UPDATED: Houston's Top 25 Closed Music Venues
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears at Walter's on Washington
Photo courtesy of Mark C. Austin
UPDATED (Tuesday, 5 p.m.) to correct an error in the Club Hey Hey item.
Before we go any further, this isn't over. Houston fancies itself as forever moving forward, a "city of the future," but in a relatively short time span -- the past 40, maybe 50 years -- it's managed to rack up an impressive number of live-music stages that have come and gone, and left quite a lasting impression.
So, when Rocks Off's Nathan Smith recently suggested a list of Houston's top bygone music venues, the names just kept coming. And coming. They're still coming. Soon enough the standard ten became 20, which easily became 25. And that was before we mentioned this idea on our Facebook page, and our readers kept giving us name after name.
So yes, there will be a Part 2. Again, we welcome your suggestions. Let's go for 50.
The entryway of the Axiom in the early '90s
Photo by Jay Lee/Courtesy of Lisa Sullivan & J.R. Delgado
The Axiom Home to Houston's underground and indie music scene in the late '80s and early '90s, the Axiom occasionally featured a touring act, the most famous of whom was a very young Nirvana in 1989. The no a/c or heat only added to the sweaty or shivering ambiance. JEFF BALKE
Blue Iguana Where coke dealers met Rice students who met off-duty strippers. Early porn shots of Madonna with motorcycle gangs passed for bathroom-wall décor. With its gnarled, twisted dead oak tree behind the bar extending to the ceiling and a jukebox that defied categorization, there hasn't been a bar like it, before or since. Horseshoe, Sundowners, Southern Backtones, and Jay Hooks used to burn this joint up. But most importantly, no Blue Iguana, no Little Joe Washington. They bought him a guitar, kept it at the bar, and made sure the little guy made some money each week when he was at a low point. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
The Bon Ton Room What eventually morphed into Mary Jane's and ultimately Walter's before surrendering to the Pearl Bar was once a damn fine rock club that featured, what seemed like every month, the Arc Angels blowing the doors off the place. JEFF BALKE
Cabaret Voltaire Some of the greatest punk and hardcore bands of all time played this bombed-out house on the east side of downtown. It was dirty, dank and filled with kids, exactly as every punk venue should be. JEFF BALKE
Cardi's There may be no greater example of how Houston kills its live music venue than the fact that Cardi's, a bar that saw U2, Metallica, Ratt, Bon Jovi and countless other rock bands grace its stage, is now Spotlight Karaoke. There was even a documentary made about its heyday in the '80s. Even driving past that strip mall on Westheimer and Fountain View is depressing. JEFF BALKE
Catacombs Operated by Ames Productions and possessing no liquor license, Catacombs, at 3003 S. Post Oak, was essentially an underage hangout that existed solely on ticket prices. Jeff Beck Group, Mothers of Invention, Grateful Dead, and Jethro Tull played their first Houston gigs there. The venue eventually moved to the corner of University and Kirby in Rice Village, but closed shortly after moving to be reopened as Of Our Own.
