Houston Music

St. John's/River Oaks Land Deal Said to Include Blanco's

The Houston Chronicle reported Tuesday that private River Oaks prep school St. John's has purchased a 13-acre tract of land that includes Blanco's, central Houston's only remaining traditional country-western music venue (or "honky-tonk"). However, the school's headmaster said there were no immediate plans to redevelop the property.

"We will be meeting with them shortly to discuss how best to move forward," Mark Desjardins told reporter Nancy Sarnoff via email. "We really want to take our time and thoughtfully and strategically consider how to best incorporate this land into fulfilling our mission as a school and partner in the Houston community."

Blanco's was built as a day-care center in the early '70s but became a different sort of playpen when it was bought by the late Barry DeBakey, son of famous Houston heart surgeon Michael DeBakey, about ten years later. It is now owned by Barry's son Barry C. Debakey and Karin Barnes, who manages the bar.

Never open on the usual kick-up-your-heels night, Saturday (which is reserved for private parties), over the years Blanco's has hosted a litany of local, regional and occasionally Nashville country artists, including Chris Wall, Cooder Graw, Hollisters, Jim Lauderdale, Dale Watson, Gary P. Nunn, Derailers, Cornell Hurd Band, and local acts including Miss Leslie & Her Juke Jointers, Amber Digby, Snit's Dog & Pony Show and Mike Stinson.

It managed to endure the opening of nearby Goode's Armadillo Palace, which started booking many artists who had had a virtual lock on Blanco's, and took some criticism in recent years for hosting cover bands and not drawing a younger crowd or attracting newer acts. Still, Blanco's current calendar is more than solid, featuring Jesse Dayton and Jason Allen as well as Digby, Hurd, Derailers and Watson.

But overall, Blanco's opened as an approximation of a traditional Texas honky-tonk, and that's exactly what it has remained. The one thing it did change, installing an Internet jukebox, was a bad idea (in our opinion).

How much longer it will stay that way is now uncertain.

Previously owned by the Taub family, the tract bought by St. John's would increase the size of the school's land holdings by 33 percent and also includes the River Oaks Plant House, a fortune teller, and a parking lot leased by St. Luke's United Methodist Church, the Chronicle reported.

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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