The Bitter End comes sooner than expected

Many local news sources are reporting that The Bitter End, damaged in a fire in August, will not be re-built after all. The current location and the parking lot to its south are slated for a new hotel sometime in the future.

From what I can gather, most of the current employees of the restaurant will move across the street to the new Capitol Brasserie, run by the same group that owns Bitter End. I suppose that Craigslist posting last week wasn’t all that necessary? Capitol Brasserie replaces another venture by the same owners, Mezzaluna. From the description, it sounds like Capitol Brasserie will be something similar to Les Halles in NYC.

I guess B-Side will remain open for now, but I’m assuming that it’s ultimately doomed as well. The articles seem to imply that Bitter End may return at an alternate location, but plans are vague. There’s a meeting for employees to discuss the future of the location and its staff sometime today.

So we’re going to lose another decent local business and parking lot to a hotel? Seems to me that parking is scarce enough as it is in the warehouse district. Do we really need another hotel downtown at the expense of an existing (historic?) building and business?

8 Comments so far

  1. M1EK (unregistered) on October 31st, 2005 @ 1:04 pm

    Yes, we do. That hotel will generate more customers for the businesses that remain; and will generate less driving than the Bitter End did. A win all around.

    The idea that a development is bad if it displaces a business we like is just really really annoying. If we applied this standard far back enough, the Bitter End itself wouldn’t be there.

  2. ttrentham (unregistered) on October 31st, 2005 @ 3:21 pm

    Yes, automatically assuming that new development at the expense of old is bad is no better than assuming that same development is good.

    From the point of view of someone who already lives relatively close to downtown and isn’t an owner of one of the surrounding businesses, I can’t see much benefit in adding another hotel downtown. I’ve historically stayed out the downtown development debates here, but I’ve generally agreed with your point when you defend the construction of new housing. I think luxury hotel construction is a different debate.

    I agree that the hotel will generate less driving, since, arguably, those staying in the hotel won’t bring as many cars. You could also say that it’ll decrease it in that those of us who live here have one less reason to go downtown.

    I’m guessing they’ve done an analysis of occupancy rates in the area and decided that since there are hardly any hotels west of Congress (except maybe those executive suites things at Guadalupe and Sixth), this’ll be a winner? Other than during SXSW, ACL and UT game weekends, are we really that strapped for hotel rooms around here?

    The suppose the best comparison would be to look at the Hilton, since it’s probably most similar to the situation we’re discussing. Anecdotally, I’d say that the ebb and flow of bar openings and closings on Sixth Street has remained the same since the Hilton’s arrival. I wonder how things have changed for a restaurant like Chez Nous, which is in close proximity to the Hilton?

  3. M1EK (unregistered) on October 31st, 2005 @ 5:19 pm

    Yes, more hotels are needed downtown – because the rooms are mostly full, and they’re expensive. The other alternatives are (mostly) crappy hotels with tons of highway noise on I-35 or 290. My parents visit once or twice a year and have given up on downtown despite it being closer and less noisy than the I-35 hotels. (Yes, putting up another fancy hotel will result in cheaper rooms overall; think trickle-down, except that unlike Rappin Ronnie’s version, this actually works).

    To put it simply: anything which brings more people downtown is a plus. If it can be done while also bringing fewer CARS downtown, it’s a HUGE plus. A hotel, by this metric, is a big win. (And anything which reduces parking lots downtown is also a huge win – parking lots are not a positive, but rather, a huge negative for a downtown where people actually want to go).

  4. omit (unregistered) on October 31st, 2005 @ 7:48 pm

    But the real question is–are we losing the Spaghetti Warehouse? Because I may just shoot myself over the grief.

  5. wae (unregistered) on November 1st, 2005 @ 8:26 am

    I can see the case for a new hotel: recent increases in occupancy point to some demand-side pressures from recreational and business travel. And this proposed development might provide a nice destination stay in the warehouse district that is currently only served by the Radisson, Hampton Inn, etc.

    But c’mon M1EK, a “boutique” / “luxury” hotel is going to have little impact on whether your parents or mine decide to stay downtown or along I-35. It’s like arguing that a Ferrari glut will finally let you trade the Camry in for that leftover Modena. Sure, a new hotel will invariably lead to some relief, probably in the form of more promotions from neighboring properties, but the chasm in property values and demand will ensure that downtown hotels will retain a substantial premium. In the current climate, any property that isn’t pulling their standard rate is more likely to be sold and redeveloped than to sustain a below-expected ROI. Of course, there will be some substantial price relief once the downtown hotel industry is overbuilt, and the next downturn will leave no shortage of discounted rooms in half-empty buildings. Try to schedule the parental visits accordingly.

    I’m curious about your traffic assertions as well. Correct me if I’m wrong (and I know you will), but doesn’t a traffic decline require two assumptions:
    1) that a (very) large proportion of hotel guests don’t drive anywhere, and
    2) that local drivers don’t substitute Bitter End with another downtown destination.

    I might buy number 1 if Austin didn’t have such a lousy tourism base downtown. There is convention traffic, but a warehouse hotel won’t be supporting much foot traffic from their location. There’s the lege, which is also not close and not in session for awhile. There are those who come just for the nightlife, but many of them want to go somewhere else (i.e. parks, SoCo) during the day. There are the luxury-minded tech employees, most of whom will drive to locations in all directions but downtown. There is also the order of magnitude increase in support traffic required for a hotel over the Bitter End, and I doubt that most of their employees will be walking to work from the Gables. So I’m not seeing much traffic reduction here.

    Number 2 is easy enough to dispense with, because the current redevelopment frenzy will eventually remove most reasons for locals to go downtown, unless it’s to go laugh at tourists flocking to the Hard Rock Cafe and other assworthy, non-descript destinations in the New Austin.

    So sure, bring on the hotel. Maybe just this one little loss of the Bitter End won’t change much. I don’t dislike development for replacing a business that I (sorta) liked. What I dislike is development that replaces that business and predicates that surrounding venues will be driven by the tourism industry rather than local demand, driven by scale rather than quality, and driven by slam-bam development rather than organic change. And there’s surely more of that to come.

    And then there is Omit’s pending Spaghetti Warehouse tragedy to consider as well.

  6. ttrentham (unregistered) on November 1st, 2005 @ 10:30 am

    Well, continuing on my selfishly motivated tack, I was actually hoping that they’d take Spaghetti Warehouse while they’re at it.

  7. M1EK (unregistered) on November 5th, 2005 @ 8:45 am


    I mentioned “trickle down” except that unlike Ronnie’s version, this one actually works. The hotel business is so competitive and there’s so much sunk cost that they will, in fact, heavily discount rooms in order to keep them full. (It works for apartments, too, which is a big issue of mine when people bleat about how the new buildings downtown only have expensive units).

    As for traffic, a large chunk of people who stay downtown take cabs from the airport. On the other hand, most of the people who went to the Bitter End drove in. And the workers for the hotels downtown disproportionately ride the bus. (Take a peek sometime around the Hilton early in the morning).

  8. M1EK (unregistered) on November 5th, 2005 @ 8:53 am

    Oh, and this:

    “Number 2 is easy enough to dispense with, because the current redevelopment frenzy will eventually remove most reasons for locals to go downtown, unless it’s to go laugh at tourists flocking to the Hard Rock Cafe and other assworthy, non-descript destinations in the New Austin.”

    really chaps my ass. Downtown is a hell of a lot nicer to go to now than it was when I moved here in 1996. People who essentially measure downtown by “how easy is it to park” are not going to be happy, but Manhattan has a hell of a lot of hotels, as does every other downtown I’ve actually liked going to. Tourism != death.

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