Located on East Sixth Street, Rabbit’s Lounge is truly a bar where everyone knows your name. Owner Rosalio “Rabbit” Duran has been serving ice cold beers to East Austin since 1969. Growing up in Austin, Rabbit has seen the lounge’s location change from a washeteria to a pizzeria. Always having a love for sports, Rabbit got his nickname because of his incredible speed as a fullback at Austin High. Years later, after working in the ceramic tile industry, Rabbit decided to buy the place and turn it into a bar where he and his fast pitch softball buddies could hang out.
“Years ago, you would not have recognized this place. It was all about sports and fast pitch softball. Then, one day we decided to get involved with our community and make some changes,” says Duran. ” No one expected a bunch of sports guys who didn’t know anything about politics [to] make a change, but we met here everyday and talked about
our community and taught ourselves politics. We learned how to hang signs, poll watch, raise money; we stood on corners talking to anybody who listened — we did everything.”
Notable politicians who hailed from Rabbit’s Lounge grassroots campaigns include Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, Retired Judge Bob Perkins, James Cole Ramirez (who went on to help run Bob Bullock’s and James Pickle’s campaigns), John Trevino (the first Hispanic elected to the Austin City Council in 1975), Richard Moya, and County Commissioner Margaret Gomez. When recalling the good old days, Duran’s eyes light up with pride.
“We have come a long way. I am very proud of all the people we have worked with in changing this community. I am most proud of helping Richard Moya be elected as the first Mexican-American to county office
when he became County Commissioner in 1970,” says Duran.
Being a bar owner for 40 years, Duran has seen his community change over the years from being an undeveloped land that stretched east on Seventh Street past Pleasant Valley to the modern-day destination for the hip
“To some people a long time ago, Austin ended at Highway 35. I was for the revitalization of East Austin. We believed it would help many small business owners on this side of the highway but it has its advantages and disadvantages,” Duran laughs. “One of our regulars always talks about how nowadays you see people walking their dogs along the streets of East Austin, and a long time ago the dogs used to walk themselves.”
Ryan Duran, Rosalio Duran’s son and bartender at Rabbit’s Lounge, loves being able to work alongside his dad and takes great pride in the history of the bar and the community it has built. He shared his view on the East Austin revitalization and how it has impacted his business.
“The neighborhood planning process in Austin is the most novel approach that a major growing city has taken in letting the local community say what they want to see their neighborhood become. The revitalization of
East Austin is a double-edged sword. From the commercial standpoint, you welcome the opportunity to make money, but from the cultural prospective, it really takes a toll on many of the small businesses that have been here for quite a while,” says the younger Duran. “We have enjoyed visiting with some of the new developers, and most of
them don’t want to feel responsible for the changes in East Austin, which in itself is an interesting paradox. In an ideal world, rather than selling out, I would like to see minority business owners partner with the people bringing money to the neighborhood and retain some of the value.”
With its surroundings constantly evolving, it is astonishing Rabbit’s Lounge has continued to keep pace while maintaining its identity. “There’s a lot of buzz that East Sixth Street is becoming the next Red River or South Congress, and you see more and more trendier development expanding in this area. Authenticity sells itself, and that’s our
greatest competitive advantage. It’s the second and third waves of development you really start to face the risk of losing character,” Ryan says.
Rabbit’s Lounge, a father and son bar, has been a fixture in East Austin for forty years, and has weathered all the changes. It is possible to say that the more things change, the more they stay the same. “We enjoy seeing the diversity of our customers, but, more than anything, we like having a place that is comfortable [and] where people can be who they are. A place they can relax and enjoy themselves, as my father has done for the last forty years,” says Ryan. Make sure to stop by Rabbit’s, where a cold beer and a new friend awaits.