After roughly 11 years of hemming and hawing, it looks like the 27-story hotel tower long prophesied at the northeast corner of 12th and Red River Streets in downtown Austin is taking at least a baby step into the real world. A demolition permit for the approximately 5,900-square-foot building dating back to the late 1940s currently occupying the corner at 1209 Red River Street is now in review at the City of Austin, with the permit indicating the demo is intended to clear the site for new development. Although they’re downright allergic to our brand of publicity, the plan’s ostensible developers at local firm Hesperus Group still appear to be behind what’s currently called the Waterloo Hotel in their online portfolio — also known in other places as the Waterloo Park Hotel, or the Waterloo Park Tower Hotel, or the Hotel Mirabeau.
Although the project is running out of time to hit our predicted 2023 groundbreaking, this new demolition permit is just one of many signs that this particular hotel plan isn’t out of gas, despite the region’s general development slowdown. Compared with the fairly dire condition of the office world, Austin’s downtown hospitality market is doing pretty good, and there’s a lot of specific potential for a hotel in the heart of downtown’s new Innovation District considering what the University of Texas and MD Anderson are cooking up at the former Frank Erwin Center site only a few blocks north — so we’re still fairly confident this hotel, predicted to operate as a Hilton brand based on franchise documents from 2021, is gonna go up someday.
But enough about the hotel. For the majority of Austinites, the most newsworthy thing about this demolition is the former tenant of the building at the 12th and Red River corner, which from 1982 to 2020 was the home of Austin’s original Brick Oven Pizza, opened by veteran local restaurateur Stan Adams and his wife, Debbie. Brick Oven was once a local staple for a generation of Austinites, expanding to a peak of four locations by 2002. Let’s roll the 2009 commercial for old times’ sake:
Despite the refrain from Austin old-timers that our city’s current restaurant lineup is too hip, too pretentious, and too expensive, newcomers might be surprised to learn that diners 40 years ago considered the new Brick Oven downright exotic in an era of chain pizza dominance. “I noticed a new pizza place called Brick Oven Pizzeria,” reads a 1982 note to legendary Austin American-Statesman consumer columnist Ellie Rucker. “What is brick-oven pizza?” (It gives the pizza a much crispier crust, she explained.) Two years later, Rucker was still singing its praises: “Brick Oven Pizza at 12th and Red River has this wonderful item called stromboli,” she informed a reader in Cherrywood who couldn’t find a local pizza place willing to deliver anywhere east of I-35 in 1984.
Brick oven pizza is everywhere these days, likely neither hip nor retro enough for any of the restaurants in the new hotel headed for this site. For what it’s worth, the latest hotness is authentic Neapolitan pizza produced in wood-burning ovens approved by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, the best of which you’ll find at Bufalina Due — but for many of us who grew up here in the 1990s, Brick Oven was fully fine dining, likely the first exposure for many young Austinites to now-commonplace ingredients like pesto, artichoke hearts, and truffles. As we say arrivederci to Brick Oven, you’ll be pleased to learn that the high notes of its pizza menu live on, albeit in a smaller oven, at the Adams’ new venture: Baretto Bistro on 38th Street.