Commercial, Vernacular
Historic Status:
National Register of Historic Places, Texas Historic Landmark, Austin Landmark


The Victory Grill was opened on August 14, 1945 (aka “Victory over Japan” or V-J Day) by former serviceman and Bastrop native Johnny Holmes. The modest space has taken many forms over the years, from lean-to icehouse, to two-room hamburger joint, to its most iconic form as a ‘juke joint’ with the addition of a performance space dubbed the “Kovac Room.”


Before Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings came along, Victory Grill was kickstarting Austin’s status as “Live Music Capital of the World” by welcoming a host of legendary musicians such as Ike & Tina Turner, Billie Holiday, Muddy Waters, and James Brown—among many, many others. Keen on creating a space for Black soldiers returning home to segregated Austin, Johnny Holmes used his connections as a former band leader and booking agent to establish East Austin as a stop along what would come to be known as the nationwide “Chitlin’ Circuit” of performance venues that welcomed Black musicians and patrons.

Named for the soul food dish chitterlings, the Chitlin’ Circuit spanned from Chicago to Pittsburgh, Tampa to San Antonio, providing Black performers with cultural acceptance and commercial success throughout the country’s racially segregated period of 1930 to 1960. This period, and the Chitlin’ Circuit specifically, led to the birth of rock and roll in the 1950s. When visiting the Victory Grill today, musicians and music fans alike should take a moment to reflect on the crucial role that spaces such as this have played in revolutionizing art and culture as we know it today. Unfortunately, the community that created and elevated the Victory Grill to its legendary status is experiencing rapid displacement due to the relatively recent influx of capital and development in and around Austin’s once more affordable east side neighborhoods.

Whether you are a fan of live music, poetry, comedy, or just have a craving for chicken wings, the Victory Grill is an essential stop on your quest to experience what makes Austin unique. Now known as Victory East, the building still primarily functions as a restaurant, with weekly live music and poetry readings. Keep an eye out for the historical marker and vivid murals that call back to the building’s storied history. – Raymond Santana-Linares, Assoc. AIA, NOMA

Photo Credits:

Bud Franck, AIA