Brooks's Photos
Women of the Hole
The Regulars

Austin American-Statesman: Jul. 1, 2002: Landmark Austin bar closes with final night of music and friends by Janet Jacobs

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.

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