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Liberty Lunch was a live-music venue at 405 W. 2nd Street in Austin, Texas. It was rumored to have been called Liberty Lunch in the 1940s as an eatery, perhaps reflecting the World War II Liberty Bonds and patriotic sentiment.
It was a former lumberyard in the 1920s and 30s owned by the now defunct Calcasieu Lumber Company and had been long abandoned. In the early years of Austin, the space was a wagon yard for the adjacent general store and livery stable. There were no signs that a restaurant had ever been in the tiny building that once served as the lumberyard front office.
In the early to mid '70s, a local comedy troupe started the famous and still operating Esther's Follies at this location performing weekend comedy shows and serving food and beer. The Liberty Lunch/ lumberyard property was then and continues to be owned and leased by the City of Austin. Over the next few years, Esther's Follies grew in popularity and the group began presenting live music on a tiny stage under the shadows of the former lumberyard shed and extended its schedule to 3–4 days a week.
In the late 1970s the group moved to 6th Street to provide year-round options for their productions. Liberty Lunch, as a former lumberyard was an unroofed space between a large city owned warehouse on the west and an historic building, The Schneider Store, on the eastern corner of the 400 block of West 2nd Street. As such, The Lunch as locals called it, was a spring and summer only operation whose weather permitting opening each spring was a highly anticipated and attended event. The comedy club owners sold the lease to Charlie Tesar who continued operations there as a seasonal live music venue.
The most popular acts were the regular Tuesday night reggae band, The Lotions;Thursday night's Beto and the Fairlanes and a rotation of bands on weekends including both of the afore mentioned groups plus The Uranium Savages and Extreme Heat. Cover was typically $3–5, beer 75 cents and crowds often 700-900 people who danced on dirt floor of the lumberyard drive through in front of a primitive stage. The club was a local favorite and invited guests to "Dance and Dine Under The Stars". Shortly after taking ownership, Tesar hired Mark Pratz to assume booking bands and management of the club.
In 1981, during the demolition of the Armadillo World Headquarters, the steel beams of the old armory were purchased at auction and brought over to the Liberty Lunch site and the first of several roof structures was built. Initially it was a see through greenhouse type roof that lasted briefly until it was replaced with a more substantial and all weather permitting solid structure. The roof had four giant shoebox removable type skylight lids that let the sky and stars in and the heat and smoke out. The dirt floor was replaced with concrete and a large wooden dance floor and improved stage was built.
In the 1990s the club got another makeover with a solid front wall, stage rebuild, safety equipment and a side wall with roll up garage doors opening onto a still open air 2000 square foot side garden for fresh air, open seating and smoking. Despite the changes, Liberty Lunch grew in popularity and recognition throughout the next two decades booking high quality acts and providing Austinites and visitors a place to see their music idols up close.
During its existence in the late 1970s, 80s and 90s it featured a wide variety of music, including reggae and ska, punk, indie, country and rock.
For over 20 years the club played host to thousands of local, regional and touring acts including: Dick Dale, The Brian Setzer Orchestra, The Neville Brothers, The Uranium Savages, Burning Spear, The Mighty Diamonds, Mutabaruka, The Gladiators, Timbuk3, Dwight Yoakam, The Descendants, Dinosaur Junior, the Skunks, The 13th Floor Elevators Reunion with Roky Erickson and Tommy Hall, Living Color, Billy Bragg, Jessie Winchester, Ricky Nelson, Poco, Shake Russell and Dana Cooper, Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, Wilco, The Replacements, The Tragically Hip, Fishbone, Ed Hall, The Wild Seeds,The True Believers, The Violent Femmes, Green Day, Beck, Alanis Morissette, Nirvana, The Foo Fighters, k.d. lang, The Smashing Pumpkins, John Sebastian, Social Distortion, No Doubt, Suicidal Tendencies, NoFX, Robyn Hitchcock, Asleep At The Wheel, Dolly Parton, Hootie and The Blowfish, Hot Tuna, Spirit, New Riders of The Purple Sage, Love Tractor, The Long Ryders, The Flaming Lips, Black Flag, Wendy O. Williams, Lucinda Williams, Townes Van Zandt, Jerry Jeff Walker, Joe Ely, Lyle Lovett, Omar and the Howlers, David Persons, Zeitgeist, Glass Eye, Jonathan Richman, Alan Ginsburg, Steven Wright, Sonic Youth, Husker Du, Bob Mould, Iggy Pop, Björk, Johnny Clegg and Savuka, Drivin' n' Cryin', Green on Red, Oasis, The Bossto Ed, The Skatalites, The Cramps, Ween, Dahveed, Alex Chilton, Jason and the Scorchers, 10,000 Maniacs, Natalie Merchant, The Meters, The Killer Bees, George Clinton, Jessie Colin Young, Brave Combo, David Bean and the Dishes, The Fleshtones, The Lemonheads, My Bloody Valentine, Mazzy Star, The Proclaimers, Kinky Friedman, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Butthole Surfers, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Big Boys, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, John Hiatt, Todd Rundgren, Jellyfish, Dread Zeppelin, Iron Butterfly Reunion, Run DMC, John Lee Hooker, X, John Hammond Jr. and Gwar to name just a few.
The venue was forced to close to make way for downtown redevelopment in July, 1999. Its last shows included sets by the Toadies, Bob Mould, Beto y Los Fairlanes and two nights of Sonic Youth. Liberty Lunch has become notable in the history of Austin music, along with the Armadillo World Headquarters remaining open for 25 years and the Austin Chronicle Reader's Poll winner for best club for 10 consecutive years throughout the 1990s.
Liberty Lunch has become notable in the history of Austin music, along with the Armadillo World Headquarters.