Saxon Pub: Same spot, new landlord for Austin music venue

In a change of plans for a landmark Austin music venue, the Saxon Pub plans to stay put at its South Austin location and start its next chapter with a new landlord: Gary Keller, head of Austin-based Keller Williams Realty

Darryl Frost, a spokesman for Keller Williams, said the purchase of the property at 1320 South Lamar Boulevard is due to close by the end of the year.

“The Saxon has a long storied history beginning in 1990,” said Nick Shuley, vice president of marketing for All ATX, a nonprofit founded by Keller, chairman and co-founder of Keller Williams Realty. “Since its opening it has been one of the key spaces for local and touring musicians. The plans for this property and the goal of the deal are to ensure that this property remains the Saxon Pub forever.”

Keller has been working through All ATX, along with city of Austin leaders, “to ensure that Austin doesn’t lose important musical landmarks like the Saxon Pub,” Shuley said. “With our city’s growth, it’s easy to get caught up in the rush to tear down the old and build the new.”

The property Keller is buying is currently owned by Jeffrey Rabkin, according to the Travis Central Appraisal District, which valued the real estate at $1.5 million this year. The purchase includes the building that houses the Saxon Pub, plus an adjoining smaller space that houses Abbey Printing.

Saxon Pub had planned to open a new location by late 2017 as the anchor tenant for a mixed-use project, the Saint Elmo Market District, that is planned for St. Elmo Road and South Congress Avenue, south of Ben White Boulevard.

But talks with Keller a few weeks ago changed those plans, said Joe Ables, owner of the Saxon Pub.

“He wants me to keep my brand right where it is, just for the historical aspect of venues in Austin,” Ables said. “He’s into tradition and making these things just stay where they are.”

Keller’s involvement came after another deal was in the works, Ables said.

“It happened pretty fast,” Ables said. “Quite honestly I thought that the building would be sold to another party. It was very surprising to me, but I couldn’t be happier.”

In 2014, Ables talked with developers of the Saint Elmo project about relocating the Saxon to a proposed new venue there. Last year, he spoke of perhaps continuing to operate the original location under a different name, as more of an incubator club for young bands.

But Ables said he had second thoughts after meeting with Keller and talking with longtime Saxon patrons.

“It changed my whole thinking,” Ables said. “I was concerned about moving the brand over there and changing the soul of the room. There’s been a lot of great shows there, and people were worried that it wouldn’t have that same feel.”

Ables said he hasn’t entirely withdrawn his interest from Saint Elmo’s Market, but said there are “a lot of questions unanswered now,” adding that he’s still open to being involved in some type of acoustic venue there.

Developers of the Saint Elmo project did not return a message left seeking comment.

Now that he’s staying put, Ables said some remodeling is in store for the Saxon Pub building , what he called “cosmetic changes, normal stuff you’d do to an older building.”

Shuley said the Saxon Pub “is one of the many venues that All ATX and Gary Keller are working together on to ensure Austin’s music venues and history are preserved.” In addition to its music-education outreach, All ATX raises money for Austin’s music charities that aid musicians in the areas of health care and income support.

Keller’s efforts come as Austin city leaders also are focused on helping local musicians and music venues stay afloat in a city that’s facing affordability issues.

Mayor Steve Adler recently announced plans for a crowdsourced investment fund to raise private money to “purchase and preserve” iconic live music venues.

Ables said he’s thrilled about the prospect of staying at his current location, which has seen many a music legend take the stage.

“This is exciting news for me, my family, the brand,” Ables said.

Austin American-Statesman Peter Blackstock contributed to this report.

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