There are no shortage of stages in Houston, and no shortage of acts to fill them either. Every night of the week, there’s some kind of quality live entertainment going down, even if you might have to drive a while to find it. But not every venue is created equal. Some of them are run-down, grime-caked hellholes that smell like last night’s vomit just farted. And some of them, on the other hand, are lame.
Checking out music venues is part of our job here at Houston Press Music, and believe us, we’ve got plenty to say about all of them. We can tell you which venues are the best for getting laid, getting married, getting stoned or just getting away from it all. We can also tell you which ones charge the most outrageous drink prices in town and which have zero parking anywhere. But all that’s for another article or 20.
Today, we’re focusing in on the five hottest music venues in Houston right now. This list would’ve looked different a year ago, and it’ll probably look plenty different a few months down the road — after all, we haven’t even been let inside White Oak Music Hall yet. But these are the music joints that are doing it right, night after night, right here and right now. They’re our five favorite places in Houston to catch a show, and most of the coolest stuff in town is going down here, at the moment. So, call up your girl and take that stupid fucking backpack off before you walk in, because these are the places to see and be seen in the scene.
One of Houston’s hottest music venues is also one of its oldest. Sitting downstairs and chatting with neighbors over a craft brew at Rudyard’s British Pub — long hailed as “Montrose’s Living Room” – plenty of patrons often have little idea that there is a sweaty, noisy, rock and roll maelstrom raging overhead. Upstairs, however, lies a fully realized music venue that has been a pillar of Houston’s home-grown music scene for decades. Lately, however, it’s become an important touring outpost, too, hosting bookings from Pegstar while White Oak Music Hall gets finished up.
Rudz’s smallish corner stage boasts a loud sound system that has blasted out the likes of Night Demon, Acid Mothers Temple, the Blood Royale and Boz Boorer of late. Or head up there on a Monday to hone your yuk-yuk chops at the venue’s comedy open-mike night. 2010 Waugh, rudyardspub.com
4. EASTDOWN WAREHOUSE
Eastdown Warehouse's intentions are highly aligned with the artists who play there. There’s no big, corporate money backing Adam Rodriguez’s venue, as far as I know. It seems to be entirely a D.I.Y. effort, something looking to spring from humble beginnings (it was a mattress warehouse in a former life) to something that helps define Houston music. That makes the venue no different from the many local acts who play there.
Sharing those similarities and embracing them is helping the venue succeed, it seems. The people who run the place know it’s important to work with grassroots organizations like Visionary Noise, RebelRadioHouston.net and others who have staged huge festivals there in the past. That reputation, along with staff and amenities upgrades over the years, has also given Eastdown the momentum to book bigger nationals, groups like MDC (last week), Black Dahlia Murder (this Friday) and Tsunami Bomb (in June), all bands once reserved for spaces like Fitz and House of Blues. 850 McKee, facebook.com/Eastdown-Warehouse
3. SATELLITE BAR
There’s the area that people think of as the East End — Warehouse Live, Ninfa’s on Navigation, etc. — and then there’s the real East End. That’s where Satellite Bar resides: wayyy down on Harrisburg, farther than any hipster dared travel as recently as just a couple of years ago. In many ways, Satellite Bar is just a neighborhood watering hole. It’s next door to a Whataburger (convenient!), there’s a gigantic, ancient satellite dish in the back, and it’s got a terrific selection of arcade games, like Street Fighter II. The drinks are pretty cheap, and the folks are pretty friendly. But what really brings people out this far east is the music.
Run by Houston House of Creeps lifer Scott Doyle, Satellite Bar has a tiny stage tucked into a corner that has played host to weird and interesting locals like Something Fierce, Jealous Creatures and the Wiggins as well as offbeat touring acts such as Japanese rockers Mugen Hoso or Canadian grind outfit Fuck the Facts. One of the windows next to the stage pops out, giving the beer drinkers assembled on the venue’s vast back lawn a great opportunity to see and hear the mayhem going on inside. 6922 Harrisburg, satellitehtx.com
2. THE NIGHTINGALE ROOM
If a Houston music venue has enough buzz to make Austin take note, you might want to visit soon. A city as inundated with music rooms as our neighbors to the west murmuring about a club here is something to be proud of indeed. That’s what Nightingale Room owner Mike Criss encountered on a recent trip to the state capital, which was a pleasant surprise for him, but not that astonishing to those who have been to Criss’s Main Street establishment.
A number of factors have contributed to the Nightingale’s early success and relevance to the scene, but a couple that must be noted are its rafters-high stage, which literally elevates the music above all else here and attracts walk-ins; and a bar staff that meets a skill level demanded by Criss, one of the city’s best-known craft cocktail artists. And they’re not just skilled, they’re exceptionally friendly. Stop by and meet Matt and Saul, two of our favorites, who always offer a smile and know their music. That’s the Nightingale’s biggest strength. Everyone – from Criss, a songwriter himself, to talent buyer Mark C. Austin, who encourages potential artists to have an established social-media presence, to staff and patrons – is music-oriented. 308 Main, nightingaleroom.com
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1. RAVEN TOWER
Raven Tower can feel a bit like two different bars in one. One side of the venue is a covered outdoor stage, hawking beers and cocktails beneath the deconstructed remains of an old machine shop. Pegstar booking ensures that there’s always a quality act onstage, often locals. For those who’d prefer to skip the music, though, a quick trip out back reveals a spiffy, modern take on a classic Houston icehouse with a full bar, games, picnic tables and another small stage. Both sides of the venue are typically crowded with some of the coolest cats within biking distance of the near northside.
Of course, if you really want to see why the Raven Tower is one of the hottest spots in town, you’ve got to climb the tower itself. The bar’s namesake, an elevated bachelor pad turned cocktail lounge, is an intimate little spot featuring some of the best views in Houston. Its roof is definitely the best place to get a glimpse of White Oak Music Hall, Raven Tower’s still-mysterious big brother next door that’s a shoo-in for this list next time. 310 North, raventower.net
Written by Nathan Smith and Jesse Sendejas Jr.