The historic Zilker Cafe concessions stand, a mainstay of Austin’s beloved Barton Springs Pool since the 1960s, completed a long-awaited renovation project this year after closing “in shambles” back in 2016. With this enhanced snack hub expected to reopen soon, the City of Austin hopes to bring the park something new: legal booze.
Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department is now seeking a Conditional Use Permit (CUP, haha, get it?) amending the zoning of the Zilker Cafe to allow its selected operator for the facility — Springfed, LLC, an entity connected with local restaurant group Parkside Projects and its mastermind Shawn Cirkiel — to sell wine and beer within a defined 6,500-square-foot “vendor area” around the concessions stand.
You can see the defined area we’re talking about in the map of Barton Springs above, which PARD makes sure to mention represents only .04 percent of Zilker’s total size — the department’s clearly doing its best to avoid giving us the wrong idea.
To offer wine and beer at this location, the vendor must apply for and obtain a license through the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) allowing the sale of beer and wine. The vendor area will have a defined perimeter with signage where alcoholic beverages may be sold and consumed, which will be just over 6,500 SF or .04% of Zilker Metro Park. It is PARD’s intention to have the Zilker Café serve not only as a convenience for park users but also as a destination, enhancing the overall park user experience by expanding the Café’s menu items.
— Austin Parks and Recreation Department
It may come as a shock to those of us familiar with the time-honored collegiate tradition of pouring a fifth of tequila into a Coleman cooler full of ice and margarita mix before hitting the park, but the public consumption of alcohol is currently quite illegal at Barton Springs, the surrounding Zilker Park, and really any public recreation area around here barring a few notable exceptions — even the frequent blind eye turned to drinking at the rambunctious free side of Barton Springs is not a sure thing.
Alongside the similarly-restricted sale of beer and wine at Republic Square’s recent Salt & Time Cafe, this effort by the parks department would likely capture a lot of lost revenue from visitors who might otherwise smuggle in a few fancy canned cocktails of their own, and like Republic Square and its equally-classy vendors we’re expecting a very restrained, $2 tallboys-free environment — perhaps not as rowdy as we’d personally enjoy, but absolutely the only way to allow this kind of thing without facing the combined ire of every busybody haunting the metro. In this case it’s the exact opposite, with PARD stating that its first survey on a future for the Zilker Cafe brought in enough feedback requesting beer and wine sales to take the idea seriously:
In early 2015, prior to the solicitation of the Zilker Café, PARD conducted a public survey that included an open-ended question regarding possible menu items. Some respondents requested beer and wine. Based on stakeholder input and feedback from this survey, PARD released a Request for Proposals with language that indicated that the Concessionaire may sell beer and wine with prior written approval from the PARD Director.
— Austin Parks and Recreation Department
One interesting side effect of the last year’s economic impact on restaurants and other businesses is the quick reevaluation of state laws related to the sale of alcohol. Relaxed regulations on delivery and to-go sales of alcoholic beverages, temporary measures now made permanent in Texas, represent at least in part an acknowledgement that some of these restrictions aren’t actually public safety efforts but rather Prohibition-era holdovers still around because of their benefit to the distributor lobby — with others more concerning remnants of racially-motivated attempts to police public behavior. Though this process at Zilker likely predates the pandemic somewhat, it feels like another step toward loosening the cuffs anyway.
Still, we’re not expecting everyone to greet these plans with open arms. PARD will host a virtual meeting on June 17 later this month to present this permitting change to the public, and there will be an opportunity for community input. It would be nice for some of our readers to balance out any potential pushback by taking part in this process, perhaps audibly cracking a few beers on mic while explaining that our shared right to public space can — and should — include a couple of cold ones.