: years of costly conflict with the city over parking code compliance; a lack of pandemic relief grants; and not being able to purchase the property from the landlord. 

According to Travis County records, NLX Fruth LLC bought the former Spider House Café property in February 2021. NLX Fruth LLC was registered last year to Jimmy Nassour, an Austin real estate investor.

The empty café space has been leased to a group that includes Jason McNeely and Brian Tweedy of Hotel Vegas and Amy Mullins of Yellow Jacket Social Club and Kinda Tropical. Mullins told the Statesman on Thursday that while the group is not quite sure what the next concept for the old house will be, they hope to keep the original vibe under a different name, and it likely will involve "great cocktails and beer."

They also want to "honor the patio that's there," she says. "It’s quintessential Austin."

The patio at Spider House, seen here in 2006, was a funky slice of Austin culture.

For now, Austinites can find the spirit of Spider House at the Ballroom. Bejarano owns that space at 2906 Fruth St. and is still involved with the business. He says Chris Baker of meat-free burger operation Arlo's is in the process of taking it over. 

"Chris has the vision and will continue the culture of what made the Ballroom at Spider House special for over two decades," Bejarano says.

Earlier in the pandemic, the coffee and espresso equipment from the café were moved over to the venue, which also is home to a few food trucks.

Bejarano says that he does not plan to reopen a café like the original Spider House in Austin. Because of rising costs, he says, there's "no point."