Austin American-Statesman: Jul. 1, 2002: Landmark
Austin bar closes with final night of music and friends by Janet
After months of speculation, the Hole in the Wall
closed Sunday night -- at least in its current incarnation -- with
a last night of business that turned into a party for regulars,
newbies and musicians.
After almost 29 years, the times caught up with
the Hole. Its lease expired at the end of June, and the building
is for sale. Renting month-to-month was an option, but the bar's
liquor license was up for renewal in August.
"The combination makes it difficult," said co-owner
Debbie Rombach. She said she might reopen the Hole in another location
if she can find a place in Austin where the rent isn't too high.
The asking price for the Guadalupe Street building and its adjacent
neighbor is $972,000.
On Sunday, the final hours of the Hole in the Wall
brought out people who hadn't been in the place for years, as well
as those who are in every day. Early in the evening, doorman and
18-year regular Gary Wilson was busy taking down pictures and memorabilia
that might appeal to sticky-fingered souvenir-hunters.
The bar "will be sorely missed by everybody," he
said, pulling down a dusty photo. "Gosh, it's all my friends."
The Hole opened in 1974 as a neighborhood bar,
but in the early days it was largely supported by the video arcade
in the back room. Over the years, the attractions have altered according
to the patrons' wishes, from video games and pool to televised sports
and live music. From the first year, it was an attractive spot for
musicians and music fans. Nanci Griffith played there in 1974, earning
$15 a night, along with tips and drinks. Other musicians who have
left their musical footprints are Steve Earle, John Reed and Charlie
Sexton. On Sunday, the lineup included Pocket fishRmen, Mandible
and Super Ego All-Stars.
Throughout the decades, however, the constant was
the customers themselves. Many of the patrons have been coming to
the Hole for 20 or more years, and the employees were regulars before
they worked there.
Former employee Emily Leueba Jones met her husband,
a musician, in the bar.
"It's a kind of cheesy Cheers quality, where you
know everybody here," she said. "It's not a bar full of strangers."
The tolerance of the regulars made it possible
for Jim Hamblin, also a long-time customer, to bring his autistic
daughter to the bar. "One of the few things she truly loves is live
music," Hamblin said Sunday. "The regulars here are really good
to her, and permissive with her."
The Hole in the Wall was opened by Doug Cugini,
now living in Virginia. He sold it to Rombach's group of regulars
and long-time employees a few years ago in the hopes that it would
remain as it had always been.
The closing "makes me sick," Cugini said.
The odds of another restaurant or club coming into
the same spot are slim, he said. The Hole operated under laws that
were in effect when it started in the early '70s. To bring it up
to date would require deep pockets -- Cugini estimated $100,000
to bring the kitchen up to code -- and a parking lot. The Hole had
no dedicated parking, relying on meager space on the Drag and in
the alley behind the bar.
Although the music was special, it was the regulars
who made the atmosphere what it was, he said.
"Most of those people have known each other for
most of their adult lives," Cugini said.