Six Square is the nexus of thriving Black arts and culture in Central East Austin. We re-animate cultural spaces, connect community, and honor the past, present, and future of Austin’s Black Cultural District.
The Victory Grill was a hub of Black nightlife and music in East Austin for decades. The Victory Grill was part of East Austin's Entertainment District on East 11th Street, which included other clubs such as the Palladium Club, Charlie's Playhouse, and the Cotton Club. Opened on Victory over Japan Day in 1945, band manager Johnny Holmes was keen to create a space for black soldiers returning to a segregated society post World War II. The Victory Grill started as a small lean-to that served beer, but as the popularity of the spot grew, Holmes moved to a larger building nearby. During its heyday in the 1950s, the club hosted artists such as Etta James, Billie Holliday, and B.B. King. The Victory Grill was known as a place where music lovers could get a good meal and enjoy great music. The club attracted people from all over Texas and transcended racial restrictions imposed by legalized segregation.
In 1952, Holmes leased out the club and took a few years off to travel the United States. By the time he returned in 1965, the East Austin that had been integral in the success of the Victory Grill had all but disappeared. Desegregation had virtually eliminated the need for clubs like the Victory Grill, and the Black population in East Austin had dispersed throughout the rest of the city. This led to Holmes closing the nightclub part of the Grill in the 1970s; the restaurant was able to remain open due to the popularity of the food. In 1988, the Victory Grill suffered a fire, which led to its closure. The Victory Grill was able to re-open due to a restoration campaign from a friend of Johnny Holmes. The restoration of the Grill sparked a renewal in the East 11th Street area, which had experienced diminished infrastructure.
Today, the Victory Grill is one of the only Chitlin’ Circuit nightclubs that still exists in Texas. It has been locally and nationally recognized for its historical significance to the African American experience in the U.S., as well as for the role it played in the cultivation of American music culture.
Cover image: courtesy of atxhistoricvictorygrill.org