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Sixth Street | © Geoff Livingston / Flickr
Sixth Street | © Geoff Livingston / Flickr

A Brief History of Sixth Street, Austin

Picture of Sarah Karney
Updated: 1 February 2017

Do you really want to know how Austin received the “weird” epithet? Sixth Street in current downtown Austin has been keeping it weird since the 1800s.

Once known as Pecan Street, it was the main drag for travelers to make their way from east to west through town. Many parts of the city are hilly, and this strip was flat enough for wagons to travel on without complications. It was also far enough from the river, a crucial factor in this easily flooded area. Commuters began setting up homes, shops, and saloons on Sixth Street, making it a major business area in the early days of Austin.

Sixth Street was also one of the first racially diverse areas in the city; it gave minorities places to call their own, with Lebanese and black Americans owning many businesses as early as the 1890s. The Victorian stone buildings still standing from the 1800s are now home to small businesses, nightclubs, and bars.

Sixth Street was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. That same year, Cliff Antone opened the club that launched Stevie Ray Vaughn, built Austin’s music scene, and ignited a cultural revolution in the city, spurring many more clubs, bars, and venues to open on the strip. It’s from these events that Austin got another of its monikers, “Live Music Capital of the World.” The current edition of Antone’s is now located on Fifth Street, and Austin blues musician Gary Clark Jr., who is known to play surprise sets from time to time, partially owns it.

Though the street stretches to the west end of the city, “Dirty Sixth” is the area most are referencing when talking about Sixth Street; this is the seven blocks between Congress Avenue and I-35.

Once Sixth Street became a destination for artists, even more “weird” followed as the community of creatives felt they had found a place where they could all be who they wanted to be. Even today, Sixth Street invites the antithesis of a dress code, making everyone – in a strange way – blend in.

On busy nights, the street is blocked off and lined every so often with police to control the large crowds and general debauchery. It has also become a refuge for Austin’s large homeless population, and for some residents, who have found their niche selling souvenir items or performing on sidewalks for spare cash, it has become a revenue stream.

But perhaps the weirdest – and most beautiful – part of Sixth Street is the Driskill Hotel. Built in 1886 by Jesse Driskill, a cattleman who spent his entire life’s savings on the construction and then lost the hotel in a high-stakes poker game, the hotel has had more than its share of eerie happenings and is rumored to be haunted by Jesse as well as other ghosts.