Check it out: The Library at La Rioja finds niche downtown
Historically, liquor and literature have gone together like bread and butter, though a young Brownsville entrepreneur has a found a new way to combine the two pastimes under one roof: The Library at La Rioja, 1135 E. Washington St.
That’s not why owner Dacey Garza gave her establishment a bookish name, though. Rather, it’s because of the nickname she acquired during her seven-year tenure as bartender for Shenanigan’s Irish Pub & Grill.
“When I was working at Shenanigan’s my customers would call me ‘the librarian’ because of my glasses, and I come off as really quiet,” she said in a recent interview at The Library, which overlooks Market Square Plaza.
The Brownsville native eventually grew restless and, about a year and half ago, found herself scouting potential locations around Market Square Plaza, then still under renovation. Garza strolled into La Rioja, a watering hole/eatery with occasional hours, wound up striking a deal with the owner and reopened under the new name on Aug. 12, 2017.
Garza said she knew how to run a bar after seven years in her previous job, but admitted that launching her own business was a little bit scary nonetheless.
“I invested pretty much all my savings from my tips working at Shenanigan’s and put it into a TABC license and everything for the bar,” she said. “I took the risk. My money needed to go somewhere.”
Garza said it was the right decision, that the bar has been well received since day one, and that some of her old clientele have followed her to the new place. She’s grateful to them, as well as to the friends and family who’ve helped spread the word, she said.
As to what people are drinking these days, Garza said retro concoctions — Moscow Mule, Old Fashioned, martini, etc. — are very much in. She said she’s rarely stumped by a cocktail order, though it does happen, like the first time someone asked for a Hurricane (rum, fruit juice, simple syrup, grenadine).
“I had to look that one up on my phone,” Garza said. “Sounds silly, but it’s true.”
The Library also has a kitchen, movie nights, live music on the weekends, photos of famous authors on the wall and, yes, books.
“We have a large variety of different books,” Garza said. “A lot of them are donations. I’m still collecting more. Some people say we don’t have enough.”
She does enjoy reading but, as a business owner, doesn’t have much time for it these days. Garza said that if she’s learned anything since going out on her own it’s to pay close attention to customer service, since it’s all on her now.
“It’s going to be fault if something’s wrong or something’s not in stock,” she said. “I always try my best to have everything in stock and the beer cold.”
The Library at La Rioja is among a growing number of downtown businesses pointing the way to the district’s late-night resurrection by attracting people downtown again. These include Dodici Pizza & Wine, El Hueso de Fraile, Double Trouble, Half Moon Saloon, Kraken Lounge and Terra’s Bar & Grill.
Garza said she’s heard from plenty of people that downtown is dicey after dark, though she knows from personal experience that it’s a misconception, especially since the Brownsville Police Department opened its Market Square substation in August.
“I tell them it’s not dangerous,” Garza said. “It really isn’t. I wouldn’t lie. I would just say maybe, if anything, lock your car.”
She said she feels lucky to have found such a prime spot, meanwhile, and predicted that downtown’s creeping renaissance will continue in coming years.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of places open, at least I hope to see a huge nightlife downtown, where you can eat and drink and be safe and not have to worry,” Garza said.
For other aspiring young entrepreneurs considering a commercial venture in the city’s historic heart, she has this advice: Get on with it.
“There’s a lot of vacant spaces still,” Garza said. “I think it’s better to jump in now while you can get a lease and get a good price. It is risky, but if you’re planning on doing it, just do it already. Jump in while it’s early.”