Earlier this spring, a new all-day bar and restaurant touting New Orleans fare and ambiance with Texas tinges, made its way into in East Austin under the power team of pitmaster Aaron Franklin and music maven James Moody. Uptown Sports Club opened at 1200 East Sixth Street on March 27.
Uptown had been a long time coming for the abandoned building on the corner of East Sixth and Waller Streets. The physical space was built in the 1890s and was a bakery/butcher shop/market, per the Towers. And then it became a bar and cafe called the Sport Bar by owner Arnold Hernandez in the 1960s into the 1990s when its name changed to Uptown Sports Club (hence the current name) under son Ron Hernandez. Arnold died in 2000 and Ron had planned on reopening the business afterward, but he died in 2014 during a motorcycle accident.
Then, in 2016, Franklin, Moody, and Jason Jones (a lawyer in Fort Worth) bought the historic building, as reported by Austin Monthly through the Hernandez family. Their intention was always to open a sandwich-geared restaurant and bar, as Eater Austin uncovered in 2020. Moody, who is from New Orleans, and Franklin has family from the state, according to Statesman. There was a point when the defunct building had been flyered with what-turned-out-to-be fake signs announcing that a Chili’s was going to open back in 2017 (see if you can find the Chili’s cap in the space).
The resulting Uptown Sports Club is an all-day spot with a New Orleans-leaning food and drinks menu (no reservations). Of the former, there are po’ boys made with bread from New Orleans bakery Leidenheimer Baking Company, with fillings like hot roast beef; fried Gulf shrimp, fried green tomatoes; and a club with roast beef, smoked turkey, and bacon. Then there’s a chicken and sausage gumbo with rice; caviar served with New Orleans’s Zapp’s chips; and red beans with rice. (Franklin has made both gumbo and pulled pork po’ boys for food events in 2016 and 2017.) And, much like many restaurants opening nowadays, there’s a raw bar with seafood platters, East Coast oysters, and shrimp cocktails.
And then, drinks include cocktails like the namesake Uptown with mezcal, sotol, yellow chartreuse, and a rosemary simple; the Rope a Dop with gin, St. Germain, and an absinthe mist; and the Corkscrew Punch with vodka, rum, and pineapple. The bar does serve classic New Orleans drinks like Sazeracs, Vieux Carre, and French 75s made with cognac. There’s a strong nonalcoholic cocktail showing too, such as the No Hitter made with a boozeless whiskey, and the Low Blow with a nonalcoholic spirit that is a mix of allspice and cardamom.
There are also freezes — essentially slushies in flavor combinations like orange and cream; cherry jubilee, and chicory and chocolate — that can be boozified, as a nod to New Orleans diner Camellia Grill, as reported by Statesman. Plus, per its daytime hours, there are coffees and teas, freshly squeezed juices, morning cocktails (including a bloody mary made with a Franklin Barbecue spice rim), beers (including a collaboration with Meanwhile Brewing), and wines by the glass and bottle.
Rounding out the culinary team is chef de cuisine Rene Garza, who previously worked at sibling Mexican restaurant Suerte and its seafood counterpart Este. Then there’s bar manager Ericka Predmore (per Statesman) and bar consultant Robert Björn Taylor (who consulted on Moody’s other recent bar Equipment Room).
The space was redone by Tenaya Hills (who is Bunkhouse Group’s senior vice president of design and development), along with her design partners Rose Barnett and Paige Finley, plus Hsu Office of Architecture’s Michael Hsu and Ken Johnson. Moody approached Hills about working on the restaurant, which makes sense seeing as the two also worked on Bunkhouse hotel bar Equipment Room (see above).
Given the East Sixth Street building’s history, the design/construction teams had to preserve many aspects of the significant structure. This played well seeing that Hills actually got her masters degree in historic preservation from the University of Texas at Austin.
“We wanted it to feel like it’s always been here,” Hills tells Eater in late March. “We wanted it to have the classic underlay, but we wanted to make it feel like it had been remodeled over the years. It should have layers and layers and layers.” The team restored the windows, doors, and ceilings of the existing structure.
There are no televisions, despite the easy assumption people can make that it’s a sports bar per the name. So in order to design the space, the teams leaned into the idea of sportsmanship. There are pennants on the walls, hanging boxing gloves, vintage photos, and other related objects,
The corner portion of the bar is an antique sourced from Philadelphia — the team replicated the rest of the wraparound bar. Likewise, the smaller booths along a wall are from Philadelphia as well. Elsewhere, there are neon signs announcing cocktails and sandwiches, loads of plants, a brick wall, mosaic tiles (including at the entrance urging people to “be a sport”), and individual round red tables with gold trim.
This isn’t the first Franklin-Moody team-up. That’s their food and music festival Hot Luck, along with Portland-based Mike Thelin, which is actually taking place this week.
Also under Franklin’s belt is Asian smokehouse restaurant Loro with Uchi’s Tyson Cole, which has locations in Austin, Dallas, and a forthcoming one for Houston. He also has published several books about barbecuing and other live-fire/meat cooking, with his most recent one, Franklin Smoke, which came out earlier this month.
Moody is also the owner of downtown music venue the Mohawk, and is the co-founder of branding company Guerilla Suit (which also did Uptown’s branding).
Uptown Sports Club is open from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. Wednesday through Monday. There are indoor and outdoor dine-in services.