When Jeff Simon purchased the Wildcatter Saloon in 2012, then known as Bryant Ice House, it was primarily a biker bar—home to a rough crowd at times. The ice house was hidden a few blocks off of the I-10 feeder road near FM 1463 and all but unknown to most bar-goers.
At the time, the business was struggling and the bar was in a state of disrepair. In the past two years, however, business has improved and Wildcatter's atmosphere has changed, though it still has a few biker regulars—weekend warriors mostly.
"We're no longer primarily a biker bar," Simon said. "We're a local neighborhood stop now."
This transformation is due in part to help from the Spike network television series "Bar Rescue." The show's producers select a bar and a team makes recommendations on how to improve it, while also remodeling and repairing it.
Simon said he's not sure exactly how the bar came to the show's attention, but last July he got a call that show producers were considering doing an episode on Wildcatter. The work and filming took place over five days in January. The episode aired last month.
One of the changes that resulted from Wildcatter's work with "Bar Rescue" was a food truck on the property and a new menu.
"We have a food truck, that's kind of the trendy thing these days," Simon said.
Eric Regan, who owns the food truck "Hey! You Gonna Eat or What?," which is the number two food truck in Austin, helped design Wildcatter's new menu. Offerings include a beer battered fish sandwich, beef steak sandwich, country-fried pork sandwich and turkey meatloaf.
"They revamped the menu so it's light fare, but it's filling," Simon said.
The food truck serves lunch and dinner, though Simon said they are looking at extending the hours due to demand.
Simon said the saloon is family-friendly until about 7 p.m., but at night Wildcatter primarily operates as a bar. It offers indoor and outdoor seating, and dogs are allowed outside. The open space next to the patio allows dogs plenty of room to run around and play.
Wildcatter has offered live music on Saturday night for years, Simon said. Artists range from country and western to classic rock to '80s cover bands. There is no extra cover charge to enjoy the live music.
"The bands are on me," Simon said.
Recently, Wildcatter began offering live blues music on Sunday afternoons from 2–6 p.m. The "Blues and Brews" event, as they have dubbed it, has really taken off. It's a great event for families, since it takes place in the afternoon and early evening, he said.
Though events hosted by Wildcatter are typically free of charge, the large open area can be rented for private events.
One recent event, in honor of the Kentucky Derby, was a charity rubber ducky race, called the "Ken-Ducky Derby" to benefit breast cancer. Participants raced rubber ducks in the water that runs through the Wildcatter property.
When Simon purchased the bar, the staff decided to rechristen it Wildcatter as a tribute to taking chances. It is still a bit out of the way, but the clientele is growing, Simon said.
"A wildcatter is a risk-taker going out to find oil, and I was a risk-taker buying this bar," Simon said. "They kind of put the two together and thought it would work out, and it has worked really well."
Upcoming live music
5/24 Fighting Gemini, 9 p.m.
5/25 Blues and Brews with Leonard "Low Down" Brown, 2 p.m.
5/31 Eddison Freeman Project, 9 p.m.
Mondays: Craft Beer Night
Thursdays: Karaoke Night
The Wildcatter Saloon
Bar Hours: Sun.–Wed. 11 a.m.–midnight
Thurs.- Sat. 11 a.m.–2 a.m.
Food Truck: Sun.-Mon. 11 a.m.–8 p.m.
Tue.- Wed. 11 a.m.– 9 p.m.
Thu.- Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m.