Austin is no stranger to quirky bar concepts, but the Container Bar, which opened in March of 2014, and was three years in the making, stands out in a city that wears its flamboyance on its sleeve… or maybe cowboy hat is a more appropriate idiom. The welcome spectacle is stacked right in the heart of Rainey Street, a former just-west-of-35 neighborhood that has been turned into Austin’s newest fashionable bar mecca.
The bar was designed by the reigning Frank Lloyd Wright of the neighborhood, Bridget Dunlap, who was the genius behind Rainey Street’s first bar, Lustre Pearl, along with other popular Rainey St. watering holes Bar 96 and Clive Bar. The structure is constructed from seven four-ton repurposed shipping containers that might have gone to waste in a shipyard, sitting there for years as storage receptacles, and has been outfitted for maximum nightlife potential.
Shortly before the bar was officially opened Dunlap told the Austin Business Journal that this creation has been her “longest project ever. The money’s been tough, the team quit, the city’s hard, the bank’s hard. Everything’s been hard because it’s never been done before. At this point I’m frustrated, but we’re going to get there.”
Thankfully, Dunlap and her team persevered through all the setbacks and unexpected bureaucratic hassles and created one of the most inventive bars in the Lone Star State’s Capital. But this bar isn’t all kitsch and no class. Though Container Bar certainly turns a lot of heads, it never feels like a novelty bar. Maybe this is because of the extensive premium beer list, the expertly mixed craft cocktails, the thumping, though never obtrusive, DJ sets on the weekends, or the relaxing upstairs porch that overlooks the city.
If you were to imagine a bar inside of a shipping container you might have visions of cold, unwelcoming, 90s-era industrial ambiance or your grandpa’s dusty storage unit. But Dunlap has smartly outfitted each container with a different theme, like abstract expressionism or a snowy forest scene. Likewise, the shipping containers don’t feel claustrophobic at all. That’s because the Container crew installed plastic acrylic windows in purples and blues in each room and window seats to give the bar a homier vibe.
Earlier this year, when asked by Voyage Houston about her bar ethos, Dunlap commented, “I’m glad that despite being at the mercy of landlords and developers, we still stake our claim on Rainey with three businesses within a block of each other, bars that are thriving. I care about service and only hire smart, loyal employees. It makes us feel a bit more like family.”
There is a plethora of bars to choose from in Austin, but not many of them have the guts to hoist their cocktail glass above the fray and proudly proclaim themselves to be something wholly new, while still embodying the Austin spirit of “Keep it Weird.” Though the Container Bar may be fashioned from almost thirty tons of steel, as soon as you step inside, you’ll realize that the shipping containers are only a fraction of what makes this place so charming.
Take a personal tour of Container Bar with Bridget Dunlap in this video by Zagat: