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The Owl in Elgin

Written by , published August 2, 2013

I recently made the short drive from Austin to Elgin, a town about 25 miles east of the city via US 290. I’d heard about a new wine bar and home décor shop on the town’s historic downtown strip, and I realized: While I frequently pass through Elgin on my way to Houston, I’d never really explored the town except to stop for barbecue at Southside Market or Meyer’s.

I won’t make that mistake again. For not only did I find the new wine bar, but I also discovered a small strip of charming antiques stores and a fascinating collection of turn-of-the-century murals painted on the interior brick walls of businesses that date to the early 1900s.

The wine bar and home décor shop is called the Owl Wine Bar & Home Goods, and when you walk in, you’ll see why: An entire wall of the shop boasts a mural of a quizzical and adorable owl, painted in 1900 to advertise cigars.  Discovered a few years ago hidden beneath layers of plaster, the mural is beautifully preserved—as is one across the street advertising chewing gum, which is now a conversation piece at a bar called Quaffer’s.

The Owl’s owners, Molly Alexander and her partner Gary Leudeke, highlight their avian mascot while bringing a fresh and modern esthetic to their town’s newest gathering spot. “We wanted the Owl to be like our living room, and to extend it to the community,” says Molly. And it does feel that way. On the Wednesday I visited, the clock had barely chimed 5 p.m before the shop filled with local women eager to get started on happy hour. A nice selection of wines are complemented by a small assortment of beers, and Molly and Gary offer simple food items like cheese, hummus, dolmas, and (of course) famous Elgin sausage.

 This mural of an owl, painted in 1900 to advertise cigars, was recently discovered beneath layers of plaster. Photo: Lori Moffatt

Interestingly, the building’s skylight—set deep inside an original ceiling of wooden beadboard—is original to the building. It illuminates the bar area and the Owl’s funky selection of glassware, Persian rugs, and carefully chosen knick-knacks. The back of the space opens up to a cozy patio, where Molly and Gary host occasional live music.

When I was there, a film scout came in—so the secret’s out. Go check it out.

The Owl Wine Bar & Home Goods is at 106 N. Main in Elgin. Call 512/285-3547; www.elginowl.com

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