25 More Legendary Houston Music Venues
The Jacksons' "Victory" tour hits the Astrodome, November 1984
When Rocks Off published our choices for "Houston's Top 25 Closed Music Venues" back in July, we knew all along there would be a Part 2. We just didn't know how many were left. Today, after excavating the memories of 25 more, we're still probably not done.
Please let us know what else we missed, and we'll keep it going.
The Abyss After Washington Avenue metal haven the Vatican closed its doors in the early '90s, it was reopened as the Abyss and continued to host sweaty thrashers and doom merchants until 1998 when the money ran out.
What many headbangers seem to remember most about the joint was its total lack of air-conditioning, which made every show a sweaty endurance test. The place was meant to hold fewer than 300 people, but many more than that were regularly crammed into the dilapidated space to see and hear the likes of Marilyn Manson, Weezer, Mercyful Fate, Neurosis and plenty others. NATHAN SMITH
Ale House This haunted house on Alabama near Kirby with its second-story bar was Houston home base for the True Believers, whose shows brought out a fire-code-flouting throng that bounced and hopped and danced so much it seemed like the building might just shake apart.
Irish manager/booker Angela Mullan had an ear that was just ahead of trends, and always made room for hard working locals. On good nights, the long metal staircase up the back of the building supported half the ganja smokers in town. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
The Astrodome These days, local officials seem plum out of ideas on what to do with the former Eighth Wonder of the World, but at one time, the Dome was one of the premiere venues of any kind on the planet. In addition to its regular usage as Earth's first air-conditioned sporting palace, the Astrodome played host to some huge concerts over the years, particularly during the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Elvis Presley played to more than 200,000 fans during a run of six shows in the Dome in 1970, and Michael Jackson filled the place up at the height of his powers alongside his brothers on the Jacksons' legendary Victory Tour. Tejano-pop queen Selena appeared headed for crossover superstardom when she sold out the Astrodome during her final Rodeo appearance in 1995, barely a month before her death. NATHAN SMITH
Billy Blues We got more feedback about Billy Blues' omission from our first list than any other venue. The idea of a big, brassy blues club was quite a bit more viable 20 years ago than today. and much respect to The Big Easy for keeping the dream alive in Houston. Back in the '90s, Billy Blues was one of the Richmond Strip's flagship clubs, as known for the solid mix of local, regional and national acts that performed there as the giant saxophone out front. CHRIS GRAY
Blythe Spirits One frozen night in the early late 1980s -- one of those rare nights when it actually froze in Houston -- I saw my life flash before my eyes on the metal fire escape that led from Blythe Spirts to the street below. Helping a friend haul gear down the steps after a gig, I envisioned myself slipping on the icy stairs and being crushed by a refrigerator-sized bass cabinet. Fortunately, I lived to tell the story and remember what a cool place the upstairs pub (now it's Cecil's) on West Gray used to be.
There were plenty of folk acts that graced the stage and an open mike that often brought out the who's who of Houston songwriters, but even loud rock bands like Kings X would occasionally rattle the walls and collapse ear drums. JEFF BALKE
List continues on the next page.
Photo courtesy of domeshadows.com
Dome Shadows On Buffalo Speedway not far from the Astrodome, Dome Shadows was "the" spot for swinging white clientele beginning in December 1963, only months before the Beatles appeared for the first time on Ed Sullivan's show. The club featured a large house band (most notably the Jokers) and was the see-and-be-seen magnet for the young, smart, moneyed crowd.
