J. Gilligan’s owner opens special-events site behind iconic hangout

04/25/2014 10:49 PM

04/25/2014 10:51 PM

What could possibly be added to the venerable J. Gilligan’s Bar & Grill, the compound of green buildings at 400 E. Abram St. that have been a downtown institution to city employees and college students since 1979?

Why, another party place of course: an open-air special-events spot directly behind Gilligan’s at 400 E. South St. that Gilligan’s owner/operator Randy Ford has christened the South Street Patio.

Ford has leased the 8,000-square-foot space, formerly the Capital Bar and before that a tire store, and plans to book Friday night bands and special events throughout the week there.

The calendar is already filling up. It includes a post-election party for Councilmen Robert Shepard and Jimmy Bennett on May 10, followed by a group of 125 Texas high school football coaches in town for a recruiting seminar, a 60th-birthday party, a high school booster club, a high school reunion, the Levitt Pavilion board and three game-day events.

“Word of mouth is going crazy on this place,” Ford said.

First up was a high school reunion this month, followed by a CD-release party for Brandon Steadman and his band, a Gilligan’s regular headliner.

South Street Patio can seat 350 to 400 people inside; open the glass-paned garage-door bays and voila, it’s cocktails and beers under the stars. There are a full-service bar and live music setup, and food can be either catered from Gilligan’s or brought in from other sources.

“It’s a really nice facility, with a concrete floor and pull-up doors from the original bays to open it all up,” said Ford. Inside, there is enough room for a nice-size dance floor and pool tables.

South Street Patio adds another, more upscale option for Gilligan’s regulars, who usually book the present party room or arrange for outside tent functions on the parking lot.

“It’s given us more flexibility and an upgraded facility,” Ford said. “It’s a $900,000 facility. There’s more room, better lighting.

“Gilligan’s bathrooms have never been anything to write home about,” Ford added with a laugh. “With this building, the first thing I do is show people the bathrooms.”

South Street Patio appears to be well-positioned for success as part of the Gilligan’s family.

There is, after all, an established power factor at J. Gilligan’s, along with the comfort level: Gilligan’s has played host to business luncheons and political rallies as well as wedding receptions, charity events, kids soccer clubs, and memorable (or not) St. Patrick’s Day parties.

People announce their City Council candidacies, important business deals, urgent causes and undying love at Gilligan’s. Even the Travel Channel has paid homage to the house specialty, Irish nachos.

The new place may never acquire the funky shabby-chic atmosphere of its parent, but Ford said it offers new capabilities, especially for the musical acts.

“Now, along with CD-release parties, we can record live concerts and other special events,” he said of the $40,000 sound system that was designed for the building. “It’s a musician’s sound system.”

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