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EP 2: The Tavern — Part I

Updated: Jan 11, 2018

The Tavern - 922 W. 12th St., Austin, TX

*SPOILER ALERT: The following blog post contains spoilers for Episode 2, 3 & 4! Before reading on, listen to the start of this amazing story here! Afterward, make sure to read this "Behind-the-Episode" blog for photos and extras!

The Tavern is a true piece of Austin history. The building itself was erected in 1916 and was designed by a an architect by the name of Hugo Franz Kuehne. He was a first generation Austinite who designed several lasting, iconic establishments in Austin.

At the Austin History Center, using the old city directories dating back to the late 1800’s, I was able to find documents pointing to the building being completed in 1921 and the business officially opening up as Enfield Grocery in 1922 to serve as a staple for the 30,000 Austin residents living there at the time. However, I have yet to confirm when designing and construction began.

Photos from The Tavern’s Website — Dates Unknown

Where history gets a bit fuzzy is determining the original intention of the build. Prohibition was ratified in Texas around 1918 and went into full effect in 1920 across the U.S. and continued through 1933. As mentioned, I found record of the building opening up initially as a grocery store. However, it’s fairly apparent in the design that the architecture was greatly influenced by public houses of Germany.

The story that seemed to be repeated and also can be found on a couple articles about The Tavern mention that the original owner, Niles Graham, initially intended to have bar, but when everything was finished, prohibition went into full effect, sidelining his plans. Instead, he opened up Enfield Grocery, or from my research it appears he may have rented out the bottom floor to someone else to have their grocery store there. Meanwhile, a speakeasy and brothel was secretly kept upstairs on the second floor. I have been unable to track down historical proof regarding this brothel as of yet, but will continue my search as we approach Episode 3: The Tavern Part II.

This is etched into the concrete sidewalk just outside The Tavern’s main entrance. Could this sidewalk section actually date back to the early 1900's?

There were several staff members on duty the night I visited with my recorder. I was a bit surprised to get four employees and one patron that stepped forward to share their personal stories. It was a healthy mix of skeptics and believers. Below are some shots my lovely photographer wife Thao Nguyen snapped off that night.