The guys in ZZ Top were regulars, particularly when Lightnin' Hopkins took the stage at this uber-eclectic club. The flowering of the Catacombs paralleled the flowering of middle-class teen drug culture in Houston. It also continued what was becoming a Houston tradition of mixing genres on the same bill. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
The Allisons at Club Hey Hey, circa 1989
Photo courtesy of Kevin Tate
Club Hey Hey
Before Washington Avenue was sold to the douchebags and foodies, it was funky funky funky. Pete Selin had a New Orleans lean, and his Club Hey Hey was as jumping a spot as there was until it was razed to build those damn apartments. A virtual home base for
the Hollisters the Rounders (who became the Hollisters), you could wander into the Hey Hey after a Satellite show and Joe Ely or Richard Thompson might be sipping a cold one and listening to a local band. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
Emo's Before it's more famous sibling opened in Austin, the Houston Emo's became notorious as a dirty, grungy rock dive featuring a noxious pool of black water and outdoor toilets. In addition to hosting bands like Poor Dumb Bastards, Humungus and anyone else sick enough to ignore the filth, it was also apparently a primo spot to score drugs, get loaded and possibly even get laid. SXSW, this was not, but the old dump remains a fondly remembered home of the '90s rock scene in Houston. NATHAN SMITH
Teri Greene (left) and Jeremy Horton at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 1999
Photo courtesy of Richard Griesser
The Engine Room The big hall on Pease still sporadically host events as the Engine Room, but it bears little resemblance now to the club that hosted a slew of metal, hardcore and sleaze rock bands back in the late '90s and early '00s. It was a nicely decorated spot, full of painted canvases and polished metal accents with strategically placed beer tubs and a few pool tables in the back. I'm pretty sure Clutch must have played the place at least 30,000 times back in the day. NATHAN SMITH
Fabulous Satellite Lounge The roots rockin'-est joint in town for ten years or so. The bar snaked along the wall like a badly broken arm making it an odd room, but acts like Richard Thompson, Storyville, Dick Dale, Blasters, Beat Farmers, Southern Culture on the Skids and a slew of rocking locals like Jesse Dayton and the Basics made this the weekend place to be until the Continental Club arrived. And you could get your ass whipped at those Monday bingo sessions if you held your mouth wrong. Rudy T was a regular. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
International Ballroom This former grocery store on the Southwest side was basically an empty concrete husk with a stage inside of it, which made it an ideal, indestructible venue for metal bands like Tool and Slipknot hitting Houston on their way to superstardom. The wide-open floor space made for city's most intense mosh pits back in the '90s. It was a bit of a hellhole, but there was a huge, free parking lot that was the best thing about the place. NATHAN SMITH
Liberty Hall This short-lived venue is revered by the '60s set who hung around for the '70s. Springsteen played the Hall on his first Texas tour, Billy Gibbons was a regular in his lime-green skin-tight polyester pants, Jimmy Reed was broadcast live from the stage, Lightnin' practically owned the joint. The great blues woman Tracy Nelson still has the poster from the night she was billed with Hopkins framed and hanging in her living room. In the mid-Seventies, it was The Place to be. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
Local Charm Rory Miggins' little Telephone Road joint was a beautiful place where the hipsters met the bluesers who met the hillbillies. Miggins always had room for Texas Johnny Brown and the old school blues acts, but he also made room for all sorts of up-and-comer alt-locals. Another place where we used to catch Jesse Dayton early on. About as old school hippie as you could get. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
The abandoned Love Street building still stands next to Buffalo Bayou... for now.
Photo by Chris Gray
Love Street Light Circus Feel Good Machine The epicenter of Houston's psychedelic-music explosion. Both David Adickes and the International Artists label were involved in the Love Street operation. Adickes' pulsing light shows enhanced the music of bands like 13th Floor Elevators, Moving Sidewalks, and Johnny Winter. On July 4, 1969, ZZ Top played their first gig ever at Love Street. The "Zonk Room" featured headrests and couch cushions on the floor.
In what qualifies as one of either the weirdest or most monumental booking ever, on one Sunday Love Street presented an afternoon show with 13th Floor Elevators, Lightnin' Hopkins, and renowned bluegrass band Flatt and Scruggs. By 1970, International Artists was disintegrating and the historic Love Street was shuttered after being open less than three years. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
Late Houston bluesman Oscar Perry (center) at Mary Jane's, 2001
Photo courtesy of RIchard Griesser
Mary Jane's/Fat Cat's This small dive on Washington (in the space now occupied by Salt Bar) was once one of the top places in town to catch punk, alternative and hardcore acts swinging through town on tour. Why did it have two names? I'm not sure there was ever a good explanation for that. I think it was Mary Jane's for a while before it was bought by Washington Ave maven Pam Robinson, who decided to alter the name, but the old one stuck. Not knowing was part of the place's strange appeal. NATHAN SMITH
Music Hall I always associated the Sam Houston Coliseum with Paul Boesch and Houston Wrestling, so I never saw many music shows there. But I did mourn the closing and subsequent destruction of the Houston Music Hall, the Coliseum's baby brother. The art-deco venue was on the same Bagby property as the bigger hall, and watching a show here felt like sitting in the high-school auditorium for the class talent show. Except everyone in this talent show was a rock god or goddess.
