As owner Sara Fitzgerald walks through her beloved Houston venue at the corner of White Oak and Studemont, her voice brightens when she speaks of all the upgrades and improvements now occurring at her namesake establishment.
We peek through the back door to the patio, where tables, chairs and night lights will soon play host to customers enjoying food-truck fare from the parking lot. Fitzgerald’s face brightens as I can tell we are thinking the same thing: It’s warm and inviting, the kind of place you’d expect to relax on an evening with friends after work or just hanging out.
With the liquor license coming shortly and the club's booking calendar nearly full, Fitzgerald is excited about all the prospects and good changes coming her way. It’s easy to share in her enthusiasm, too. Houstonians who are even remotely interested in live music know and love Fitzgerald’s.
Reminded of this, Fitzgerald nods and recalls some of music's biggest names who have played her club.
“So many, we had so many,” she says. “Tina Turner, Stevie Ray Vaughan, it’s even rumored Elvis played here long ago.”
While we meander through the paint cans, saws, fresh wood and a salty carpenter named Jim, it still feels like Fitzgerald’s despite the cosmetic adjustments. Standing at dead center of the room and looking at the downstairs stage, Fitzgerald reminisces about all the talent that has crossed it. From country to rock to metal to punk, the venue has hosted every kind of music there is.
That edgy feel is important to a lot of Fitzgerald’s longtime customers. The club has survived gentrification and missed the Crate & Barrel-esque makeover that much of the Heights has experienced, thank goodness. You could even argue that its success helped spawn the cleanup on Studemont and the surrounding area. At the very least, you can definitely attribute the local business success to Fitzgerald’s.
Sara Fitzgerald knows this, too.
“When I started here [in 1977], none of these businesses were here,” she smiles, recalling when the corner was just her, a nightclub and a floral shop nearby. Now, walk-up eateries, bars and clubs surround her, and those local customers have come to expect a certain level of decor and hospitality.
Here, Fitzgerald's did not disappoint, either
“You have to see the bathrooms!” Fitzgerald almost gushes as we walk into the newly tiled, brightly lit and pleasantly open restroom. The smell of fresh paint, spackle and cleanliness is a welcome change to the aging landmark that once had a black-walled, claustrophobic, two-stall bathroom (toilet paper optional) with one light, ample graffiti, and a sink without soap or hand towels.
It’s hard to imagine that anyone wouldn’t appreciate the care that Fitzgerald extends to her customers by providing them a space they want to use. Sure, clean bathrooms may not be “punk,” but when was the last time you saw hardcore gutter kids in the Heights anyway?
Times change, and upgrades to any business are necessary. And while Fitzgerald’s can now boast the classiest bathrooms on the block, that doesn’t change the quality of musical acts the venue plans to continue booking.
And improvements are also on those stages from sound to lights. Fitzgerald laughs about piecing together PA equipment to host shows after the last tenants left rather abruptly.
“I just brought what I had at home,” she says. “We will make it work; we always have.”
She smiles, recalling the club's earliest days, when Fitzgerald borrowed a spotlight from a friend; it turned out to be more than 50 years old.
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“You just find stuff that will do until you can do better,” she affirms.
That kind of ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit has kept Fitzgerald and her club successful for many years. It is in fact still open, despite the ongoing renovations. A new lighting system and PA just arrived Thursday, according to new production manager Shawn Walsh, also the club's new lead sound engineer. Booking agent Courtney Walker promises the best shows yet, and gave her picks for ten upcoming Fitz shows not to miss:
Tonight: Vita and the Woolf with Slow Meadow, Eli and Super City
Saturday: Elk Records Showcase with Diamante Electrico, La Sien and Yes You Are
Sunday: Bongzilla with Lo Pan, Black Cobra and Kings Destroy
April 1: The Freeze with The Unconvicted and Shut Out
April 7: Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band with Posessed
April 9: Poor Dumb Bastards Anniversary show
April 22: Joe Buckyourself
May 2: Parquet Courts (“probably the one I am personally the most stoked for”)
May 14: Muddy Belle CD release
May 27: Velocityfest (“[the] second year of what we hope is another budding festival for Houston. This one has a punk/metal flavor with The Dictators headlining on May 28”)
One to Grow On: Altercation Punk Comedy Tour, May 29