Just a year ago, the Houston Press dubbed Satellite Bar one of the city’s hottest music venues. There’s a lot that makes it appealing to patrons. It’s on the METRORail line, so it’s a quick trip from Midtown or downtown to the club's East End digs on Harrisburg. It boasts a killer beer list, with hand-selected craft suds from stellar breweries. The staff is knowledgeable and friendly. And the space has a huge outdoor patio that makes you feel like you’re at an especially hip family reunion when its picnic tables are filled.
Having those tables filled is a priority, of course, but the bar’s operators have noticed how infrequently that occurs on nights when it’s hosting live-music events with cover charges. Because the bar has filled its calendar with live music since its 2015 inception, it’s always seemed like a music venue first, a bar second. But at its heart Satellite is a bar, according to its owners, who plan to bring more focus to that aspect of the business.
The good news is the bar will be opening earlier each day. The trade-off is that shows will be less frequent; many will be no-cover. Co-owner Eric Finley was good enough to help explain the shift.
"We are going to focus on being a bar Monday through Thursday. We may have an occasional live-music event on those days, but it will not be often,” he says. “We are waiting on one last confirmation and we will release our new weekly schedule that will include a variety of events and drink specials that we think our local community will find appealing.
“We are going to continue to book live music on the weekends, but if we do not find an event to fill our weekend calendar, we will still be open," he adds.
Finley says the free shows will run on a case-by-case basis. The simple reason cover charges will be dropped from some is “to avoid confusion with our customers knowing when a night is free or not,” Finley explains.
The change allows Satellite to compete with other establishments as a bar with music, rather than a cover-charging music venue that might scare off clientele just seeking a good brew. This model has worked well for other Houston nightspots, most notably Nightingale Room, which rarely charges a cover for its music events. Finley believes the revision will actually help draw more people to Satellite shows. Because the club is navigating new waters, it’s also able to chart its own course with some innovative ideas to bolster audience attendance.
“Satellite opened with the sole purpose of booking great shows and promoting traveling acts and local bands," notes Finley. "We want to continue supporting this goal, but we have found it difficult for [various] reasons. Free shows will get you greater numbers and patrons that might not normally attend. That is obvious.
"The problem with free shows is that they have the potential to water down the live-music scene in this city," Finley adds. "There are places that have great bands playing a free show in the back and no one is paying attention to them. They are nearly background noise. When we do have shows, we will make it our priority to keep the bands at the center of attention.
“We are also working on some ideas to allow patrons to support bands at the sum they want," he continues. "Another idea we are going to try is to offer a paid wristband that allows them to drink from a discounted menu. This way people can support the bands financially, but get something back. We already offer the cheapest drink prices of any venue, and this extra incentive will only help encourage people to contribute to acts.”
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The Satellite's new bar hours are slated to begin with this Friday’s free Ringo Deathstarr show. From then on, the bar will open at 4 p.m. weekdays and at noon Fridays-Sundays.
The changes won’t stop there, either, Finley adds. The plan is to revamp the business model to help attract even more business to the East side.
“New hours, new menu, food trucks on site every day, and we are making the place more comfortable. We really want to highlight the back patio. More seating, games and a few other surprises,” Finley promises. “The East End and Magnolia Park need more places that allow people to get out and have a good time. Come July 14, we will offer that, seven days a week.
"There have been a few cool joints open up over here recently, and we hope more come out and join us," he says. "This is a great part of town and we are excited to open our doors to a greater audience. “