Judge Roy Hofheinz sued the club for $1 million over the use of "Dome," which of course only made it more popular. By 1970, longtime Houston radio personality Paul Berlin was running the club, which was eventually heavily damaged by fire and closed, but not before hosting one of Ramones' first Houston shows in the late '70s. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
Goat's Head Soup In early 1994, I was trying to develop a taste for Fugazi-type music that never really took and decided I just had to see Surgery at Goat's Head Soup one weekend while home from UT-Austin. An oversized house right as the Westheimer curve widens into Montrose proper, the venue booked heavier alt-punk bands -- Emo's runoff, more or less -- while it was open, which wasn't long. (Sugery wasn't bad, though.) It burned down in June 1994; one of the owners was arrested and charged with felony arson a few weeks later. CHRIS GRAY
Butthole Surfers at the Island
Photo courtesy of Ben DeSoto
The Island Known variously as Rock Island, Paradise Island and just plain the Island, this former Mexican restaurant on Main Street was Ground Zero for Houston's punk rock scene between 1978 and 1983. In addition to providing a stage for local upstarts such as the Hates, Mydolls, Really Red and the Judy's, the Island also hosted legends from the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag and X to like-minded Texas groups Butthole Surfers, Big Boys and MDC. The atmosphere was rank and the threat of violence and police harassment lingered over many gigs, but the DIY scenester spirit of the place made it fertile ground for no-rules rock experimentalism. NATHAN SMITH
The Jester Adjacent to the huge apartment complexes of "Sin Alley" along Mid Lane between Westheimer and Richmond, The Jester was another Ground Zero for the Texas singer-songwriter movement and the original musical home of Townes van Zandt, who reportedly was often drunk and not very good at that point in his career. Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker and others also cut their teeth here. Management also had the tolerance and foresight to invite the great black folk blues players like Lightnin' Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb to perform there. A branch bank sits on the location today. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
Jimmy Menutis' Lounge A converted movie theater that became the center of a once bustling Telephone Road scene, Jimmy Menutis' Lounge was as close to real nightclub as it got in the early '60s. How cool was it? Roy Head recalls opening for Chuck Berry there and, according to Head, "everybody who was anybody played there." The list of national headliners who played the club is staggering: Louis Armstrong, Sam Cooke, Little Richard, Bo Diddley is only the tip of the list. The turbulent '60s and the change in musical styles caused Menutis to close the club. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
La Bastille Some have called this basement room off Market Square Houston's last true jazz club. In its nearly two decades, it hosted a pantheon of the genre's giants (Miles Davis, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Sarah Vaughan, Stan Getz), sometimes in multiple-night stands. La Bastille eventually widened its booking to accommodate rock acts like Carlos Santana before finally closing in 1979. CHRIS GRAY
Laveau's Laveau's namesake, infamous New Orleans voodoo queen Marie Laveau, makes Internet-excavating much information about the lower Montrose dive a little tricky; according to invaluable Houston flyer archive Ozone City Outrage, though, Hates shows were typical. Laveau's also appears to have been well-known for its Chinese New Year parties. CHRIS GRAY
List continues on the next page.
The Black Keys at Meridian, September 2008
Photo by Mark C. Austin
Meridian The Meridian seemed doomed from the start. The cavernous upstairs venue in Chinatown just down the street from Warehouse Live was awkwardly divided into a small room and a big room -- not unlike Warehouse, but with only one entrance and up a flight of stairs. But, it was still one of the coolest venues in town to see a band, thanks especially to the window view of the skyline that made it feel like you were hanging at some cool bar in New York.
To this day, one of the coolest and shortest sets of music I've ever seen was delivered from the Meridian's stage by the late Chris Whitley. He was deep into his battle with cancer when he appeared at a benefit and only managed to perform for a minute or two before exhaustion overcame him, but they were two of the most brilliant moments of heartfelt musicianship I've ever seen. Like Whitley, the Meridian left us all too soon. JEFF BALKE
The Mink This Main Street bar next door to Shoeshine Charlie's Big Top enjoyed a brief run as a beloved, anything-goes music venue that booked a host of metal, punk, hip-hop and indie acts in addition to regular standup comedy and DJ nights. Cheap drinks and live music made it a hipster haven, attracting a motley assortment of tattoos and facial hair that spent as much time smoking and socializing on its Spartan-but-cozy back patio as they did upstairs listening to music.
