Ghosts of Washington Avenue

Don't weep for Washington Avenue. One of Houston's oldest thoroughfares, it was a primary stagecoach route before eventually being paved, and the city's principal Austin highway in the pre-freeway days. The neighborhoods surrounding the three-mile strip between the Westcott traffic circle and downtown have been in pretty much constant flux since then, and probably always will be.

Nevertheless, Washington arrived at a grim milestone last week with the announcement that indie mecca Walter's on Washington would relocate to an undisclosed location — rumored to be a downtown warehouse near DiverseWorks just north of I-10 — in November. Since the late '70s, the avenue has been home to a sizable percentage of Houston's notable live-music venues. Although few of them were open at the same time, and fewer still at the same time within reasonable walking distance of each other, together these dozen or so venues opened their doors to thousands of performances.

Today, of course, bars that cater to Houston's young, affluent professionals — places such as Pearl Bar, Reign Lounge, Ei8ht and Block 21 — are the order of the day on Washington. Popping up seemingly every day, bringing more and more traffic and the attention of publications like The New York Times, they (as well as the apartments, townhomes, condominiums and shopping centers constantly under construction on the avenue) are driving property values up and small businesses such as Walter's out. And so it goes.

Noise thought the best way to mark this moment in history would be to take a virtual tour through Washington's rich musical past. We weren't the only ones; local musician Jeff Balke of Orange Is In posted a similar blog last week at We would like to thank him, as well as the dozens of people who responded to our call for Washington Avenue memories on Hands Up Houston, for the inspiration and assistance.

(Note: we were unable to unearth enough information on the Washington Avenue Showbar and Cosmos to include them here, but they should not be forgotten either.)

The Abyss
Address: 5913 Washington
Years Open: 1993-1998
Today: Professional offices

Description: The Abyss took over from the Vatican as Houston's hard 'n' heavy venue of choice, hosting sub-arena alternative, grunge, punk and metal acts until the dawn of the nü-metal era.

Alumni: Jesus and Mary Chain, Spiritualized, Curve, Flaming Lips, Sugar, Afghan Whigs, Killdozer, Quiet Riot, Limp Bizkit, Lush, Weezer

Pat & Pete's Bon Ton Room
Address: 4216 Washington
Years Open: 1990-1993
Today: Pearl Bar

Description: Opened by former Club Hey Hey owners Pat and Pete Selin, the Bon Ton hosted local, regional and national blues, R&B and roots-rock acts and often gave out free beer and hot dogs. "Watch your ass on Washington Avenue," Pete Selin once told the Houston Press.

Alumni: Arc Angels, Beausoleil, Subdudes, Marcia Ball, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Tailgators, Paladins

Local All-Stars: Carolyn ­Wonderland, Townes Van Zandt, Pete Mayes, Ezra Charles & the Works, Miss Molly

Club Hey Hey
Address: 3716 Washington
Years Open: 1987-1990
Today: Apartment complex

Description: Homey blues bar opened by future Bon Ton Room owners Pat and Pete Selin. Located across the street from Rockefeller's, the two venues shared customers and occasionally performers — Balke remembers Albert Collins, who was playing at Hey Hey, and Rockefeller's featured act B.B. King once meeting in the middle of Washington for an impromptu jam session.

Local All-Stars: Albert Collins, the Hollisters

Fabulous Satellite Lounge
Address: 3616 Washington
Years Open: 1992-2003
Today: Hair salon

Description: Owned by controversial Houston nightlife personality Dickie Malone, the Fabulous Satellite Lounge prospered throughout the alt-country heyday of the '90s and gave Austin artists a home away from home. The club's landlord refused to renew its lease in 2002 so customers at Star Pizza next door would have an easier time parking — one of the first intimations of what Washington Avenue would eventually become.

Alumni: Whiskeytown, Wilco, Son Volt, Old 97's, Dick Dale, Drive-By Truckers, Link Wray, Southern Culture on the Skids, Yo La Tengo, Red House Painters, Exene Cervenka, Vallejo, Royal Crown Revue, Reverend Horton Heat, Luna, Reckless Kelly, Patrice Pike/Sister 7, Bob Schneider, Storyville, Iguanas, Ian Moore, Mojo Nixon, Todd Snider, the Gourds, David Garza, Los Lonely Boys

Local All-Stars: Jesse Dayton/Road Kings, Robert Earl Keen, Banana Blender Surprise, El Orbits, the Hollisters, Trish Murphy, Chris Masterson, Lupe Olivares, the Basics

Mary Jane's Fat Cat
Address: 4216 Washington
Years Open: 1994-2006
Today: Pearl Bar

Description: The former Bon Ton Room and Shimmy Shack blossomed into Houston's premier place to catch touring indie and punk shows through the last half of the '90s and the first half of this decade; Walter's owner Pam Robinson bought Mary Jane's in 2002 and ran it until it closed in 2006. The staff was friendly unless you got on their bad side, as Florida agit-punks Anal Cunt once found out. "Pretty sure at the end of the night all of AC's tires were all slashed, and I think the bartender showed them the special bar shotgun and told them to get fucked," "AWAKE" commented on Hands Up Houston.

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray