Whiskey Tavern Finds Its Place

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Whiskey Tavern Finds Its Place

The tavern's owner believes it takes time to appreciate and know the wide variety of whiskeys.
The tavern’s owner believes it takes time to appreciate and know the wide variety of whiskeys.
Martin Cavazos along with his co-owners operates one of the few whiskey taverns in South Texas.
Martin Cavazos along with his co-owners operates one of the few whiskey taverns in South Texas.

Whiskey is an acquired taste.

That’s how Martin Cavazos puts it and he should know. He is one of the owners of the 1929 Whiskey Tavern in Brownsville. It is, Cavazos said, only one of two such establishments south of San Antonio that’s exclusive to whiskeys and its many varieties.

The tavern is located across the street from Market Square, the historic center of Brownsville. The building whose bell tower is the official logo of the city can be seen in the reflection of the tavern’s windows. Its name is derived from the year when the space where the tavern sits was added to the next-door Juan Fernandez building. The 1880s-era building still stands, as does its long-ago addition, which has new life as a Whiskey Tavern. 

It all adds to the rebirth of historic buildings rippling across downtown Brownsville. The public health issues of 2020 were a setback for some of these efforts, including the tavern, but they persevered. It opened last year after months of construction and renovation work to bring the 1929 building back to life. 

The 1929 Whiskey Tavern features home state Texas varieties.
The 1929 Whiskey Tavern features home state Texas varieties.

“What happened last year pushed everyone back,” Cavazos said of 2020’s public health issues. “It took a lot of work and money to fix it, (building), up, so it was like open or that was it.”

The decision to open in 2020 despite the challenges was a wise one. The stylish tavern has kept many of the building’s historic elements intact. Combine that with its unique collection of alcoholic selections, live music and pool tables. It appears the tavern is finding its place in downtown Brownsville’s emerging entertainment and restaurant district.

“From there to now, it has been very rewarding to see it grow,” said Stacey Cavazos, Martin’s sister and fellow business owner. “Now we have customers returning.

Patience & Whiskey

Whiskey’s history is rich and assorted and goes back to at least the 17th century in Ireland. 

The Irish and Scottish are perhaps the best-known practitioners in the development of whiskeys. Its imagery in the United States is of old westerners and cowboys leaning over saloon bars to take shots. Martin Cavazos smiled at the mention of the history behind the beverages offered at his tavern.

Stacey Cavazos owns the Whiskey Tavern along with her brother Martin.
Stacey Cavazos owns the Whiskey Tavern along with her brother Martin.

He goes on to describe what whiskey is. At its most basic element, it’s a type of distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash, typically aged in wooden casks. There are many different varieties, with a good snapshot of them lined up behind the tavern’s bar. 

A yellow label on one bottle says, “Ranger Creek Ramfire,” a single malt whiskey “Aged under the Texas sun.” There are whiskeys from Scotland and Ireland. Varieties from Mexico and Japan go with the home state selections. Becoming a whiskey connoisseur takes time, Cavazos said, given its alluring complexities and choices.

“There’s something for everyone,” he said. “You have to keep up with it to appreciate it, and you have to be patient to find out what you like.”

Downtown Possibilities & Worries

The Cavazos siblings are Port Isabel natives, who own the 12th Street Brownsville tavern with Jose Trevino.

They were drawn to downtown Brownsville given its history and uniqueness. Their tavern is one of many downtown business startups that have received construction and renovation grants from the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation. The latter has become better known since SpaceX founder Elon Musk donated over $1 million to fund even more downtown startups.

The Whiskey Tavern is housed in a renovated downtown Brownsville building that dates back to 1929.
The Whiskey Tavern is housed in a renovated downtown Brownsville building that dates back to 1929.

Cavazos is excited about the possibilities while worrying that downtown development that overheats will lead to rising lease and rental costs that could price out small business owners.

“For me, it’s a big concern,” Cavazos said. “We’ve been here from the beginning of all of this, as have many others. What’s going to happen in a year or two?”

That’s unknown, but for now Cavazos will enjoy how the tavern is gaining traction and the camaraderie of downtown business owners.

“It’s quality over quantity,” he said of doing business downtown. “I love it here. Everybody here supports each other.”

Brownsville's Market Square is in the reflection of the windows at Whiskey Tavern.
Brownsville’s Market Square is in the reflection of the windows at Whiskey Tavern.

Ricardo D. Cavazos is a Rio Grande Valley native and journalist who has worked as a reporter, editor and publisher at Texas newspapers. Cavazos formerly worked as a reporter and editorial writer at The Brownsville Herald, Dallas Times Herald, Corpus Christi Caller-Times and San Antonio Light. He served as editor of The Monitor in McAllen from 1991-1998 and from there served for 15 years as publisher at The Herald in Brownsville. Cavazos has been providing content for the Valley Business Report since 2018.

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