Move over, Vegas: Behind Austin’s iconic neon signs

The sign for Home Slice Pizza is of a winking chef holding a pizza
An online reviewer of Home Slice Pizza said this sign "brings in the patrons like moths to a flame.” | Photo via @theringrose

Move over, Vegas — Austin’s got a claim to neon that’s all its own. 

From the vintage glow of South Congress to the lights that light up the night on East Cesar Chavez, here’s why neon means so much to Austinites + some of the most iconic signs around town.

Neon has lit Austin streets for almost a century

Austin’s oldest buildings also make for the city’s most notable neon facades. For example, the Paramount Theatre: the iconic sign was first made when the downtown building was renamed in 1930, and later replaced. Currently, its blade is lit by 1,397 LED light bulbs

Another one of Austin’s most memorable neon signs adorns the entrance to Austin Motel. Dating back to 1938, this sign is held in place by an old ship’s mast of unknown origin.

The iconic Chuy's Tex Mex sign
The decades-old neon sign for this Tex-Mex restaurant has been replicated in different forms across the country. | Photo via @writerninafoxx

Some neon signs have had national reach

You can’t talk about iconic signs in Austin without mentioning Chuy’s. The decades-old neon sign for this Tex-Mex restaurant has been replicated in different forms across the country since the chain’s popularity boom in recent years, and is now present in 15 other states.

The craftspeople lighting the night

Austin’s neon sign scene has spanned decades and dozens of craftspeople, but one man holds a special place in the art’s local history. Evan Voyles has been handcrafting neon signs for ~30 years — back when Austin was half the size it is now.

You’ve almost certainly seen Voyles’ work around town. One of his most iconic pieces illuminates the pool area of Hotel Saint Cecilia. The blazing pink ‘SOUL’ sign was repurposed from the ruins of a casino on the Texas-Louisiana line. The only letters left of the word “Louisiana” were “L,O,U and S.”

Stay tuned to ATXtoday for a Q&A with the king of neon next month.

Want some neon to call your own? 

If you’re looking to invest in the most-Austin Christmas gift ever, Voyles sells custom and pre-made pieces at his website, The Neon Jungle. 

Be sure to check out prints + pieces from other noteworthy neon artists, such as Todd Sanders of Roadhouse Relics and the dazzling team behind Ion Art.

Lucy's Fried Chicken Sign is a pin-up style woman
Lucy’s Fried Chicken was named after the owner’s grandmother. | Photo via @oldmotelsigns

 

Where to go sign-spotting around town:

Lucy’s Fried Chicken | This pin-up-style sign emblazons the restaurant titled after the chef-owner’s grandmother.

Broken Spoke | Many celebrities have stood under this iconic sign — but it wasn’t always neon. The initial sign was replaced in the early 1970s, when the owner decided to use neon to attract customers after dark looking for a “honky-tonkin.

The County Line | This multi-part sign tells a story every Texan can identify with: It reads “It’s Bar-B-Q time”

Matt’s El Rancho | Who hasn’t squeezed their whole family into a table for 12 at this classic Austin spot? This enormous sign on South Lamar reads “Best Mexican Food in the World.” While we haven’t tried all the Mexican food, we can attest theirs is pretty darn great.

Alamo Drafthouse | Next time you’re on South Lamar for a movie, take a moment to bask in the buzzing glow of the iconic sign out front.

Home Slice Pizza | The cheeky winking chef only amplifies the pizza joint’s charm — As one online reviewer says, it “brings in the patrons like moths to a flame.”