Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Mean Eyed Cat owners buy cocktail bar Midnight Cowboy from Alamo Drafthouse founders

Matthew Odam
Austin 360
Midnight Cowboy is a cozy Austin speakeasy on East Sixth Street with reputation for good cocktails. 02/01/18 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

A new ownership group has taken control of one of Austin’s first craft cocktail bars and one of the city’s best.

FBR Management, the Austin company that operates bars such as Mean Eyed Cat, the Wheel and Lala’s Little Nugget, purchased downtown bar Midnight Cowboy from Alamo Drafthouse founders Tim and Karrie League on the last day of 2021. 

The new owners say they intend to make very few changes to the speakeasy-style bar that the Leagues opened at  313 E. Sixth St. in 2012. 

“We want to keep it what it is,” FBR chief operating officer Max Moreland told the American-Statesman this week. 

FBR has experience shepherding legacy bars and modern classics like Lala’s and Mean Eyed Cat, and Moreland says the company’s desire to protect iconic brands helped drive their interest in the bar that offers no street-facing signage and requires the ringing of a buzzer for entrance. 

“These places are woven into the fabric of Austin, and they need to remain before something corporate comes in or it gets torn down,” Moreland said. “It’s more about making sure Midnight Cowboy survives.”

Moreland says he and FBR co-founder Matt Luckie were impressed not only with Midnight Cowboy’s cocktails but also its commitment to quality service. (Luckie has run bars in Austin since the '90s.)

“We’re leaving it in the hands of the existing staff,” Moreland said. 

Food and beverage news:One of Austin's best burger joints is opening a second location

The cocktail menu will remain under the direction of bar manager Brittany McMillan, a two-year veteran of Midnight Cowboy, as will the reservation policy for seating at the tiny bar’s six indoor tables and three private salons. 

FBR will reopen the back patio, which seats 15-20 people, for walk-ins and as something of a waiting room. The group intends to eventually extend the hours beyond the bar’s current Thursday-Sunday schedule. 

The Leagues bought the property and opened the sophisticated Midnight Cowboy in a former massage and modeling parlor of the same name on the rowdy part of East Sixth Street mostly home to shots bars. At the time, the bar — under the direction of original general manager Brian Dressel, and with guidance from Drafthouse beverage director Bill Norris — was one of the few in Austin serving up classic cocktails, doing so with measured service and classy flourishes like tableside preparation.

Midnight Cowboy was later managed by Tacy Rowlands, one of the city's best mixologists, who created smart, themed menus at the bar, like the "Passport Menu" and the "Art of Conversation" menu. 

Food and beverage news:Exclusive: Trudy's Del Mar, a Tex-Mex seafood spot, taking place of South Congress Cafe

“It's been a hell of a two years,” Tim League wrote to the Statesman in an email. “Karrie and I are very proud of what Bill, Tacy, Brittany and her team at Midnight Cowboy built over the last 10 years.  The painful truth is that as we are reemerging as a company with a much smaller, leaner team, we no longer have the infrastructure to properly support the development and operation of Midnight Cowboy. Thankfully, we are handing the reins to Matt Luckie's very strong beverage team. They love the spirit and mission of Midnight Cowboy and are going to continue to push to deliver the best damn cocktails in the state. The spirit of Midnight Cowboy will continue!”

MORE RESTAURANT AND BAR NEWS