Austin LGBTQ bars on Fourth Street face demolition and redevelopment

About half of Austin’s LGBTQ-centric nightlife spaces could soon be displaced, as redevelopment comes to the historic buildings they call home.

In the city’s Warehouse District, developers seek to demolish the buildings home to Oilcan Harry’s, Coconut Club and Neon Grotto near Fourth and Colorado streets and the Iron Bear on West Sixth Street. All four Austin nightclubs either cater primarily to LGBTQ patrons, like Oilcan Harry’s and the Iron Bear, or program entertainment explicitly for that community, as in the case of Coconut Club and Neon Grotto.

The prospect has caused a groundswell of public opposition to the demolition, but not all the bar owners feel the same way.

Historically, bars like these have been crucial community centers for the city’s queer population. When the Supreme Court opened the door for marriage equality in 2015, celebrations centered on Fourth Street, for example, and the annual Austin Pride Parade route marches past Oilcan Harry’s. 

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Both development projects involve decades-old structures. None of the businesses own the buildings they occupy, and a halt to demolition would not necessarily mean the bars stay put. How the demolition permit applications proceed currently depends on the city’s Historic Landmark Commission, which can determine whether the structures themselves, not the tenants, are historically significant.

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