We have to say good-bye to another longtime Austin bar without much of a send-off at all: Longbranch Inn has shuttered after more than 80 years on East 11th Street.
The dive bar — a prime spot for live music in years past, as well as fodder for old John Kelso columns — received an eviction notice, left on the door, from Travis County stating that owner Jim Stockbauer had to be out by the afternoon of Sept. 24.
His bar isn’t the only one in East Austin to get the boot: Rio Rita, on East Sixth Street, announced earlier this month that it’s taking over the Badlands’ space on East Twelfth Street, after rent got too high. The Badlands’ last day at that address is tomorrow, but the venue’s owner has noted that he’s looking for a new location. These are just the latest signs of a changing city.
Stockbauer has been running the Longbranch Inn since 2003 — and even then, it was clear that East Austin was evolving.
Here’s what an American-Statesman freelancer, Shermakaye Bass, wrote about the dive bar in 2004, less than a year after Stockbauer and his business partner, Kevin Crutchfield, took over.
“It’s moody and welcoming inside the Longbranch Inn, with a handful of regulars perched at the bar shooting the breeze, glad to be cold chillin’ and unmolested by the outside world. If you didn’t know the corner spot was there, between a liquor store and a car wash on East 11th Street, you might miss it. But in a neighborhood where redevelopment creaks down the street as steadily as the streetcars that once trundled through, the Longbranch remains a fixture.
From all accounts, it’s one of the oldest, continuously operating taverns in Austin. Originally Pike’s Place (1935-1949), then James Tavern (1950-1964) and then Longbranch Inn (1965 to present), this old joint has seen East 11th through various stages: from the early 20th century when it was a multi-ethnic working class neighborhood and the Schieffer family owned Pike’s Place and a grocery across the street; to the heyday of Samuel Huston College, where Jackie Robinson once taught P.E. (in 1944) and Nat King Cole played the Artist’s Series and stayed over at President Carl Downs’ home; through the 1950s-’60s zenith of jazz/blues clubs Charlie’s Playhouse and Victory Grill; through the neglect of the 1980s and ’90s; to the current renovation, which has sidewalks, homes and old buildings undergoing transformation and new loft/office buildings springing up.
So when James and Sharon Stockbauer took over the lease for the Longbranch last summer, change was bound to come to the little bar that once served grilled meats from the rear kitchenette and sold Falstaff, Pearl and Grand Prize to thirsty customers.
And change has come: The new people behind the bar are white and there is an influx of younger clientele, most of them white. The ornate, antique bar was refurbished and a false ceiling pulled down to reveal high wood beams. On Monday nights, jam sessions with J.T. Van Zandt have Gurf Morlix, Calvin Russell, Wayne the Train Hancock and others dropping in. The jukebox sprouted a few punk bands; Hank Williams and Bob Wills took up residence alongside Etta James and the Isley Brothers.
But something else happened: The Longbranch became one of the few neighborhood bars in Austin with a fairly regular mix of black and white patrons, working folk and fast-trackers, young and old.
Some evenings the place is almost mouse-quiet, with customers lounging on the tall cushy bar stools, cold Lone Stars resting on the massive bar, listening to Billie Holiday flow into Blondie while billiards clack in back of the room. Other nights, Van Zandt’s crew packs ’em in or guitarist Clarence Pierce soothes the house with his virtuoso blues. Most of the times, though, the Longbranch is just a place to hang — and one of Austin’s quietly emerging hot spots.”