1621 West 5th Street
Austin, TX 78703
Hours: Mon-Thu 5pm-2am, Sat-Sun 2pm-2am
Written by: Haley Howle
The Mean-Eyed Cat is the place in Austin for all things Johnny Cash. Opened in 2004, the Mean-Eyed Cat takes its name from one of the Man in Black’s early, unfinished songs. The owner, Chris Marsh, fell in love with the tune when he was just a boy. His father used to play the song on his beat–up old record player when it was time for he and his twin brother to go to bed.
“For some reason, ‘The Mean Eyed Cat’ was our song. No nursery rhymes. No folk ballads. No Bing Crosby harmonies. Just sweaty rebel country music with attitude and purpose, or at least enough purpose to get our dusty butts out of the neighbor’s backyard and into pajamas,” says Chris.
Marsh says his vision for the Mean-Eyed Cat is as much a shrine to Johnny Cash as it is to his late father. Situated in the old Cut-Rite Chainsaw building on West 5th Street, the vibe of the place is vintage and historical through and through. From the weathered wood that makes up the building to the tin roof and spray–painted signs, it feels like a roadside bar where Cash would have stopped in, on his way to a show. The first thing you’ll notice when walking in is that it’s completely decked out with Cash memorabilia. “I collected a lot of Johnny Cash stuff when I was younger,” says Marsh, “but there hasn’t been a week I’ve been open that someone hasn’t brought me something to add to it.” Now, the collection includes mug shots, posters, tickets, pictures and tons of fan-made art. Song lyrics are painted on boards all around the place.
Outside at the Mean-Eyed Cat brings an old car garage to mind. Picnic tables and old metal furniture face the stage, which is illuminated by neon lights. Generally, the music featured is of the country and honky-tonk persuasion. One of Marsh’s favorite shows to date was when local band The Derailers played on Johnny Cash’s birthday. Inside, at the bar, you can strike up a conversation with your friendly neighborhood bartender, and play pool if you’re not feeling the live music they’ve got that night.
Happy hour features specials most nights. Monday is ladies night; Tuesday is pint night; Wednesday is pitcher night, and on Thursdays you can drink Lone Star beer at the happy–hour price all–night long, after all, it is the national beer of Texas. It really doesn’t matter which night you spend at the Mean-Eyed Cat, any night can guarantee a cold beer, good music, a rowdy crowd and a damn good time.