Soon, for the first time since 1977, the storied 3600 block of Washington Avenue will be without a live music venue. Among others, Rockefeller's and Club Hey Hey have come and gone, and now, after ten years as a mainstay on the Houston rock/roots/country scene, it's the turn of the Fabulous Satellite Lounge. Landlords Hank and Marilyn Zwirek, who run nearby Star Pizza and own the buildings that house Rockefeller's and the former Leo's, have given Satellite manager Dickie Malone an April 15, 2003, deadline to vacate the premises, and Malone says he doubts he will stay open even that long.
The Zwireks need the club out of the way to ease the imminent move of Star Pizza II from its nearby South Heights Boulevard location -- where their lease is set to expire next April -- into the old Leo's building next door to the Satellite. They're concerned that parking for the Satellite will cripple their weekend dinner business. "We're going into that building April 1, and we've been watching every weekend when the Satellite's open, and there's nowhere that our customers are going to be able to park," says Marilyn Zwirek. "We tried to see if there was any way this was gonna work, and there just wasn't. His shows start at nine, and we've got a dinner crowd until 11:30."
For his part, Malone doesn't understand the Zwireks' parking fears. He says restaurants like Leo's and Primo's coexisted harmoniously with the block's nightclubs. "No matter how much business any of us had, there was never a problem. Parking was the least of our worries. You know, it was like, 'Bring 'em on.' We all helped each other, and I thought if the Satellite could have been there when he opened [Star], it would have helped his business, because there would have been more people there around who were hungry and who might want to get a pizza. Plus, the Satellite doesn't even open its doors until nine, three nights a week. And on those nights we're open, the majority of the people don't even show up until 10:30 or 11, and he closes by 11, so I never really saw the conflict there."
"He must just be blind or never go outside and take a walk down the block," counters Zwirek. "We've been studying the situation, and there's just no way it will work."
Contrary to rumor, there are no plans to tear down the Satellite to provide additional parking. The Zwireks say the subtracted demand will be addition enough. "It'll never be torn down -- not until we're dead," says Marilyn Zwirek. "There's nothing wrong with the Satellite building unless we get in there and determine that the floor's caving in, but we've been in there and it seems fine. It's just gonna be better for us as a storefront, which means a day business."
For his part, Hank Zwirek says that he is a preservationist, and then proves it by discoursing knowledgeably about the history of the strip and even about Joseph Finger, the renowned local architect who built what became Rockefeller's, and he adds that it's not just parking woes that will soon spell doom for the Satellite. He says he's just fed up with Malone's late rent payments and bounced checks. "I like to save institutions, I like old buildings, I don't wanna kill the Satellite, but it hasn't been functioning well for a long time. [Malone's] been telling me he's not making money and this and that, and I'm just like, 'Sorry. Maybe you should just move on to something else if you're always telling me that you're not making money.' He's bounced three checks on us, and finally I had him start paying with cashier's checks because I couldn't rely on him anymore. He's also been late, like seven days, nine days, on the rent."
Malone acknowledged the late payments and rubber checks, and also the inevitability of the club's shutdown at its current spot. Now there are three scenarios for the Satellite. One is that Malone will reopen the club somewhere else in the Heights, preferably along Washington. The second is for him to sell the club's name, fixtures and database lock, stock and barrel to other, unnamed investors who he says plan to reopen the club downtown. The third would be that the Satellite simply joins Club Hey Hey, the Bon Ton Room, Emo's and the Abyss in the graveyard of fabled Houston clubs.
Malone says he's booked up to the first week in January, and that he intends to honor all those bookings, and adds that a large liability insurance policy comes due that same week. He's leaning toward shutting the club down then, even though he would have an extra three months if he chose to remain open. Should the 52-year-old Malone close and not reopen, he plans to continue his 35-year-old music business career as a record producer. He's just finished a project with the Aztex side project Mexican Roots Trio and is also working with local rocker Shawn Pander.
Former Satellite manager David Beebe says not to worry about Malone. "Mark my words on this: Dickie Malone may be down and out, but he's been down and out before. He will resurface. He's like roaches. If you kill them, they will come back."
And so the end of an era looms. Back in the 1980s and '90s, going to this strip was the epitome of an urban night out. Rockefeller's had a red carpet out front. There were doormen and a swanky awning. If you tired of the music in one club, you could walk to a different one next door or across the street, where today only yuppie lofts now stand. To get the same experience now, you have to drive down the street to Pamland Central -- Pam Arnold's three-club cluster that includes Walter's on Washington, Silky's and Mary Jane's -- but since none of those clubs has the architectural grandeur of Rockefeller's, the experience isn't quite the same.
For many years, Rockefeller's was the showcase club in town. And a roster of acts that played in the former bank is as studded with bright stars as the night sky over Big Bend. Just to skim some of the cream off the top: James Brown, Chet Atkins, Ella Fitzgerald, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gil Scott-Heron, Fats Domino, Kris Kristofferson, Count Basie, Dwight Yoakam, John Lee Hooker, Tina Turner, Ray Charles and Dexter Gordon all played there. Stevie Ray Vaughan used to jam there every Monday for whoever was willing to give the doorman two bucks. That Rockefeller's had formerly been a bank seemed to make the acts that played there even more treasured than they already were.
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For its part, the Satellite -- which had the coolest bars in town -- launched the Hollisters, Miss Molly and Hadden Sayers on to the world. Both Ian Moore and Honeybrowne cut live albums there not long ago, while Jason and the Nashville Scorchers recently played what they have said will be their last show ever. Knoxville, Tennessee's V-Roys -- the South's answer to the Replacements -- played there every time through town back in their 1990s heyday. In recent years, the Satellite's schedule has come to be dominated by mid-level Austin acts such as Vallejo, Reckless Kelly, Soulhat, Patrice Pike and Bob Schneider's many musical personae.
Come next year, assuming the Satellite doesn't reopen, most of those acts will be performing at either the Continental Club, Walter's or the Rhythm Room, and the only time any of us will ever again hear a Gibson strummed in the 3600 block of Washington will be if we're invited to a wedding.
Jets to Brazil have canceled their entire upcoming U.S. tour, which was to include a stop in Houston. Details are vague, but their flacks released a statement saying one of the band members was sick If you missed the Gogol Bordello show last Thursday, you missed out on one of the most fun, thought-provoking, thrilling and destructive spectacles ever to come to Rudyard's -- or Houston, for that matter. Vocalist Eugene Hütz -- the Ukrainian Gypsy love child of Shane MacGowan and Charlie Chaplin -- leaped onto the stage clutching a bottle of Red Stripe and a cigarette, and in the next 90 minutes simply laid waste to Rudz. He knocked over about 20 chairs, snatched a small table out from under the noses of two alarmed patrons, flung "Connolly for Family Court Judge" election placards into the audience and snapped not one, not two, but three microphone chords, all while airtight Gypsy punk careened behind him on guitar, accordion, violin, drums and sax. Meanwhile, the über-sexy Go-Gogol Girls appeared from time to time, once as ice princess Soviet border guards in furry hats and aviator shades, another time as Dostoyevskian street beggars, and finally as what can only be described as Gypsy cheerleaders clashing cymbals and banging on huge bass drums. It was one of those nights that teetered on the edge of utter insanity, or maybe that was just Racket and his companion, who had smuggled in a flask of Spanish absinthe -- the only tipple equal to that evening's proceedings. You know what they say: Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder.