Is Austin’s music scene really shrinking?

View Caption Hide Caption
Jay Janner/American-Statesman

Is Austin losing grip on its music scene? I thought about this popular notion after touring the handsomely refurbished Scoot Inn in East Austin last week.

The scene is under stress, no doubt, what with the affordability and mobility crises that affect all of us. Also, greater density means music venues are closer to where people want to live, work and play, perhaps more quietly.


Jay Janner/American-Statesman

A recent Austin Music People study revealed that Austin lost 1,200 music industry jobs in the past four years. At the same time, year-round economic activity dipped 15 percent, according to the study.

Yet the music industry’s economic impact grew from $1.6 billion to $1.8 billion due to our “festival economy.” (I like that new term.)

UPDATE: A reference to an earlier music census was deleted.

But wait. Which jobs were lost? And how do we know that? It’s not clear.

By at least one measure, the scene seems to be growing. Back in the summer of 2005, when I served as entertainment editor, I caught acts at 100 Austin-area music venues. (See reprint below.)

It started out as a stunt, but the happy tour informed our subsequent reporting on the subject. (Similarly crazy projects back then: 100 coffee shops, 50 places to sip and chat, 50 places for a brew, etc.)

jwj SXSW 2012 Saturday 10502

Jay Janner/American-Statesman

When I pulled that file out of the dusty archives, I wondered about the count today. A simple search turned up the city of Austin’s guide to 123 music venuesFurthermore, the site suggests there are some 127 more out there, though without verification. Don’t know the origins of the latter number.

Still, an almost the 25 percent growth documented on two carefully verified and transparent lists seems promising.

As music writer Peter Blackstock points out, some 40-odd venues on the republished 2005 list below are sadly gone, but at least 40-odd others have taken their places. Some of the newer ones are inarguably spectacular.

UPDATE: Blackstock contributed his count after this item was first posted.

Worth a closer look? We hear our always busy music reporters are onto a more comprehensive story.

Recently, Mayor Steve Adler announced a crowdsourced investment fund to save live music venues.

Of course, that doesn’t mean musicians are paid better — or even adequately paid. That will take a lot of collaborative soul-searching to solve.

rgz ACL HOF 11

Rodolfo Gonzalez/American-Statesman



14100 Camino Real (Texas 21),

Niederwald, (512) 376-2782

Flashback City. Time holds its breath at this hippie farmhouse/cafe/music venue in Niederwald, a village that straddles the Caldwell and Hays county lines southeast of Austin. The simple dishes are tasty and the beer chilly, if the devout service is a bit off the clock. Bands play a microstage in the farmhouse’s lean-to attachment. They do not disappoint a visitor’s expectations of blissed-out weirdness.


3003 S. Lamar Blvd., 444-6117

This place has matured in the past few years. An indoor stage rises to the right of the entrance and across from the bar, and the floor is used interchangeably for dining, drinking and frolicking. The treat, however, is the deck for the after-work crowd, where acoustic acts strum and croon under oak and sweet-gum boughs. The building’s heavy, dark brick exterior — very 1970s — provides even more shade. The menu and staff are geared for fun; try the Cajun popcorn.


213 W. Fifth St., 320-8424

Reverence is the overwhelming tone at the latest incarnation of the famous blues club, which looks like an ancient shrine, even though this is far from its original location. What works well for tourists and the wide range of musical acts is the subtle sound mixing, spacious stage spread along the room’s long wall, the double bars and the cool-down areas on either side of the main floor. What works against the mood is the sometimes curt employees and the overpriced cocktails.


2330 S. Lamar Blvd., 442-8283

Good food, good drink, good prices, good music. Find it all at this South Austin barbecue old-timer. The building rambles along its lengthy lot, but that’s OK, because it can fill up easily. As the name suggests, ribs make the best menu choice, but any selection is amazingly inexpensive, as is the bottled beer. When the band plays for families and dining parties indoors, it can get a little cramped, but who cares when it’s old-fashioned fiddlin’ and fussin’?


208 Nueces St., 263-4146

An essential part of the city’s big-act mix — and the home to seasonal special events — this hall sits on what was once the shabby, abandoned western edge of downtown (now an area slated for sleek residential towers). It’s large. Very large. So the sounds and sights emanating from the back-wall stage and speakers vary from concert to concert. Quantity is the password for the efficient staff and its refreshment factory lines. If the act is good, the rest is gravy.


2015 E. Riverside Drive, 441-4677

Headbangers rejoice! This home for unreconstructed metal thrives just off East Riverside Drive, with tsunamis of sound crashing down from the speakers that frame the tall stage. When the first three chords emerge, guys and gals with inventive hair, tattoos and hard-core uniforms surge forward to the gaping pit. Or one can perch on cocktail chairs behind the mob, retrieving frosty pitchers of beer from the bar. Bored? There’s a sea of pool tables in the next room, and a beer garden is slated for a September opening.


13101 W. Texas 71, 263-4146

An idyllic evening under the stars, or a painful roasting on a Hill Country griddle — depends on the season. In some ways the very model of a modern outdoor venue, the Backyard can make a big-venue act seem like a campout with best friends. Or not. The pit is spacious and serves both the body-pressers and the more demure idlers. Traffic daunts and the new shopping center will bring more. A second, smaller adjacent venue, the Glenn, opens Sept. 11.


23rd Street & Robert Dedman Dr., 477-6060

Modern, monumental, this UT hall is a classy place to catch a marquee act. The continental-style seating works against a shared social experience, but dressy audiences are learning to abandon their seats for pop acts. It takes any kind of scenic or lighting demands and, if the mixers are careful, amplification can mend normal acoustic concerns. Spectators in the upper balcony can vote in Louisiana, but refreshment lines are shorter upstairs. All this is slated to change with a renovation in 2007.


12636 Research Blvd., 335-9504

You might miss this suburban pub by looking at its Research Boulevard address, since the three-part establishment actually fronts on Jollyville Road. Inside find two commendably served areas with an encyclopedic beer selection and a small game room; outside stumble onto an odd performance set-up for the shirt-sleeves crowd. Musicians sit or stand at the intersection of two covered loggias, with spectators stretching out in long, narrow lines alongside two facades of the building.

10. B.D. RILEY’S

204 E. Sixth St., 494-1335

At first, this Sixth Street pub looks like other faux-Irish establishments that litter downtown. After a while, this one feels a bit more authentic, but not yet worn, and the live music fits the still-spiffy fittings. Musicians play behind an ornate railing, so when they sit down, it’s difficult to see the action. Sometimes the music reels with an Old World sensibility, complementing one’s Harp and chips. The place, populated with happy, ruddy faces, turns more raucous on the weekends.


711 1/2 Red River St., 479-ROCK

Are we in prewar Berlin? The stage in this punkish club recalls a Weimar cabaret, which fits the theatrical nature of its musical acts. Despite the crush at the bar, drinks are not hard to come by and amazingly cheap. Even more than the omnipresent Emo’s, this club serves as the heart and soul of Red River Street. Tricked-out scenesters hug each other compulsively (who knew?) and one can detect an underground gay vibe (we knew). Capacity limits keep it from feeling too clammy.


6148 W. U.S. 290, 892-3358

Out near the Y in Oak Hill is a strip-center club with a wince-inducing name. But hold on. Now Sharon Ramsey and family have taken over management, injecting some fresh air, split between a game room and a music club/dance hall. The Ramseys’ Australian roots blossom in the convivial atmosphere and hearty selection of potables for cheery patrons. They also plan to change the name soon. Good for them.


3201 S. Lamar Blvd., 442-6189

It’s hard not to love this South Austin roadhouse. The restaurant up front could not be more casual and comfortable. The novel central bar is convenient, but the beating heart of this institution is the deep, smooth dance floor in back. Low ceilings and considerable seating to the sides make the whole experience seem like a family reunion. Bands play a stage at the far end for audiences young and old, and most everyone has the times of their lives.


201 E. Sixth St., 479-7665

Live music on the upstairs stage plays a minimal role in this double-wide club with its banks and banks of pool tables and other games. Despite the name and Old West decor, it’s not really a country bar and appeals more to our fraternity brethren. In some ways, it’s more like an all-purpose suburban club, meant to keep one busy and entertained the entire evening, rather than the typical Sixth Street quickie watering hole.


24th and Guadalupe streets, 475-6515

No pilgrimage to Austin’s sacred musical sites would be complete without a hushed evening at this UT campus acoustic mecca. The decor is neo-Spanish Colonial with some Mexican accents, but the seating is pure institutional, circa 1955. The corner stage is raised just high enough above the flat floor to provide generous views and the front-end mixer is among the most sensitive in town. The truncated bar to the rear offers grad-student and junior-prof types all sorts of potent potables.


1704 E. Fifth St., 236-8634

A stand of bare-limbed crape myrtles squeezed between Fifth Street and an unadorned parking lot turns into an elfin grove of acoustic alchemy. All it took was a string of lights, a low stage and patio tables scattered among the myrtles. The beer is bottled and the coffee’s strong, so why not kick back with the bushy folk who are mesmerized by the singer-songwriters? Some acts play the close interior quarters as well.


1110 E. 52nd St., 452-6790

Who needs hallucinogens when you can visit this eye-gouging club just off Cameron Road? Primitivist murals of circus life decorate the interior and exterior. Vintage diner booths wink across from a high L-shaped bar. Games line the wall leading to a “tent” — a liminal space that hosts any number and type of bands under twinkly lights. Irony infects only part of the patronage. Don’t worry, the bartender understands.


208 W. Fourth St., 495-9669

Many a dusk has slipped effortlessly into dark at this urban treasure. Bracketed between two commercial structures that now house trendy restaurants, the Courtyard keeps its outdoor cool with shade and misters. The after-work martinis are excellent, though purists will turn their noses up at the variations. In years past, the music seemed an afterthought, but now the stage and the bookings indicate a desire to put artists front and center.


199 Cheatham St., San Marcos, (512) 353-3777

This classic juke joint sits right next to the railroad tracks in San Marcos and passing trains shake its warped walls. The interior wood surfaces, low ceiling, wide side-aisles and picture-frame stage make the whole building a warm, glowing musical instrument. A raised dance floor evolves into a familial seating area. Bottled beers from many nations are available behind a bar that juts into the room at a sharp angle.


219 E. Sixth St., 476-5015

Sometimes the name alone nails the tone of a club. Even with an open balcony above the narrow main floor, this place feels crammed with hearty drinkers on a weekend night. When a band plays the microscopic stage near the front door — and in view of passers-by — the writhing crowd goes nuts. Some chill-out spaces to the rear of both floors offer relief from the throngs, but if you are there for the hotties and shots, it shouldn’t matter.

21. CLUB ONE 15

115 San Jacinto Blvd., 472-4115

Once a Korean karaoke bar, now this narrow room at 115 San Jacinto Boulevard is an upscale — but not snooty — club for jazz, hip-hop and other musical forms. Its handsome wood fixtures, cool blue lighting, leather couches and high cocktail chairs are all aimed at a velvet-swathed stage. There’s not a bad seat in this cool/warm house, and the musicians tend not to blast the listeners in the front rows. A full bar and alert staff make this a very grown-up lounge.


900 Red River St., 457-0900

Despite the natural auditorium carved into limestone behind this veteran club, this can be a tricky place to absorb a performance. Inside, DeVille is the epitome of flinty cool; outside you get plastic chairs arranged informally around the too-low stage (sometimes replaced with a higher one). If a breeze winds its way past the cinder-block walls, all the better, because the atmosphere here — sound-wise, look-wise and feel-wise — is way, way melt.


1315 S. Congress Ave., 441-2444

This international tourist attraction needs no exegesis. Yet a recent return visit reminded us that the essence of this South Austin mecca is simplicity. It’s a rectangular room with a moderately sized, raised stage, some cocktail tables and chairs that can be scattered for dancing, a standard bar and loads of nostalgia on the walls. The accumulated history of good times, however, adds an extra charge to the arched-eyebrow rockabilly, roots rock or whatever else hits the marquee.


4001 Parmer Lane, 835-0010

It’s been said before, but this place is vast. Huge restaurant, bigger bar, even bigger deck and what seems like acres of well-brushed high-techies in wood-paneled booths, cocktail tables and serving areas. The stuffed trophies on the walls contribute to the hunting lodge feel. The bar is copiously stocked and well patronized by mating male and female humans. The stage, which usually hosts cover bands, is as big as the centrally located dance floor.