My personal favorite nights there were Joe Jackson touring on "Body and Soul," a great show where Joe bitched at the hall's security team for making a fan stop dancing; and, sitting about 10 rows away from Cyndi Lauper, whose big voice didn't fit her teeny-tininess, as she belted out songs on her "True Colors" tour. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
Old Quarter There should be a monument at this downtown joint where Townes held court and frequently did damage to himself and others. Owners Rex Bell and Dale Soffar "got it," and they opened their stage to a veritable who's who of folkies and bluesmen who made the Houston scene one of the most legit of the mid-Seventies. Townes recorded Live at the Old Quarter, considered by many to be one of the top singer-songwriter recordings of all time, there; Bell operates a similar operation in Galveston these days. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
A crowd at Proletariat's "Rock Box" DJ night, mid-2000s
Photo courtesy of Matt Marrand
Proletariat Buzzworthy indie-rock, hip-hop and electronica acts come through Houston venues every week these days -- and pack them -- but this lower Richmond room, which moved into the Blue Iguana's quarters in 2002, saw Houston's more discerning (or faddish) music fans through some pretty lean times. By the time "the Prolo" closed in early 2008, it had planted many seeds for our current hipster boom. CHRIS GRAY
Pik N Pak Pik N Pak was a Montrose icehouse across the street from Rudyard's that played host to grizzled regulars and a work-week happy hour crowd by day and put on wild punk and alternative rock freakouts at night. Perhaps surprisingly (or perhaps not), both crowds tolerated each other. Local legends like deadhorse, the Mike Gunn, Sprawl and many more played some of their first (and best) shows at the rickety old joint before it was torn down in 1993. NATHAN SMITH
The late Scott Daniels of Horseshoe at the Rhythm Room, 1999
Photo courtesy of Richard Griesser
The Rhythm Room This underrated hallway of a music venue on Washington Avenue had one of the best sound systems in town and was the perfect size for local bands and regional touring acts. JEFF BALKE
Rockefeller's I miss seeing Rockefeller's stage from the glass doors as you approached from Washington, everything inside red and black, black and white portraits of Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King and others who'd played there on the walls. I miss thinking every time I entered, "Holy shit, this used to be a bank!" and looking over my shoulder to see what the Houston Post's Bob Claypool might be writing about the show. I miss sitting in the balcony, bobbing my head to Kirk Whalum's sax. I miss that local comic who opened a lot of the shows with his stand-up act, the guy with the funny face and biting, observant, hilarious bits. What was his name? Oh, yeah -- Bill Hicks.
I'll never forget sitting rapt in my wooden chair at a too-small table, fewer than 20 feet away from Ray Freaking Charles. Or one night, when my wife and I saw The Dirty Dozen Brass Band there. Only a dozen people braved a stormy Friday night to attend the show. The band's trumpet player looked down at us from the stage and said, "Where the fuck is everyone at?! Doesn't Houston like to party on Friday night?!" We just shrugged our shoulders. He shrugged his back and he and the band launched into a 90-minute, almost private concert for us. Classic. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
Sam Houston Coliseum Beginning in 1937, the Sam Houston Coliseum became the city's all-purpose arena, playing host to Paul Boesch's Houston Wrestling for years as well as the Houston Huskies, our first pro ice-hockey team. It was also the go-to arena for touring rock bands for decades, and the stage was graced by Mt. Rushmore-type legends including Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and even Billy Gibbons' Moving Sidewalks. It was demolished in 1998 to make way for the Hobby Center. NATHAN SMITH
Tower Theater Now El Real and before that a video rental store, this was once one of the coolest live-music venues in town. I once went to see McCauley-Shenker Group there (don't ask) and I got the treat of seeing this unknown opener called The Black Crowes. Needless to say, there wasn't much point of staying after the opening set. JEFF BALKE
The Vatican Appropriately named given its former incarnation as a fairly sizable church, this performance venue on the west end of Washington Avenue hosted Pearl Jam at the outset of their career and Nine Inch Nails, both as a headliner and an opener for Peter Murphy. JEFF BALKE
Walter's on Washington Walter's became the last bastion of rock and roll on Washington Avenue, a street that was once lined with live music clubs from Rockefeller's to the Fabulous Satellite Lounge. The grimy dive stood in stark contrast to its neighbors once Washington became the epicenter of douche-bro nightclubs, pumping out mean hardcore and death-metal in the midst of blocks and blocks of thumping dance pop. The music is the same, but it's a much different experience at the club's new location on Naylor Street. NATHAN SMITH
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