The Heavy-Metal Past of a Beloved Houston Karaoke Joint
Photo by Alexa Crenshaw
Spotlight Karaoke is a popular Galleria-area destination that has been open for more than 15 years now. Located at Westheimer and Fountainview, it holds a large space with several rooms' worth of karaoke, and an adjacent store equipped with scads of karaoke music and machines.
A man named Charlie Chang is Spotlight's general manager, running both the Fountainview location and the newer one in Midtown, plus the karaoke shop. He's also a closet metalhead, and remembers frequenting Cardi's, the club that once stood in Spotlight Karaoke's place.
"I have to say that nothing's lasted in that spot as long as we have; we've been there as Spotlight Karaoke for 15 years," says Chang. "But Cardi's, man, that was just a huge thing. They had so many party times [laughs], and so many big names in heavy music played there."
Reminiscing, Chang attributed his rites of youth and rock and roll glory to Cardi's, which hosted an encyclopedia of '80's hard-rock and hair-metal icons: Lillian Axe, Megadeth, Pantera, Madame X, Styx, Lita Ford, Zebra, Anthrax and more, but also U2, INXS, and Joe Cocker, among others. The club came after a place called Fool's Gold, which was central to that era's growing honky-tonk trend, when disco clubs in Houston were being replaced by country-western joints. Then, in came all leather and spandex of the '80s in full force.
"The Cardi's spot did really feel different years later when we took it over," says Chang. "There's a lot of wide-open space in this building and you could go in different rooms, which worked out for all this music and stuff happening then, and now it is what it is today."
Cardi's opened in 1981 and and lasted until 1988, or at least was registered under that name for that length of time. (Some reports have it closing around 1985.) It's said the bar was called Cardi's because the owner's wife loves Bacardi. A different, unrelated venue known as Cardi's 2000 later opened at 9301 Bissonnet, current site of The Palace Gentleman's Resort, and lasted until at least the mid-2000s.
"Some of those bands from [the original] Cardi's came back recently," notes Chang. "They were meeting and taking a lot of pictures under the direction of a man named Hank who actually used to work at Cardi's."
That would be Hank Balz, a filmmaker who is now putting together a documentary about the scene at Cardi's. Rocks Off originally told you about his film back in 2010, but he's still working on it and says he plans to finish the work, now titled The Magnificient Metal Journey, within the next few months.
"This is a historic place...this is holy ground," says Balz. "Cardi's is what brought heavy metal to Houston, really creating and making that scene happen.
"Not only did Cardi's bring the metal explosion, they brought all the different things that came with metal during the 80's," he adds. "Cardi's brought death metal, heavy metal, and then a little punk too."
However, Balz says he wasn't blown away by punk artists like Black Flag, Dead Kennedys and Iggy Pop who performed there, and that Cardi's was really more of a heavy-metal club to him. He thought the punk scene was more happening in other local joints at the time, Balz explains, saying he was most excited about metal bands like Pantera, Motörhead and Metallica.
The Ask Willie D Archives Houston's Top 10 Hipster Bars, Clubs & Icehouses 2014 Today's 10 Most Promising Young Metal Bands Hip-Hop's Seven Best Breakup Songs Houston's Top 10 Rooftop Bars and Lounges
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.