austin360 : Aaron Franklin discusses new bar and restaurant project, Uptown Sports Club

You’ve undoubtedly noticed the corner entry. The wooden pennant awning. The mural of boxers and the oversized red-and-black typeface.

The building at 1200 E. Sixth St. that long housed iterations of the Uptown Sports Club is one of the most iconic and recognizable abandoned buildings in Austin, with a history that dates back to the late 1800s. It has sat dormant for decades, but that will soon change.

A hospitality super team that includes Aaron Franklin; his Hot Luck co-founder, James Moodywho’s also co-owner of the Mohawk; architects Michael Hsu and Ken Johnson of Hsu Office of Architecture; and Tenaya Hills, design director of Bunkhouse Group, intends to restore the historic building to create the new Uptown Sports Club, an all-day bar and restaurant. Uptown Sports Club will take its architectural cues from the original space, along with inspiration from New Orleans, France and South America. The culinary vibes will cull from the Crescent City and the German influences of Central Texas.

“It’s everybody’s passion project,” Franklin said. “Everybody’s really pouring their heart and soul into this thing because it’s really cool.”

“There’s a difference between doing what you have to do and doing what you want to do,” Moody added.

(Check in the days ahead for more exclusive details, as we explore the building’s history and the plans for its future; for now, we can share some of the major plot points.)

Franklin, who’s lived and worked in East Austin for the better part of the last two decades, and Moody, who owns a design and branding agency just a couple of blocks from Uptown, had, unbeknownst to each other, both been circling the building for years. Moody looked at the unattainable space as a location for his bar/music venue the Mohawk. Franklin had once envisioned it as the original brick-and-mortar home of Franklin Barbecue.

“I’ve drooled over that place for years,” Franklin said on a recent rainy day at the White Horse on Comal Street. “Austin has very few really cool buildings left that are that old.”

Once their friend and future partner Jason Jones asked them to help bring Uptown back to life, Franklin and Moody said they took their time on conceptualizing their vision.

“We kind of let the building tell us what to do with it because it’s such a cool building and has so much history to it,” Franklin said.

“We would never be doing this in a white box together,” Moody added. “The building is everything.”

The building, which at one point housed a German butcher shop before becoming a neighborhood bar, spoke to them with an unmistakable and languid New Orleans accent. It inspired them to open a laid-back neighborhood haunt where people could come in the morning for biscuit and a coffee (Franklin is a renowned coffee nerd), pop in for a sandwich at lunch and linger late into the night listening to music and sipping beers and cocktails in the back courtyard.

Franklin, whose maternal grandfather was from Louisiana, grew up eating Cajun-inspired food. He was interested in the food of New Orleans since before he started cooking barbecue. That curiosity inspired countless hours of perfecting a gumbo recipe and later tinkering with dishes like boudin.

“I think of gumbo as like my liquid brisket, those hours and hours that it takes to develop stocks and the time it takes to make a super dark roux,” Franklin said. “It’s super meticulous, all the details that go into that stuff. I can super nerd out on that stuff for sure.”

Though the small menu is still a work in progress, Franklin says diners can expect a fried shrimp po boy, roast beef debris po’ boy and a seasonal option. The sandwiches will be served on rolls from Leidenheimer Baking Company of New Orleans. Chris Bostick of Half Step on Rainey Street will create the beverage program, which will include craft cocktails.

The preservation and design of the space will fall to Hills, Hsu and Johnson, who say they will do everything they can to keep the original architectural details and brick walls, while preserving the building’s old murals and adding design touches that complement the space and its history.

“It’s ‘Save the Clock Tower,’” Franklin said, referencing the preservation project from the plot of “Back to the Future.”

The main driver behind the resurrection of Uptown Sports Club is Fort Worth-based attorney Jones, who purchased the building from the family of the late owner, Ron Hernandez, after working for several years to help Hernandez extricate the property from family legal entanglements.

Jones had already signed a lease with Hernandez to create a bar and grill in the space, per Herndandez’s wish. When he was able to buy the property following Hernandez’s death, he didn’t waver from his commitment.

“I didn’t want it to become condos,” Jones said.


Originally posted on austin360