The Tasting Panel magazine

July 2016

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28  /  the tasting panel  /  july 2016 A LONE STAR LIFE O pened in 1994, Casino el Camino is one of the few, true must- visits along Austin's Sixth Street. On this downtown tourist strip otherwise filled with a regularly changing lineup of shot bars, music venues and deejay clubs, the Casino remains an appeal- ingly odd anchor. It bucked the trends early—it was one of the first bars around to serve hard liquor—and its co-owner, Paul Eighmey, has seen a lot of "Sixth Street institutions" come and go, most of which didn't hang gargoyles and Mexican movie posters on their walls like he did. A former Buffalo punk rock bass player with the stage name "Casino el Camino," Eighmey is now old-school Austin and is about as laid back as the summer days are hot (pretty damn, in other words). After 22 years in the same spot, Casino el Camino has got this bar thing down pretty well. What did Sixth Street look like when you first opened your doors? In the early 1990s, there was still some of that funkiness left over from the '80s. This end of Sixth wasn't in the midst of frat boy hell—that was still a couple of blocks away. There were more empty spaces on this particular block. You still had an appliance store and a couple of pawnshops, a dry cleaners right here on the corner. What's the story of this bar? Most places around here just served beer and wine. If you wanted liquor, you pretty much had to go to a place with live music, and pay a cover. There was no place for the "alt" crowd to just hang out. Then we came along. We appealed to the tattoo artists, the cabbies, the punk rockers. It was a niche not being filled. It was the right time. I think we opened up a few months before Pulp Fiction, and then all of a sudden here we are with Mexican movie posters, garage rock and surf rock playing—Pulp Fiction pushed that whole thing to the forefront, and we were here already. We took off. How did you survive in the Live Music Capital of the World without live music? A lot of places on Sixth Street are feast or famine because of that. We're more even keel. We like to think of ourselves as a neighborhood social club. Back at the beginning, one woman put it best: "Kind of like a 'Cheers' for weirdoes." We put in a kitchen at the beginning. It took years for that to catch on. In the last ten years, we've garnered a lot of accolades on the burgers; food sales have probably leveled to 50–50 with the booze. And we get a lot of tourists because of being on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and the Travel Channel's Adam Richman thing. Is there a secret to longevity? It's not rocket science. Behind the bar, have a good personality, expedient service and reasonable prices. It's more important than memorizing seven different types of absinthes and having six differ- ent types of sugar cubes to pair with each one and making sure the bev nap pairs with the stemware—please, don't cloud my head with that stuff. As far as décor, we've done a few improvements, changed out the movie posters, updated the jukebox. But this is where the old cliché comes in: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Surviving Sixth CAMINO EL CASINO AND AUSTIN'S FAMOUS BAR- CRAWL STREET by Anthony Head / photo by Kirk Weddle Paul Eighmey, the original "Casino el Camino," at his eponymous bar in Austin.

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