Monday, April 1, 2013

The Old Nighthawk Restaurant

Harry Akin, originally an actor who went west to California and came back to Austin, opened the Old Nighthawk Restaurant on South Congress at Riverside Drive in 1932.  The structure was an abandoned fruit stand which he converted into a tiny burger restaurant with two booths and eight stools. A hamburger could be bought for 15 cents.

Over time, the Night Hawk became part of a restaurant empire with multiple locations (some branded as a variation in 'The Night Hawk Frisco' restaurants) and selling frozen Night Hawk dinners to grocery stores.  The original location remained the epicenter of much of that activity, and was the darling location for politicians and business people to meet and make deals when Austin was small enough to have just one or two really good restaurants close to downtown.  The menu grew quickly to include steaks; in the 1970's they added liquor.

Mr. Akin inspired his employees, demanding that high quality product be served in his restaurants.  Politically, he  stood up for racial integration and for the employment of women, and became active in the Austin community.  He served as the mayor of Austin from 1967 to 1969. 

Harry Akin died in April of 1976, and the Night Hawk company continued under the leadership of his wife Lela Jane Akin.  Then tragedy struck in 1985,  A fire destroyed the Old Nighthawk Restaurant No. 1 at South Congress and Riverside.  A new, larger, Night Hawk restaurant building was eventually built in its place.  A parking agreement was struck with a neighboring garage, and when that deal fell through, the new Night Hawk had almost no parking facilities.  The restaurant business finally had to close its doors, and the building is currently leased as offices.  

It was the end of an era.

The Old Nighthawk Restaurant

Northwest corner of South Congress at Riverside Dr., Austin, TX 78704