When business partners Justin Malone, Corey Hutchins and Jesse Lind secured two spaces for the craft beer bar and events center they teamed up to open next door to each other, at a block of Sixth Street that sits above the currently fast-flowing Waller Creek just west of Interstate 35, they looked into the history of the creek and what it has meant to Austin.
Waller Creek’s significance gave the beer bar its name, Malone said: the Waller Creek Pub House. Along with the Waller Ballroom, which sits just in front of the bar at the corner of Sixth and Sabine streets, Waller Creek Pub House has been opened since early this spring with 30 beer taps and a small menu of pub food for both lunch and dinner. The laid-back pub also offers a focused menu of wine and spirits, mainly whiskey and tequila.
Before that, the pub was just an idea for the trio who only knew they wanted their two spaces to feel right at home in Austin. That’s when they learned about Edwin Waller, Austin’s first mayor, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence and, perhaps most notably, the designer of the city’s downtown grid plan that situated it between Waller and Shoal creeks. He seemed like a pretty important historical figure, Malone said, so his stern face now greets visitors to the pub every time they walk in the door.
And the man’s namesake Waller Creek, he said, has a lot of current meaning for the city. “The creek represents the revitalization of downtown — a place for people to come visit versus avoid,” he said.
Places like his pub and the nearby Easy Tiger and the Gatsby are helping with that as well. These three bars, Malone said, “form a high-end option for the live music crowd,” coming from or going to Seventh Street venues like Red 7 and Holy Mountain, who want good beer or cocktail options.
“We don’t get much of the Dirty Sixth crowd,” he said, noting they tend to stay on the other side of Red River Street.
If these bar-hoppers do stop by the Waller Creek Pub House, they’ll notice the bar doesn’t have any Budweiser, Miller or Coors beers, a deliberate choice Malone made because craft beer was the main reason he wanted to have his own bar in Austin.
He and Hutchins, friends since high school in the South Dallas area, decided to move from Houston about five years ago to open a bar that would focus specifically on craft beer. He had been one of the first employees of Houston’s Petrol Station, a refurbished former gas station that championed good beer from the start, and said as a result of working there, he “loved the craft beer world.” But he needed additional experience in it before opening his own bar, he thought.
To gain more familiarity with it once in Austin, he took a job at a now-defunct distributor, Duff, and then acted as the local sales representative for Deep Ellum and Sixpoint. (Their other partner, Lind, came on board when they found the two spaces on Sabine Street. Lind had been looking to open an events space.)
All that knowledge Malone gained working at the different levels of the three-tier alcohol distribution system has helped to craft the beer program at Waller Creek Pub House — with a particular focus, he admitted, on IPAs like Lone Pint Yellow Rose and Alpine Duet.
“We have a pretty hoppy wall,” he said.
There are also three taps dedicated solely to sour beers like Petrus Aged Pale and Independence Brewing Redbud and five taps that will have Texas beers, running the gamut in style, at all times. Although the pub offers more Texas beers than Malone originally planned to have, he said that’s necessary because of all the tourists who come in. “They’ll walk in and ask, ‘What’s a good Texas beer?'” he said.
His and his partners’ hope with Waller Creek Pub House is that it draws in craft beer lovers no matter what day of the week it is.
“One of our main focuses is to bring the craft beer crowd to downtown on the weekends,” he said. “They’ll come on week days, but they tend to stay away during high-traffic times given our proximity to Dirty Sixth. And the problems with finding parking.”
Attracting them won’t be too hard to do with Malone’s desire to throw beer-focused events at the bar, such as a tap takeover or the friendly competition between Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout and Oskar Blues Barrel-Aged Ten Fidy that took place last month during American Craft Beer Week.
Plus, no matter the challenges of running a brand-new bar in downtown Austin, the bearded, T-shirt-clad Malone isn’t complaining. “When I was getting my MBA in Houston, I thought I’d be in a suit working in a bank somewhere,” he said. “Then the recession hit. I had to re-focus my plans a bit, but that didn’t end up being a bad thing.”