Filling some big shoes, a New Orleans–style diner, serving up Texas comfort fare, has opened in the former and much beloved Arkie’s Grill in Austin. The new eatery has channeled its predecessor’s mid-century, roadside spirit, and aesthetic, with its own, more pronounced Googie-inspired renovation—even naming it after the original owner, Faye “Arkie” Sawyer. But first, the owners, Lauren and Stephen Shallcross and Mickie Spencer, gave the restaurant, built in 1948, a much-needed overhaul, from replacing the plumbing and electrical systems, to demolishing the back portion of the building, to taking down an unattractive drop ceiling that concealed handsome, dark wood rafters.
Much of the retro interior was conceived by Spencer, a metalworker and designer, who also owns and has collaborated on several restaurants and bars in the area, such as the East Side Show Room and Hillside Farmacy. For the most part, the restaurant is configured like Arkie’s, with the counter-turned-bar on the right side, and red oak banquettes with turquoise vinyl cushions to the left. “Even though we rebuilt it, we put it back in the same place because so many people grew up going there and really liked it,” said Spencer.
Adding 1,000 square feet to the original plan made way for a new alcove in the back with more seating, an expanded kitchen, and bathrooms. A colorful mural by Spencer, featuring angular geometric shapes and lines, in the main room fits with the 1950s design scheme and contrasts well with the warmth of the red oak panels throughout the space. Spencer also designed and built the lighting, including the intricate starburst fixtures and the bowl lights suspended over the bar. A new patio, outfitted with strips of AstroTurf and vintage lawn furniture found at antique fairs in Texas, provides outdoor seating and a waiting area.
With the help of local firm, Clayton & Little Architects, the exterior was revamped to accentuate the “mid-century modernist look” by replacing the flat facade with dramatic, slanted windows.