In some of my posts, I have casually mentioned the fact that I like to drink beer. Still, I’ve never gone quite so far as to describe myself as a “drinking in a public park” kind of guy — I mean, I’m betting most downtown Austin condo cosmopolitans have a pretty dim view of that sort of thing. You’re picturing a brown bag, aren’t you?
We think of drinking in public parks as something either permitted temporarily, like having a few $8 beers at a music festival; or enjoyed illicitly, like the celebrated local pastime of sneaking a Coleman jug of screwdrivers into Barton Springs. Of course, it wasn’t always this way — back in the 1960s and ’70s, the Parks and Recreation Department was more concerned with keeping booze away from kids and out of the hands of teenagers, rather than prohibiting alcohol in parks altogether.
In fact, that’s still the way things look in the city code, which technically only prohibits boozing in and around swimming pools, playgrounds, nature preserves, and other park facilities. But there’s a second ordinance allowing PARD’s director to prohibit the possession, consumption, or sale of alcohol at any of the city’s parks, at their discretion — and looking at recent city documents regarding the issue, it appears this ordinance has enabled the city to slowly increase park-wide restrictions on alcohol to the point where in 2018 there’s almost nowhere you can legally drink in a public park without applying for an event permit.
However, some recent coverage of this same issue reaches a slightly different conclusion, so I honestly don’t know what to believe. In the end, it doesn’t really matter — whether or not you’re arrested for drinking in a park depends on a lot more than whether or not you’re drinking in a park, if you catch my drift.
Regardless, thanks to this year’s most inspiring work of service journalism, we’re now aware it’s completely legal to walk down the street with a beer in many Austin neighborhoods, though not in downtown proper or much of East Austin — it’s fine in West Austin, for some reason. But street beers just can’t compete with park beers, which is why I’m excited to announce that I’ll soon be plowing down suds like a thirsty farmer at the recently-reopened Republic Square.
The Downtown Austin Alliance, which handles operations at the square, is currently seeking a vendor for the park’s food and beverage “kiosk,” and according to Molly Alexander, executive director of the DAA’s nonprofit organization the Downtown Austin Trust, this vendor — though not the city itself, mind you — “will be allowed to sell beer and wine as part of their offerings.”
This, Alexander says, is the first time an operator will be permitted to continuously sell alcohol in one of Austin’s public parks, rather than the alcohol sales allowed for a limited time via permit for events like music festivals.
The concessions building, designed by acclaimed local design firm Miró Rivera Architects, is already standing at the northwest corner of the square, just waiting for its dream vendor to arrive. The identity of that vendor isn’t settled for the moment, according to the DAA, so details are scarce for now — but at least we know the tenant will be allowed to seek a TABC license, operate during normal business hours and special events, and likely serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner offerings alongside the aforementioned beer and wine.
As a firm believer in the rights of urban dwellers to use their city’s public spaces in the same manner a single-family homeowner might enjoy his or her own backyard, I’m totally on board with these plans — though I can already imagine the objections from a vocal segment of the public, which will likely begin and end with “what if homeless people drink a beer?” I doubt that’s going to be a huge problem, since any booze they’re selling at the kiosk is gonna lean towards the “$8 festival beer” side of things, rather than the “$2 Lone Star tallboy” end of the spectrum. Not that I’d complain about that either, but I think someone would.
After all, Cookbook, the recently-opened restaurant and bar inside the nearby Central Library, doesn’t seem to be having any problems — and Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, a model for a successful urban park if there ever was one, operates an entire gastropub on its premises. Relaxed alcohol restrictions in urban environments give us a fresh perspective on our ownership of public space, and for responsible adults there’s no reason to cloister drinking away in bars as if it’s somehow separate from all other elements of a city’s social fabric.
Anyway, whenever Republic Square’s kiosk opens for business, I’m looking forward to pounding down two or three beers and immediately taking a nap on that big lawn — which, while we’re at it, shouldn’t be illegal either.