The place always seemed to be struggling to stay afloat, and after a couple of ownership changes in 2011-12, quietly closed its doors without much fanfare. Mango's on Westheimer has picked up some of the booking slack, but it lacks the dirty, sexy darkness of the Mink's heyday. NATHAN SMITH
Of Our Own OOO morphed out of the second Catacombs location. Local alternative press had been steadily criticizing the Ames people as capitalists and as people who didn't truly support the local scene. The Ames machine turned the criticism on its head by forming the Houston Community Assistance Project and setting OOO up as a non-profit. I saw Bruiser Barton and the Dry Heaves (now Beans Barton and the Bipeds) and Ry Cooder open for Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band there winter of 1970. Shortly after, the club folded. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
Pig & Whistle Long-since demolished, this ramshackle house on the corner of Alabama and Greenbriar was a snaky labyrinth of connected spaces which obscured site lines and made any heavily attended show there something of an effort. Herschel Berry, Southern Backtones, and a mish-mash of rockers and roots acts made the Pig a venue to check before you left home for a musical evening. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
Power Tools A long-gone cousin of Numbers, Power Tools is still a sacred name (not to mention a powerful memory) among Houston's industrial/goth/EBM crowd, with the downtown subterranean space now occupied by hip-hop/EDM-heavy Kryptonite. Like a few of its kin, Power Tools is practically un-Google-able, but one flyer we did find (again via Ozone City Outrage) offers a powerful whiff: Butthole Surfers. Mid-August. All ages. CHRIS GRAY
Reddi Room Just a block from Fitzgerald's, the Reddi Room played host to every significant Houston blues act with virtually zero fanfare. Milton Hopkins may not have had the lease in his pocket, but he owned this joint, playing there weekly for what seemed like a decade at least. The Room also brought out eclectic crowds of hipsters, River Oaks socialites, and Third Ward heroes. If Houston had a blues trail, there'd be a monument in front of the old Reddi Room. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
Sand Mountain Townes van Zandt heckled Steve Earle in this tiny lower Richmond venue. Along with the Jester, ground-zero for the Texas singer-songwriter movement, hosting Townes, Guy Clark, Steve Earle, Lightnin' Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, Jerry Jeff Walker, Eric Taylor, etc. Another spot where a monument should be erected. Drug and alcohol free...sure. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
Shimmy Shack The quintessential pre-douchification Washington Avenue rock dive, Shimmy Shack predated even Mary Jane's/Fat Cat's in its long march toward becoming, um, Pearl Bar, hosting prime '90s acts like Jawbox, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Ed Hall and Supersuckers along the way. CHRIS GRAY
List continues on the next page.
Scott Gertner listens up at SkyBar, March 2009
Photo by Larami Culbertson
SkyBar SkyBar occupied the top floor of the tallest building between Allen Parkway and the Medical Center for a decade, an oasis of uptown sophistication in bohemian Montrose. At the helm was genial musician-owner Scott Gertner, who held court among the city's top-shelf smooth-jazz/R&B acts until bounced by a landlord dispute in 2010. He's now looking for yet another perch after recently vacating even swankier digs at Houston Pavilions. CHRIS GRAY
John then-Cougar Mellencamp at Southern Star, 1982
Southern Star Amphitheater When Astroworld closed its doors, it was a sad day for kids of all ages across Houston, but the memories weren't limited to the Texas Cyclone. There were also the concerts at Southern Star Amphitheater. Essentially a huge stage in front of a massive parking lot, it was packed by some of the coolest rock and New Wave bands going, and it didn't hurt that your ticket got you free admission to the park. Missing Persons, Night Ranger, Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, New Order, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, R.E.M., The Cure, AC/DC, Power Station and more brought the best of the '80s to the place teens called home every summer. JEFF BALKE
Stuka When Stuka opened in January 2003, owner Tim Murrah made a big splash about its being the anti-Numbers, insisting he didn't care what people wore or what they drank as long as they had a taste for good music (meaning stuff he thought was in good taste). The interior was painted with German WWII bombers and other Nazi-era art, and it didn't take long for local Jews to take offense. Stuka's fate was sealed almost before it picked up any momentum at all, but we recall seeing a Dragons/Riverboat Gambler's bill there that was as good as anything going on. But the club never truly caught on. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
The Unicorn The Unicorn wasn't around terribly long, but in the early '90s the former supermarket at 59 and Tidwell managed to host many of the top names in alternative, punk and metal shortly before they got a lot bigger: Beastie Boys, Pantera, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Social Distortion, etc. The first few Lollapalooza lineups could have been hand-picked from the Unicorn archive at setlist.fm. CHRIS GRAY
Urban Art Bar It's hard to believe now, but downtown used to be a ghost town after dark, save a strange little underground scene in the northwest corner that included places like Power Tools and the Urban Art Bar. Though it wasn't around long, UAB was one of those places that made suburbanites feel like they were living in the big city when they got to see a show downtown and then swing over to La Carafe for a beer after. JEFF BALKE
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