Out of the Past

Only in Houston

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 compiling 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 Rocks Off Facebook page, and our readers kept giving us name after name. So yes, there will be a Part 2.

The Axiom

Home to Houston's underground and indie music scene in the late '80s and early '90s, the Axiom occasionally featured touring acts, 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 ambience. JEFF BALKE

Blue Iguana

Where coke dealers met Rice students who met off-duty strippers. 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 Little Joe Washington used to burn this joint up. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH

The Bon Ton Room

What eventually morphed into Mary Jane's and ultimately Walter's 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


There may be no greater example of how Houston kills its live-music venues than the fact that Cardi's, which saw U2, Metallica, Ratt, Bon Jovi and countless other rock bands grace its stage, is now Spotlight Karaoke. A docu­mentary was even made about its '80s heyday. JEFF BALKE


Operated by Ames Productions and possessing no liquor license, South Post Oak club Catacombs was essentially an underage hangout that existed on ticket prices. Jeff Beck Group, Mothers of Invention, Grateful Dead and Jethro Tull played their first Houston gigs there before the venue eventually moved to Rice Village. The ZZ Top guys were regulars, particularly when Lightnin' Hopkins took the stage. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH

Club Hey Hey

Before Washington Avenue was sold to the douchebags and foodies, it was funky funky funky, and Pete Selin's Club Hey Hey was as jumping a spot as there was until it was razed. Wander into the Hey Hey after a Satellite show across the street, and Joe Ely or Richard Thompson might be sipping a cold one and listening to a local band. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH


Before its more famous Austin sibling opened, the Houston Emo's became notorious as a dirty, grungy rock dive featuring a noxious pool of black water and outdoor toilets. Besides hosting bands like Poor Dumb Bastards and Humungus among the filth, it was also apparently a primo spot to score drugs, get loaded and possibly even get laid. NATHAN SMITH

The Engine Room

Today the big hall on Pease bears little resemblance to the nicely decorated club with strategically placed beer tubs that hosted a slew of metal, hardcore and sleaze-rock bands in the late '90s and early '00s. 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 for acts like Richard Thompson, Storyville and Dick Dale, plus a slew of locals like Jesse Dayton and the Basics. Rudy T was a regular at the Monday bingo sessions. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH

International Ballroom

This former grocery store on the southwest side was basically an empty concrete husk with a stage inside, which made it an ideal, indestructible venue when metal bands like Tool and Slipknot hit Houston on their way to superstardom. It was a bit of a hellhole, but there was a huge, free parking lot outside. NATHAN SMITH

Liberty Hall

Springsteen played this short-lived Chene­vert venue on his first Texas tour, Billy Gibbons was a regular in his lime-green skintight polyester pants, Jimmy Reed was broadcast live from the stage and Lightnin' Hopkins practically owned the joint. In the mid-'70s, it was The Place to Be. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH

Local Charm

Rory Miggins's little Telephone Road joint was a beautiful place where the hipsters met the bluesers who met the hillbillies. Miggins always had a spot for Texas Johnny Brown, but he also made room for all sorts of up-and-comer alt-locals. About as old-school hippie as you could get. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH

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