Cain & Abel’s Says Goodbye to its Original Location—and Begins a New Chapter

Bartenders kept the drinks flowing to meet high demand in the final weeks.

Sitting on the porch of their former neighborhood bar, a pitcher of cheap beer between them, Marion Trapolino, BS ’92, MSW ’09, Life Member, and her college friends felt like they were coming home. Although decades had passed since Trapolino’s crew used to ditch their backpacks in the evening to unwind at Cain & Abel’s, the campus-area establishment remained remarkably similar, with the same collection of confiscated fake IDs above the bar, the TVs where Longhorns gathered to watch sports, and the staff who knew you the second you walked through the door. But even as Trapolino reveled in her memories of the place that never really seemed to change, she was wistfully aware that it would be her last visit.   

“You always have this hope that there will be these institutions that survive across generations that you can return to,” Trapolino says. “But it’s stunning to me, actually, that Abel’s lasted as long as it did, given how much Austin has changed since we graduated.” 

Trapolino and her friends made the pilgrimage to Cain & Abel’s in early April after learning the building was set for demolition later that month. Since opening its doors on the corner of Rio Grande and 24th Street in 1991, Cain & Abel’s has gradually been dwarfed by surrounding high-rise apartments. Now, the bar is being torn down  and relocating up the street from its original home to make way for a 30-story apartment tower, which is slated to begin construction this summer.  

“It was a hard decision of whether we should move the bar or just say, ‘That was then, and this is now,’ and close it for good,” says owner Ellis Winstanley, BA ’04, Life Member. “But I think Cain & Abel’s is a life experience that’s worth having for people, and I really don’t think that it ties to that specific location as much as it ties to those relationships [people made] there.” 

The bar’s new site, located at 907 W. 24th St. in the former Poncho’s Mexican Eatery space, opened to the public on May 3. Winstanley says fans should recognize some features of the original establishment carried over in the new location—including the menu, select decor, and weekly events like “Dollar Beers” and trivia. But although the bar pays homage to what came before, Winstanley says it will inevitably take on “its own spirit and its own life.” 

Winstanley purchased Cain & Abel’s in 2002, soon after his 21st birthday, in the hopes of restoring the historic bar. The property was formerly a bar called Abel Moses from 1980 to 1989 and was also home to Bevo’s and West Side Tap Room in the 1970s, Winstanley told the Austin American-Statesman. But to him, Abel’s was always more than a business venture or preservation effort: It was the place where he met his wife, who worked there while he was a student, and it served as the backdrop for many of his memories with college friends.  

“It was like the place [where] everybody was so comfortable; you’d go there, and a lot of the time end up staying all night versus going downtown. It really was the default and has been for people, I think, for forever,” Winstanley says.  

Although Winstanley says Abel’s doesn’t aim at being trendy, it has long appealed to Longhorns with its proximity and come-as-you-are atmosphere. In the weeks leading up to April 28, when Abel’s closed its original wooden doors for the final time, lines formed around the block almost every night as current students and alumni came for their last hurrahs. Suddenly, Abel’s was not just a casual place to go, but the place to be, explained bartender Ambrose Wolf.  

“We love the crowds and it’s good money,” Wolf says, “and it’s just cool talking to people doing their farewell tour of Abel’s. This one guy came in who used to work there back in the ’90s and he just had some crazy ‘war stories’ to tell.” 

The bar has also inspired more than late-night hangouts. In addition to working at Cain & Abel’s, Wolf is the host of Texas Tea—a podcast named for the bar’s signature drink, which features the stories of Abel’s employees and regulars. Wolf began recording Texas Tea on-site at the flagship location in March 2023, often posted up in the booths where former students have carved their names. 

“What inspired it was [the employees] were hanging out just talking one night … and it was hilarious. I was like, ‘This would be gold if we ever recorded it.’ So we did,” Wolf says. “And it turned into us just spilling tea about what’s going on in West Campus and at Abel’s.” 

Although  Wolf says the future of Texas Tea is uncertain after “demo day,”  he has enjoyed preserving a part of the original location—something several employees have been keen on. 

“We always joke like, when this place gets torn down, we’re going to take the doors or this piece of wood and put it on our mantel, just to have a piece of Abel’s forever,” Wolf says. “Working here [is special because] we’re a family and we take care of people. I know if I needed it, any of my coworkers would let me sleep on their couch or help me out, no issues.” 

Winstanley says this familial atmosphere is the bar’s signature; it’s what ultimately makes Abel’s a place alumni want to return to decades after graduation. 

A table from the original Cain & Abel’s holds the names and lighthearted graffiti from generations of Longhorn fans.

“I know at least three people who have the [Abel’s] logo tattooed on their butt. There’s this affinity for it … because of the life experiences we had there and the relationships that were forged,” Winstanley says.  

Looking ahead, Winstanley says the newest iteration of Abel’s will continue to be a place where future generations can continue forming the lasting connections and memories that meant so much to regulars like Trapolino. 

“Knowing that Abel’s will be there for the next generation, just in a different form, is a good feeling,” Trapolino says. “And honestly, if it’s not exactly the same, that’s OK. Those were our memories. That was our time, and now it’s time to pass the torch to the next group of students.”   

CREDIT: Matt Wright-Steel


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