Bridget Dunlap has transformed the Rainey Street bar scene over the past five years, which nightlife enthusiasts call a blessing and parking seekers, not to mention TABC, might call a curse. Construction on her last planned project there, Container Bar, is finally underway, and the bar is on track for a November opening. Eater chatted with Dunlap about Container Bar's final lap, Mettle's first months and first reviews, her forthcoming Italian restaurant, and her boutique hotel dreams.
The containers have arrived at Container Bar. What's the rest of the construction process going to look like?
It's moving really quickly. We've got three containers there. Today I'm going to solidify all the interiors. The other four containers are getting dropped late next week or earlier the following week. They're fabricated and welded, and then the interiors are going to be wrapped, and I've got these really pretty windows coming in. It sounds easy, and I'm sure it won't be, but in the scheme of things we're close.
How do you make the interior of a container feel welcoming?
I got windows that are thick plastic acrylic, in purples and blues, and then have these little window seats. I think that's a huge component. The containers will be wrapped. All soft corners. Each container can be wrapped in something different.
What are you going to do about noise?
They're going to be insulated. I don't think – I don't think noise will be a factor. I know they have the tendency to be hot. So we're insulated all of them and putting mini-splits in all of them. Mini-splits are a thick half ac/half heater, and they cool really well.
They'll be cooled and heated, and there's an outside bar. When it's super hot or super cold, I don't know what we're going to do with that. You know? It's like, fuck, we'll figure it out I guess.
Huge fire pit for the cold?
But I don't trust people drinking with fire pits. I swear somebody would throw somebody else into it.
Why do you think this project has taken so long to come together?
While containers isn't an original idea to Austin, a ground up project – a ground-up project is always a pain in the ass. It's been a beast. There's been a million times when I've thought, "I don't want to do this any more." But then I'd look at the renderings and think, "I can't quit now." It's a love/hate thing. You know what I mean? The human in your life that you both love and hate at the same time, but you don't want to quit, because you're worried you'll miss 'em.
We've heard a lot about the containers in Container Bar. What about the drink program?
Right now we're going kind of – I don't want to say international. But we're not going to go super local. We're going to support Texas and the local producers, but I feel like on every corner it's like, "Local local local." It seems like the market could be a little overwhelmed with that. Until we get the containers stacked and welded, that's the thought, but I want to see what it looks like. You know? Get the feel.
And Thaitanium, the Thai truck? Will that also be in a container?
It'll be a trailer. Thai street food. The chef here, Andrew Francisco, will be doing the menu for me.
This is it for you, right? No more Rainey Street?
No more. But I have to move my beautiful Lustre.
You're going to move the house?
The guy who owns the dirt got the house in the deal. But the stuff inside is mine. Lustre is my baby, so I've been looking and looking and looking. Unsuccessful so far.
Do you think Rainey is going to go all condo at some point?
That was their original plan in 2008 when I got there. But those condo and hotel people couldn't get their funding, because that's when everything turned to shit. It'll be interesting to see what happens. We might go through a big construction phase, and then it might smooth out.
People want to live there because of the nightlife, but the nightlife is sitting on valuable property.
And then they want to complain. I don't get that. It's like the people who move next to Stubbs and then complain. You didn't see Stubbs was right there?
Do you have any updates on Ophelia Blue?
Ophelia Blue – will not be named Ophelia Blue. That one's moving right along with a projected opening of September 2014. I will never open a place in the heat of the summer. It's not smart. Again, you don't know until you do it, and you're sitting there wondering why it's so hot and nobody's around. Because it's fucking hot.
Did Mettle come a little too close to that for you?
Yeah, I think so. I went out [to the patio] to use the phone and I thought, "I would not sit out here and roast."
Are you seeing any other changes going into the fall with Mettle?
We do a quarterly menu, so our fall menu is out. We're going to keep doing what we do.
Any reactions to the reviews so far?
The Texas Monthly one was good. There was one in The Statesman which was not favorable, but I think [the critic] was just taking jabs at me for no reason.
What in the review made you think that?
He said I called myself the self-proclaimed queen of Rainey Street. Who calls themselves queen? Not me.*
Our chef is super-sensitive, and he was crushed. I said, Andrew, I stand behind our product. I eat here all the time. You're not supposed to be in the bar industry and open a restaurant. That's a thing for people. I don't get it. I'm being kind of silly, but I don't get it.
Do you have anything else on the horizon?
I'm going to finish Container Bar. I have the place deemed Ophelia Blue, though I'm not feeling Ophelia Blue. It will be a Sicilian joint. Simple and rustic Italian.
Do you have a chef on board?
Andrew Francisco. He's definitely designing the menu. I'm learning in my old age, let's roll it out and figure it out.
I love Italian food. Maybe it's a selfish thing.
Any projects you hope to have happen?
I do want to do a boutique hotel. Everybody does that's in this industry, I think. There's a couple of cute spaces, but I've been looking all over the place. I want a pool and two restaurants and two bars. Big but little but big.
*Note that an intrepid commenter has pointed out this language appears on her personal site.