- c. 1905
- Early Commercial
- Historic Status:
- Austin Landmark
Elephant Room is a local jazz club located in the basement level of the Swift Building, a two-story structure typical of late 19th century commercial buildings. The stucco façade is divided into three bays (aka tripartite), which is common among the historic buildings along Congress Avenue. The interior of the club is characterized by its exposed wood, brick and concrete structure; herringbone brick floor; and clerestory windows.
Located in the basement level of an unassuming two-story structure, Elephant Room has been Austin’s premiere jazz club for three decades. In a city where another shiny skyscraper pops up every few months, this is the kind of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it local hangout that captures the essence of the “old Austin” that natives often lament: invitingly low-key, effortlessly cool, and even a little grungy.
Identified by an inconspicuous neon sign flickering at sidewalk level, Elephant Room is usually discovered by happy accident. Whether you stumble in during a late night bender or take a wrong turn on the stairs from the street, descend into this dimly lit den and you are instantly transported away from the hustle and bustle of Congress. Here you’ll find the crowd keeping time to soulful tunes while basking in the glow of sconces held up by petite pachyderms. A row of concrete columns bedecked with dollars divides the space, with the bar stretching out opposite an exposed brick wall. Floating like an apparition, a neon martini beckons toward the stage at the far end.
The room is full of intimate corners that seem perfect for a candlelit conversation. But make no mistake: you’re here for the music. Prior to the 2020 pandemic, Elephant Room had stayed open 365 days a year (with the exception of a 12-day closure forced by a sinkhole in an adjacent building). Any night of the year, you’ll see jazz students and teachers, aficionados and amateurs, and everyone in between—all fueled by an ample beer selection and a love of music. On Mondays, local musicians queue up for a chance to showcase their skills at open mic night.
But what have elephants got to do with it? In 1985, when the foundation was being dug for the club’s towering postmodern neighbor, a number of fossils were unearthed at the site of a late-Pleistocene watering hole. Among the finds were bones from a mastodon and mammoth—both prehistoric precursors to the modern-day elephant. With any luck, this watering hole of a different sort won’t be extinct anytime soon. – Bud Franck