212 E. Davilla, Granger; (512) 859-0700

From downtown Austin, Granger feels like the end of Nowhere. Don’t be fooled. Open the doors of this big-boned 1909 building and you’ll discover dozens of folks — a significant percentage under cowboy hats — swirling to the dance band, clustering in conversational pods, or bellying up to the extensive bar. The band plays from a full-sized stage and the club includes a dining area and gift shop. A sizable courtyard yokes together a deck, exterior bar, gazebo and enclosed party room.


101 Hoxie, Coupland, (512) 856-2226

As the owner joked when we entered for the first time, “It’s almost un-American to live in Austin and not visit Coupland. Are you a communist?” A speck on the Williamson County map, the town attracts flocks of artists, tourists and youngish suburbanites. The layout of the hall is symmetrical, arranged around a dance floor that could be three bowling alley lanes latched together. A big Texas flag hangs over the stage, the ornate bar stands opposite and the mechanical bull menaces in between.


1321 S. Congress Ave., 445-4441

During its first months, bland comfort food distracted from the main function of this South Congress cafe. It really was a apres-show spot and a place to catch some up-and-coming musicians out back. The cuisine improved on our recent visit, and the drinks from the bar/hut were yummy. But the magnet remained the singer-songwriter on the patio, which is jig-sawed into an Old World plot of land — light-wrapped trees above, groomed earth below.


505 E. Sixth St., 236-9800

“Biker’s Welcome!” shouts the sign in front of the stage of this bare-bones Sixth Street bar. Don’t get any ideas. Even though a quantity of ink has been spilled onto the limbs of the patrons here, and excess hair has been braided or knotted in creative fashions, it’s not a real biker bar. Rather, it’s a reasonably comfortable hangout with nicely positioned refreshment area, clustered tables and numerous distractions other than the gradations of metallica onstage.


1600 W. Fifth St., 478-0336

A place where everybody knows your name, your nickname, your birthday and . . . The rail station structure, the train memorabilia, the heavy drapes and oversized furniture all spell out comfort, familiarity and a bit of nostalgia. Although a dance floor beckons from the first of several party niches,  the music is all up front, connected to the baby grand and surrounding fan section. The bar staff is ultra-nice and the drinks come with a tenderness that’s unusual even for Austin.

30. EDDIE V’s

301 E. Fifth St., 472-1860

Whether flush with lobbyists or romantic daters, this downtown establishment is, as a music venue, a fine supper club. Indirect lighting, soft brick walls, tongue-tart drinks and savory appetizers draw well-appointed folks to tables around a grand piano squeezed onto a corner stage. Despite the velvety smooth amplification, diners and drinkers twitter ever more loudly. There must be a time when they pay attention, but when?

31. EGO’S

510 S. Congress Ave., 474-7091

This dark, low-ceilinged room on South Congress Avenue has recently perked up with new cocktail chairs and tables, while the L-shaped corner stage for eclectic musical acts remains intimate and the sound system alert. The staff is fresh and friendly, the bar well-kept and reasonably priced, the crowd comfortable, lived-in, with sprinklings of international tourists. Strange that one of the city’s most likable venues is buried inside a parking garage.


315 Congress Ave., 473-2279

The Antone’s of the jazz scene, the Elephant has been serious about its chosen musical discipline for decades. Its below-grade location on Congress Avenue lends the room an urban air, while the dark-then-light progression inside lures the visitor to the modest stage. Once this was a very smoky venue, but now the air is free for variations on jazz and well-sated drink orders.

33. EMO’S

603 Red River St., 477-3667

The fulcrum between Sixth and Red River streets, this venerable two-stage club presents premier indie and punk acts. It’s a critics’ delight, with two or three good bands each night, and more if both stages are in action well into the wee hours. The old exterior stage is an anarchic zone, with expansive floor and alley-like bleacher seating. The smaller inside stage is just right — and blessed for its air conditioning, if not ideal amplification. Scenesters wander in and out, or drop by the U-shaped bar.


