Order a mini with a straight face to really start the day right.
One of the draws of visiting a dive bar is separation from the outside world, a factor perhaps more important in Austin where rampant growth has meant equally rampant change in some if not all of the city’s older neighborhoods. Deep Eddy Cabaret is a holdout, close enough to downtown Austin to feel connected but far enough away, at least in spirit, to feel like visiting a version of Austin that increasingly no longer exists.
Opened by Raymond and Mickey Hickman in 1951, Deep Eddy Cabaret first operated under the name Deep Eddy Café, a moniker quickly changed to reflect the fact that the business offered no food. That dynamic is still true today, the Frito’s behind the bar a bit of an exception, though Pool Burger and it’s tiki-style cocktails and high-end hamburgers today occupies the space beneath the Deep Eddy Cabaret back porch. The gentle slope that stretches from the Deep Eddy Cabaret front door and past Pool Burger’s below street level plot once terminated in the now-gone swimming hole that gave Deep Eddy its name.
Upon Raymond Hickey’s passing in 1963, wife Mickey took over before passing ownership to son Butch and his wife Patti in 1996. That long stretch of family ownership ended in 2014 when Butch and Patti retired, selling Deep Eddy Cabaret to father and son Robert & Will Bridges. Any post 1980 ownership change of a beloved dive bar comes with a bit of worry, but the Bridges family has changed little about the space, retaining all of the staff employed at the time of purchase and making only tweaks to what is an otherwise near-perfect dive bar space.
And that perfection comes from the layer upon layer of dive bar decoration that lines the Austin bar’s wood-paneled interior, much of it concentrated behind the bar where pictures of Mack Brown, Elvis and the combined families of all past owners swirl around an illuminated Spuds Mackenzie draped in beaded necklaces. The vintage-style sign topped with a movie murderer-style hockey mask lists one of the innovations brought to the bar by the Bridges family in the form of available liquors (Deep Eddy Cabaret was historically a beer- & wine-only destination).
Few Austin dive bars invest in their souvenir hat game quite as wisely as Deep Eddy Cabaret, an array of throwback options displayed behind the bar. A long, padded rail lines the bar counter itself, running nearly the full length of the space. Domestic beer options are provided in ‘mug’, ‘mini’ and ‘pitcher’ size options, running from a typical 12-ounce mug to a full-size pitcher (60 ounces) with a slight layover in what looks to be a facetiously-named ‘mini’ size of 32 ounces. All mugs are kept chilled in a dedicated refrigerator next to a small line of beer taps.
Stationary, swiveling diner-style stools provide standard spacing to seating at the bar, track lighting providing special presentation to the decorations here. A few round tables fill in the main room, all of it under string lights and culminating in one of the bar’s two pool tables in back. A small offshoot of a space can be found back here, housing the entrance to the bar’s bathrooms and the linoleum-lined, dedicated pool room. A classic cigarette machine and even more classic jukebox anchor the rear of Deep Eddy Cabaret, the jukebox an amazingly affordable five-song-for-a-dollar bargain.
The Deep Eddy Cabaret exterior does well to set the stage for the dive bar density found inside, a striped awning sitting over a black, painted wall that holds separate signs reading “Deep,” “Eddy” and “Cabaret” with musical notes replacing some of the letters. The red neon sign that hangs off the building proclaims everything it needs to proclaim, reading simply as “Beer.” A few dedicated parking spots can be found in front for those visiting before the considerable crowd assembles, this small lot adjacent to a front patio area separated by red carpet-style ropes.
Thankfully, Deep Eddy Cabaret has been allowed to persist as it always has, the only real additions coming in the way of liquor and allowed credit cards. In a city notorious for its constant battle between Austin’s past and its future, Deep Eddy Cabaret is certainly a throwback to a simpler time in the city’s history and a welcome, dive bar oasis that just so happens to serve towering, frosted pitchers of beer.