To learn the story of Noël and Will Bridges is to sign up for a short course in Austin history. Ten years ago, Will (together with a small group of friends) quietly opened a new restaurant in the old Schneider Brothers Building downtown under the peculiar promise of “fancy barbecue”. Today, Lamberts is an institution — a must do stop for tourists and locals alike. It was the beginning of a career that would find Will purchasing and protecting historic pieces of old Austin. In the meantime, Noël was cutting her teeth in promotional media at publications like The Austin Chronicle and The Washington Post. The two knew each other from their days at Austin High, but wouldn’t truly join forces until one fateful night at Austin’s most secret and local-heavy dive, Deep Eddy Cabaret. (Years later when the tiny bar went up for sale, the couple snapped it up and — to the regular’s delight — changed almost nothing about it.) Their newest preservation project is perhaps their most ambitious yet: the return of the classic blues club Antone’s to downtown Austin. The couple co-owns the nightclub with their old buddy from high school, Gary Clark Jr., and he’s just one of the many talented musicians who grew up on the Antone’s stage (a certain SRV is another). We met up with Noël and Will in the hours before Antone’s opened to talk about the blues, love, and why it’s so important to protect what’s beautiful about Austin.
Noël: We knew each other growing up but became better friends when he was in college and had a rock band called Black Mustache. My best friend and I would go to all their shows and even help sell merch. We were just friends but it was obvious there was chemistry between us. I moved to Washington, DC for school and we didn’t go on a real date until 7 years later!
Will: We went to high school together and had mutual friends but were several years apart. I always kinda had my eye on her but we were in different worlds. I remember coming back home from college one weekend and seeing her and thinking “wow, she’s all grown up!”
Tell us a little about the history of Antone’s — why is it such a special place and what’s your vision for it’s future?
Will: Clifford Antone started the club in 1975 at 6th and Brazos before “sixth street” as we know it existed. In addition to revitalizing the blues as a genre and catapulting the careers of countless great artists, Antone’s symbolizes Austin’s resilient live music culture. By bringing Antone’s back downtown and focusing on making it a club again rather than just a venue, we plan to steward forward the legacy of Clifford and Antone’s for generations to come.
What’s the hardest thing about running a business together? What do you love about what you do?
Will: Sometimes it’s hard to separate our work modes from our personal life, but being able to spend the time together doing things we love and are passionate about makes it worth it.
Will, what was your first impression of Noël?
Will: That she was beautiful and full of energy and had a sweet personality that made you feel special when she gave you attention.
And Noël, what were your first thoughts about Will?
Noël: I always thought he was really handsome but was especially drawn to his creativity and fun personality.
What’s the story behind the “CJ” door handles at Antone’s?
Will: Clifford’s full name was Clifford Jamal Antone so “CJ” were his initials (and a nickname by those who were close to him.) To call him CJ meant you were his friend and you really knew him. We wanted that subtle sentiment to mark the entry of the new club.
Will, what do you love most about Noël?
Will: I love her spirit. She is always so positive and full of energy and excitement. She makes everyday an adventure.
When did you know that she was “the one”?
Will: When Noël was still living in DC and we were dating long distance. It was so painful having to leave one another after visits and I realized that all I wanted was to not have to be apart.
And Noël, what do you love most about Will?
Noël: His integrity and ingenuity. Everything he does is driven by a passion for doing the right thing. And there’s nothing he can’t do, his countless talents amaze me every day.
When did you know he was “the one”?
Noël: We reconnected over email and made plans to meet up the next time I was in town. I was excited to see him and after a long night of hanging out a Deep Eddy Cabaret we were joking about eloping! We just knew and have been together ever since.
So, as club owners do you two have similar taste in music? Is there any band or genre you disagree on?
Noël: We like every genre and are always introducing each other to music. Will will gladly go to any show I’m interested in and visa-versa.
Will: We both pretty much like everything. But we both like blues and classic rock and roll… a lot.
What’s the best relationship you’ve ever been given?
Will: To always put your partner first and cherish every moment together.
Noël: Pray together.
You’ve been together six years and counting. How do the two you keep the romance alive in your relationship?
Will: We like to watch movies together and go on dinner dates.
Noël: Yes, we always make time to take a break from work to go on little dinner and movie dates.
Noël, tell us about these 9 items that represent key moments in your relationship:
- Deep Eddy Cabaret hat and beer tokens: We had our first date at this classic neighborhood bar. It was a dream come true to take ownership of it in 2014.
- Lai and Ukulele we got on our honeymoon in Hawaii. We love all things Tiki.
- Vintage mascot pin, we are both “Loyal Forever” Austin High Maroons!
- Save Muny stickers: We are involved in the campaign to save historic Lions Municipal Golf Course (aka “Muny.”) Go to www.savemuny.com for more info!
- Jimmy Reed record: Was a gift from my grandma when she heard we were reopening Antone’s. Music is a huge part of our life.
- Leather patch from the Antone’s gift shop and a B marquee letter — for “Bridges” of course!
For single friends still looking for the one, what advice (if any) would you give on dating in the modern world?
Will: Know that there is a plan for you and don’t feel like you need to rush anything. Trust your intuition and remember that you need to make yourself happy before you can make someone else happy.