1701 Red River St., 477-6060

What can you say about multipurpose arenas? They please no purists, but can serve sports fans, concertgoers and assembly attendants with equanimity. Renovations and newish policies (beer!) make for a cushier experience at the old Drum. Adept arena acts can fill the empty air with lights and costumes, or focus on a stellar talent. Binoculars are recommended for the nosebleed seats, and be prepared to stand if you snag a spot on the floor. As arenas go, the Erwin Center ain’t bad.


8106 Brodie Lane, 282-2586

Don’t just drive by. Older strip shopping centers tend to hide little gems like this one on Brodie Lane. The glassy box was a Maudie’s long before it was transformed into a juicy slice of Southwestern Louisiana. Authentic food, bottled beer with glasses, bon temps hospitality and, especially, nightly performances in a well-situated corner of the modest restaurant almost make you forget the mundane location. On weekends, they shove back the chairs and dance the night away.


515 E. Sixth St., 494-9336

This home base for reggae, ska and related forms is a maze of improvised spaces. A dramatically high platform juts from the center of the floor. Sets of deeply tiered seats line two walls, while a little balcony flirts from above the almost Elizabethan stage. The bar, oddly, sits squarely in the center of the room, creating an avuncular relationship with the stage. If the crowd is under 21, the bar is easily navigated. If not, drink somewhere else before you enjoy the band.


1601 Barton Springs Road,


Any singer-songwriter worth his Dylan vinyl would appreciate the homey intimacy of this coffeehouse venue. They clear out the tables and circle the molded wood seats around the corner stage like good friends. It’s as if the musician has invited you into his no-expense-spent living room. The beer is bottled, but cold, the coffee fine. Main problem: Doors to the patio and restrooms open almost onto the faces of the players, distracting from the minutely crafted words and tunes.


1703 S. First St., 445-9197

A backyard playground for the sandal set, the oak-shaded patio of this popular new South First Street eatery far outdraws the few indoor booths. A brightly decorated shed/stage pops up near the banks of East Bouldin Creek, where mostly acoustic acts serenade the lazin’ diners. The modest cocktails are complemented by a decent beer selection; fans and heaters help ward off seasonal weather extremes.


208 E. Sixth St., 320-8193

Indistinguishable from a dozen other Sixth Street clubs, this place has changed names and characters several times. The dark, interior wood slats impose a closed feeling, but there’s plenty of room to view the bluesy bands, whose backs are turned to observers on the street. The very long bar offers easy access to the vigilant staff and there’s a specialty-drink niche to the back. Critics dis clubs like this because the bands are not original, but their technique is often impeccable and the crowds are appreciative.


12010 Manchaca Road, 280-4732

Way out in Manchaca Land is a real bar, a happy, slightly rowdy place where the band plays just t’other side of the pool table for people who really work with their hands. It’s a place where Shiner is considered a premium beer, where barbecue is served from a van in the parking lot and folks slip next door for shots at Stardust. If it gets too loud inside, there’s a open-ended shed to one side and a picnic table in the field out back. The bartender can introduce you around.


703-A Stassney Lane, 326-4466

This is a totally disorienting place. Tucked deep into a dreary strip mall on Stassney Lane is a mom-and-pop red-sauce Italian restaurant/sports bar/South Austin Bubba hangout/country/rock/folk club. You can’t help but dive right in because the water’s bound to be fine, whatever your tastes. The stage is scrunched into the back, but the place is small and the bar angled, so almost everyone can enjoy. The thick marinara spaghetti and no-name house wine are quite good, and the amplification kind.


1717 Grand Ave., Pflugerville; 252-0664

Club crawl meets wholesome, theme-park imagineering. The hulking building just off Interstate 35 fits in neatly with the other big boxes, and the interior clubs, which bleed from room to room, are pretty interchangeable. The biggest is a country dance hall, which can also handle live music, while tiered seating and a pit request your presence in a room designated specifically for live acts. You also got your karaoke alley, biker bar, Coyote Ugly rip-off and contempo club under one roof.


1281 Gruene Road, New Braunfels,

(830) 606-1281

You can’t get more authentic than this ancient dance hall. Weathered wood, open rafters, screened windows, benches chiseled with carvings — it’s like summer camp for country-music or Americana lovers. The front bar is the essence of simplicity — a few bottled beers chilled for reasonable prices. The bands are as time-tempered as the surroundings, performing on the low stage or directly on the smooth dance floor for multigenerational vacationers.


