Q: There’s a construction fence up at the northeast corner of Fifth and Colorado Streets, and the food trucks have been kicked out. What’s going on?
A: Located behind the former American National Bank Building, now known as the beautifully-renovated midcentury headquarters of advertising agency McGarrah Jessee, this little corner at Fifth and Colorado Streets has seen more than its fair share of excitement over the years. It’s been a parking lot for many decades, although historical photos show what looks like a garage and other businesses previously occupying the space:
The lot has hosted a rotating food truck selection since at least 2011, but perhaps the corner’s finest moment was last year at SXSW 2017, when it was the site of a promotional pop-up by cable channel AMC recreating the Los Pollos Hermanos fried chicken restaurant of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul fame. But you can’t expect an empty space in downtown Austin to last forever — bringing us to the current state of the site, with food trucks gone and construction fences up.
So what’s in store for this corner? The project’s called Garden Bar, at least in the documents we found, and it’s described a one-story bar and restaurant by developer William Ball, a figure in the local real estate community who owns the cocktail bar Garage in the parking structure next door to this site. Ball was also the co-founder of coffee and breakfast truck My Name is Joe, which occupied a space on the lot at Fifth and Colorado Streets and is now closed.
Plans for Garden Bar show the project as relatively compact — when all’s said and done, this corner lot is only .11 acres in size, with the restaurant and bar’s interior taking up 3,515 square feet. Despite the plans describing the building as only one story tall, the available drawings seem to show what kind of looks like a two-story building. Could it just be a very high vaulted ceiling? I’m sure we’ll find out — Ball declined to comment for this story, but we’ll probably see more info out of McKinney York, the local architects designing the project, relatively soon.
Anyway, the Garden Bar name appears to come from the interior open-air courtyard of the building, helpfully labeled as “garden” on these plans. The development will also improve the surrounding sidewalks at the corner to the city’s Great Streets Program standards, which is always welcome. This site is directly adjacent to sports bar Basecamp and its second-floor rooftop lounge Summit on the lot next door to the east, so the project’s in good company for the area.
But this wasn’t always what everyone imagined for the lot, judging by a 2009 feasibility study by students at the UT School of Architecture, which described a mixed-use office and hotel tower squeezed into the space. Sure, a few more stories would be nice, but we’ll take what we can get.