A new residential development project proposal would drastically change one of Austin’s essential LGBTQ neighborhoods, as reported by the Towers. The proposed plan would build a mixed-use tower on 201 to 213 West Fourth Street, which would demolish several important bars on the street, including Oilcan Harry’s, Coconut Club, Neon Grotto, and the shuttered Sellers Underground.
In order to try to preserve the area’s status as a major LGBTQ hub in the city, part of the proposal includes creating a street-level space for Oilcan Harry’s in the new building with a 25-year lease, according to KXAN, and the developers finding a temporary space for the bar during the construction period, as reported by Community Impact. The plans were revealed during the April 11 meeting of the Historic Landmark Commission’s Architectural Review Committee.
The current Oilcan owners posted a statement on Instagram on April 11 acknowledging the proposal and the resulting discussion: “We know Austin is inevitably changing, but we are determined to find a way to ensure our community on 4th street is not pushed out. Working with developers is crucial.”
Hanover partner David Ott told KXAN that the project aims to honor the roots of the neighborhood: “We’re not trying to change the character other than on the masonry facades,” referring to plans to reconstruct warehouse facades onto the new building since it’s the Warehouse District.
And while the development would take over buildings currently housing bars Coconut Club and Neon Grotto, Girard told KXAN that he’d want to find new locations for the businesses. Additionally, Girard, who has been working on it since before the pandemic, said that the businesses were aware of these tentative plans and have been operating on month-to-month leases because of them.
There are also plans for a new restaurant and bar with a patio on the corner of the building, as Towers reported. Ott described the business as a “ local, chef-driven restaurant.”
The plan doesn’t currently impact Oilcan’s next-door neighbor Rain on 4th, another noteworthy neighborhood gay bar. Next, the proposal will be discussed during the Historic Landmark Commission’s meeting on May 4.
Not everyone nor every business is pleased about the potential development, which would change the landscape of the downtown corner. Coconut Club’s Instagram account is making fun of that restaurant descriptor in its bio. Performance artist Katie Drackert (aka KD Kinetic) has been encouraging people to speak out against the project during the May meeting through email, phone, or in person. Comments on Oilcan Harry’s Instagram post are also skeptical of the project. Council Member Kathie Tovo, whose district includes the address, told CBS that many people who were worried about the project reached out to her. It will remain to be seen how the project will ultimately affect the neighborhood.
Co-owner Larry Davis opened Oilcan in 1990, and it became a go-to hub for the gay community. There was a short-but-messy, temporary closure in the fall of 2018.
In related LGBTQ bar news, in March, there was a proposal to demolish the current location of the Iron Bear, which had moved into West Sixth right before the pandemic. That hearing took place in February at the Historic Landmark Commission, but the vote had been postponed to March 28.
Relocating or reincorporating existing restaurants, bars, and buildings into new construction projects isn’t new for Austin: a Rainey Street development will demolish the now-closed Container Bar and Bungalow, but the owner of the former will operate a bar in the new building.