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Travis Street Turnaround

After the Alamo of the oil bust, this Travis lives to fight another day

On Travis Street, there are a bunch of stories -- and Carolyn Wenglar has filed most of them in her head. The soft-spoken, bespectacled, middle-aged redhead knows Travis's history by heart, pulling names and dates out of her memory the same way 12-year-old boys expertly reveal the hand-controller moves needed for PlayStation 2's Grand Theft Auto III. But she's not a devoted historian -- she just remembers what's happened during a life spent on and around Travis. She helped her brother, Warren Trousdale, run his downtown watering holes Warren's Inn(307 Travis) and La Carafe(813 Congress) for the better half of the 20th century.

When Trousdale died in 1988, the decision of who would continue to run his decades-old businesses was a no-brainer. "When I first took over," remembers the former bookkeeper, "things were very slow around here." Wenglar recalls that aside from her brother's hooch halls, there were few places to perch at night, apart from such long-gone joints as the Golden Stein and the Beer Cellar.

Unlike its Texan patriot namesake, Travis Street lived on to fight another day. The martini-dry nightlife on Travis is beginning to rival the hectic hustle-bustle of Main. It started when Spy (112 Travis) and Cabo (419 Travis) hit the street in the mid-'90s. Now the Travis strip is home to several nightlife hangouts, including Sambuca Jazz Cafe (909 Texas), Frank's Pizza (417 Travis), State Bar & Lounge(909 Texas) and the new Cotton Exchange Bar (808 Franklin). "Those half-dozen businesses have a laid-back quality that distinguishes [Travis] from Main Street," says Peter Garcia, co-owner of the Twelve Spot (218 Travis), an urbanely classy two-story bar/lounge that opened last November. "Because Main Street is a lot more energetic and colorful and, you know, that sort of thing."

It is definitely trendier than it was back in the dark days of the oil bust. This newfound cool factor is something Wenglar has reluctantly embraced. She's had to hire a doorman on weekend nights to make sure the patrons are both old enough to drink and know how to handle it. "You have some that are very, very nice, and you have some that haven't learned their 'bar manners' yet," Wenglar says about downtown's callow crowd.

Now a few businesses, including some that would seem unlikely to house taverns, figure the only way to stay open is to get with the times and capitalize. Michael Shapiro is in the third generation of his family to run the 66-year-old Duke of Hollywood Tailors (305 Travis) next door to Warren's. After ten years of disappointing sales, Shapiro decided to renovate his haberdashery so it could also include -- you guessed it! -- a full-fledged bar.

With a two-story addition set to launch at the end of February, the place will soon be known as Duke of Hollywood Tailors and Char Bar, named after his daughter, Charlene. "I've waited three years with all the reconstruction, to see if any retail would come, and the only thing that's coming is just bars and restaurants," says Shapiro. "And bars are the only thing that are making any money, and I just wanna do something that'll make me some more money."

Speaking of reconstruction, many businesses on the street have had to deal with that cruelest bastard of an adversary, the bane of all those who have lived, worked and played downtown the last five or so years. We speak of the orange-and-white construction barriers.

Garcia and others admit that Metro rail and other construction projects have made business difficult during the work week, especially for the five-to-seven happy-hour shift.

But he's hoping folks will learn to tolerate -- hell, even embrace -- the downtown retooling. "People shouldn't be afraid of a little construction," says Garcia, who also runs El Meson (2425 University Boulevard) in the Rice Village. "It's an exciting place to be. Sure, it's challenging and inconvenient at first, but then it's really exciting. It's the excitement of living in a big city. You go to New York City, they got construction going on left and right."

Like Garcia, Wenglar has a beef with Metro's mess. (She favored a monorail instead of light rail.) But she is certain that Warren's Inn, the old-school tavern where there is a good chance everybody does know your name, will endure. "People enjoy coming here," says Wenglar. "They relax here. It's not a trendy bar, it's a real bar. It's the only way I can express it, I guess."

But when you go, don't act like you ain't been nowhere and start dancing on the tables.

Last Call

Although Travis seems to be jumping at the moment, Wenglar suspects that few hotspots will be popping up there soon. According to her, lack of space is prohibiting more Travis hangouts from opening in the NoDo area. Future capitalists should venture a bit farther away from the NoDo nexus; maybe even give the immensely popular Latin eatery/dance club Bongo's (818 Travis) some competition. Some clubbers may remember that Bongo's used to be known as Elvia's. Not much has changed -- the place still attracts a line on Saturday nights that can wend all the way around the corner. Higher-ups just decided to change the name to make prospective patrons more aware of the establishment's food and drink aspects. Hey, whatever it's called, it's still a good place to get your forbidden dance on.

 
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