Photo courtesy Steve RayPhoto courtesy Austin History Center,
Photo courtesy Steve Ray
Photo courtesy Shoal Crossing Event Ce
Photo courtesy Shoal Crossing Event Ce
On Nov. 21, 1963, along a country road, Jack Ray opened the largest steakhouse in Austin. It would later become one of the city's most popular restaurants.
The Barn—named so because it was a two-story, red-and-white-painted barn—was known for innovative practices such as providing each table with a 20-pound block of Swiss cheese and a complimentary small glass of ros wine. Private dining rooms were modeled to look like cow stalls.
Jack bought the 2-acre property from developer Wallace Mayfield for $3,000, his son Steve said. In 2013, the property was appraised for about $1.2 million, according the Travis County Central Appraisal District.
"Everybody said, 'Why are you going way out there in the country and building this big steakhouse? Are you out of your mind?'" Steve said. "He went to downtown banks to try to borrow money, and they said 'No way.' Everybody thought he was crazy because he had no experience in the restaurant business."
Steve said his father—who is 86 and lives in Houston—is known for his charismatic nature and entrepreneurial spirit. Before opening The Barn, Jack owned a water-ski and duck-call manufacturing factory and was the world champion in goose calling in 1957. He worked as a salesman for companies such as Hunt Electronics and Davis Electronics, Steve said.
The Barn was Jack's first experience as a restaurateur, but he opened several other eateries, including the Feedlot, which later became Texas Tumbleweed.
"He's very outgoing—the kind of person that once you meet him, you'll probably remember Jack Ray because that's his personality," Steve said.
The Barn became a bustling social hangout filled with Austinites and public figures such as former Texas governors John Connally, Preston Smith and Dolph Briscoe, according to the book "Lost Austin (Images of America)" by John H. Slate. Steve said other notable diners included former first lady Lady Bird Johnson.
The Barn became famous for its exhibition-style cooking where chefs cooked in the middle of the restaurant. Jack's business became so successful that in 1964 he built The Little Barn next door where patrons mingled at the mahogany bar until their tables were ready.
The Little Barn offered beer served in glasses measuring 1 yard in length and live entertainment such as Sam Gainer, who played rinky-dink piano. Jack also hired a woman who swayed above the bar on a large wooden swing. In the late 1960s, Jack opened a formal dining hall called The Silo, adding to the The Barn's offerings.
"It was an experience to go there," Steve said. "[Jack] sold the system. That's what made it work."
At the time The Barn was built, MoPac did not exist, and the area was not yet developed, Steve said.
"I can remember there was nothing out here. I'd go across over the railroad tracks behind The Barn up toward Shoal Creek and go [dove hunting] in the afternoons," he said.
Around the time The Barn opened, Austin's culture was changing, said Larry Kille, president and CEO of Sterling Affairs and Hospitality. Kille grew up in Austin and leases the property, now called the Shoal Crossing Event Center, to host Sterling Affairs events.
"I've always been in love with Austin, but I fell in love with this new Austin that started to emerge in the '70s," Kille said. "Music was coming together, [and] culinary was just on the brand-new edge. We didn't know what culinary was. We thought it was nothing but steaks back then."
This culinary change brought other restaurants such as Lock, Stock & Barrel on Anderson Lane where Kille waited tables. One reason The Barn closed in the mid-1970s may have been because of new competition in the area, Steve said.
"It was very successful from the get-go," he said. "It was out in the country, but it was very successful."
After The Barn closed, a showboat-themed country dinner playhouse called Travis County Landing opened, and a nightclub called The Edge of Town opened next door, Steve recalled. Texas, a bar with a mechanical bull, also operated in the facility some time around 1980, and Harold's Outlet Barn operated there from the mid-1980s to 2005, Kille said.
In 2011 the property underwent nearly $1 million in renovations to transform it into the event center, which can seat about 600 people. In 2013 it hosted between 250–300 events. For more information, visit www.shoalcrossing.com.