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Monday, May 12, 2008

What Would Johnny Say?

That's one Mean-Eyed Cat.

The signs of progress are overtaking the humble little bar on West 5th Street--witness the yellow-clad condo rising in a wink to the bar's star and the explicit spelling of M E A N that dances across its front facade.

I've been photographing the Mean-Eyed Cat ever since I discovered it, about the time it opened, not long after I moved to Austin (as quick as I could). My image, above, Mean Cat Meets Condo is my nod to Johnny Cash (whose song, Mean-Eyed Cat, inspired the bar's name, theme, just about everything except its former chainsaw-repair-shop roots). The environment that once let the dive bar with a lot of local color be just that, a funky dive bar at the end of the tracks, now mimics the song's lyrics "Dear John, honey, baby, I'm long gone."

It might have ended up worse. reports that owner Dave Marsh fought the developers who'd planned to raze the building and replace it with condos; once historic designation was finalized, development was planned to work around the Mean-Eyed Cat rather than replace it. Hence, the startling proximity of new v. old, a modern condo that's bound to end up all sleek and hip, in contrast to the once-condemned chainsaw-repair shed that turns out to have some history, after all.

I guess Johnny would be pleased. I know I am, that local color and new development managed to peacefully co-exist.