1412 S. Congress Ave., 707-8232

We thanked the intelligent designer when weekend bands moved from the crowded bar of this prominent Tex-Mex attraction to the oak-shaded garden on the building’s north side. With its tiny corner stage, sprightly landscaping and moderately convenient bar, the garden is an Edenic setting for any kind of music, and it’s far away from the inside din. Hint: You can see and hear the acts without entering the gates, but standing on the sidewalk is not fun for long.


108 E. Main St., Pflugerville, (512) 670-9617

As comfortable as an old pair of jeans, Hanover’s rocks back in the historical center of Pflugerville (one block from the main highway). Built into a disused lumberyard (like Austin’s Redrum), it’s long and lean and made of reverberant wood. The stage hunkers down in a prime location surrounded by cocktail tables and chairs. The bar, with a goodly number of draft beers, is attended by super-amiable staff. We’ve heard country and rock here, where suburbanites commingle with the rurals.


720 Red River St., 236-0188

The cozy confines of this two-venue club make for multiple hangouts. You could attach both stages to a postcard and still have space to write a note, but that encourages ultra-thick sonic experiences. Surprisingly, you don’t need earwax to survive; both crowd and staff are more amiable than they look on first encounter. Inside, the AC is a blessing; outside, listeners drape over the multiple levels like an art installation.


4700 S. Congress Ave., 851-9300

Given the seamless blend of politics, promotion, entertainment and eating that fuel owner/radioman Bob Cole’s endeavors, it’s no wonder Hill’s is the unofficial red-state headquarters for South Austin. The comfort food is filling, the beer chilly (the margaritas are too sweet) and the atmosphere inside the restaurant authentic. The beer garden out back, where the bands play, is a village of sheds, porches, tents and picnic tables that contribute to a carnival mood. Air play on Cole’s radio stations helps land big country acts.


2538 Guadalupe St., 477-4747

You better love the band. At this aptly named West Campus watering hole, the musicians land right in your lap, as tiny tables and chairs slap against the window-backed stage. Noisy fans don’t mind. A few regulars hang at the short, well-stocked bar, while refugees play billiards in the back room (virtually indistinguishable from the front room). Still others loiter on the sidewalk or in the alley — it’s a 360-degree dive experience.


1300 S. Congress Ave., 444-3800

If — emphasis on “if” — the weather cooperates, this can be a empyrean place to hear music, watch movies, or just sip a cool brew or steaming cappuccino. One usually doesn’t associate asphalt expanses with entertainment, but bands can play an elevated stage in the Hotel San Jose parking lot, or nestle among the Big Red Sun landscaping nearer the perfectly designed coffee box. Live music is everywhere in Austin, so why not on the coolest corner in town?


1619 S. First St., 447-7825

When a favored musical act locks in a fan base, they can retire to Jovita’s. The veteran Tex-Mex spot on South First Street is bicameral: Dining on the storefront-side, melding with the band crowd out back. Things improved when the stage area was enclosed and air-conditioned (then Freddie’s Place next door assumed that al fresco function). The service is sometimes tardy and the cuisine less than spectacular, but if your band is playing, it doesn’t much matter, does it?


1106 E. 11th St., 477-9438

Funny how any soft dip in the land can become a music venue in Austin. This grassy lot next to the Victory Grill bloomed into a family music spot this summer for blues, jazz and other delectibles. Multiethnic toddlers danced in toddler frenzy, mothers and aunts monitored from lawn chairs, while barbecue beckoned from behind the revelers. The stage, set against the midnight blue of the club’s walls, is low and long, but the lighting and sound are adequate. By the way, BYOB.


1133 E. 11th St., 472-5591

When an historically black club in the city’s historically black entertainment district comes under white management and becomes one of the coolest, least pretentious spots in town for Anglos and African Americans to hang out, a bit of psychic dislocation is inevitable. That feeling dissipates when customers rollick to an R&B band while sipping some of the best-prepared cocktails in town. The trapezoidal shape of the room and rouged walls help define this classic reclassified.


