After almost three years, Austin’s historic Zilker Café eyes a reopening

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Following roughly 56 years of providing concessions to Barton Springs Pool and Zilker Park visitors, overwhelmingly poor marks on the city and county health and human services department test in 2016 forced the iconic Zilker Café to shut down.

Now, nearly three years after going dark, momentum is building around the Austin staple’s rehabilitation and reopening, according to city officials. Last week, the city said the site is being prepared for a near-complete makeover, with a targeted completion date set at fall 2019.

When the cafe will open is a different story—parks department spokesperson John Nixon said the city will begin the search for a vendor to operate the facility when the building’s rehabilitation wraps up.

The project will address the pressure points highlighted in the health department’s 2016 assessment. Aside from the frame and facade of the structure, everything will be demolished. The cafe will receive a new roof, lead and asbestos abatement, and a utilities upgrade to bring it up to code.

Although the site is being prepared, the city has yet to hire a contractor for the job but expects to execute a contract and substantial work within the “next few weeks,” said Christina Bies, project coordinator for the cafe.

Opened between 1959 and 1960, the Zilker Café stands as an important contribution to the Zilker Park National Register Historic District, which includes the entire park and surrounds Barton Springs Pool, itself a National Register Historic District.

According to the project website, the city takes seriously the role concessions play at the park.

“The value of the concession transcends that of a purveyor of food and beverage to include a role as an ambassador to the approximately one million visitors annually to Barton Springs,” the website says.

The Zilker Café currently sits abandoned right outside Barton Springs Pool.

A photo of the abandoned Zilker Cafe sitting right outside Barton Springs Pool. (via Courtesy City of Austin)

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Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and USA Today. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
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