209 W. Fifth St., 479-7700.

This underrated, very modern music venue offers a variety of listening experiences. One can sit in the theater-lounge seats near the raised stage, or stand farther off down the long bar, or, best of all, lean on the railings of a high tier, surveying the efficient barstaff. The sparkly club logo silhouettes onstage bands — from rock veterans to wannabes. Music-haters can gather upstairs or near the Warehouse District door, because amplification is rarely obnoxious.


141 E. Hopkins St., San Marcos,

(512) 558-7399

A classic college club, this two-parter sprawls over both floors of a stone structure in downtown San Marcos. The lower level is about drinking and socializing, the upper floor about music and games. The metal alloy band that played the front stage the night we dropped by attracted a pretty crowd, not much interested in the music. An extended bar dispensed all sorts of drinks, once our bartender stopped cleaning glasses and acknowledged our existence.


323 E. Sixth St., 478-8541

This friend to the party-hardy flock long ago split off its corner incarnation, now called The Drink. Maggie’s interior bar is deep, narrow and a contact-sport zone when crowded. The patio stage, on the other hand, is large, airy and inevitably mellow. The chatting classes lean over balconies and roof decks;  music lovers clump in pods near the decent-sized stage in the back. For a place that deals in volume business, the cocktails are surprisingly satisfying. Warning: Surly bouncers.

56. MOMO’S

618 W. Sixth St., 479-8848

This room first saw light as Top of the Marc, an attempt to promote jazz under the Katz brand name. Now it’s a marvelously pleasant place to hear all sorts of music. Singer/songwriters, particularly, light up on the relatively spacious stage, and they are flattered by the club’s cursive sound system. At first glance, the bar seems oversized for the room, but then you realize how many unfussy folks are parked on the roof deck far from the stage.

57. NUNO’S

422 E. Sixth St., 833-5133.

On two recent visits, humidity poured through the open facade, intensifying the Bourbon Street vibe of the place. Cover bands play soulfully — backs to the sidewalk fans — for appreciative listeners, cooled down by watery drinks. This is Sixth Street as loved by tourists and loathed by music critics. Those of us caught in between just let the music pour over our senses.


10010 N. Capital of Texas Highway, 467-6969

Outside this well-populated Gateway brewpub is an open tent with tables and chairs scattered around a modest stage. One can linger here indefinitely or wait for a spot inside the joyfully jammed restaurant. The drinks and appetizers are generous (order one at a time) and the service prompt. The amplification can get a little jumpy for so small a space, but roots-based music is well-represented. The patrons might be high-tech workers or young families, but all celebrate with equal brio.


12225 U.S. 290 W., 301-4648

Like a smaller-scale version of The Backyard, this patio performance space nestles under spreading oaks, offering a variety of seating choices and responses to the weather. The cafe food is reassuring,  the drinks refreshing and the young staff well-drilled. Seating outside is split between the patio/cocktail tables in the shade and exposed picnic tables out near the barbecue pit and the kiddie playground. A little breeze, and brunch can be divine.


7701 Bee Cave Road, 329-6753

East of Malibu or the Catalina Islands, there’s nothing quite like this Tuscan-style palazzo perched on a ledge above the Barton Creek basin. Loose clothes, yoga smiles and pretty, pretty people flock for top-rate jazz, classical, world music and other acts in this cozy setting. Snuggling close to the stage is not always best; sit in the second tier or balcony for the best music experience. No alcoholic beverages are sold, as part of the place’s holistic regime.



3601 S. Congress Ave., 707-0237

Austinites love them some patios. The South Austin version of the popular public house is clean-lined and grown-up inside, zero-stress and convivial on the patio/balcony overlooking the slowly gentrified South Congress. The draft beer is copious and the pub grub filling. Here’s the problem with the outdoor stage, tucked under a little shed/pergola — it doesn’t grab the eye or the ear, so the music tends to get a little lost in the beergarden jabbering.


6640 E. U.S. 290, 459-8729

Entering through the cantina door, we were confronted with a multiethnic, multigenerational crowd squealing, dancing, hugging, downing goldfish bowls of sweet margaritas to the vibrant strains of a cover band. At 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, mind you. It turned out to be a birthday party, but clearly folks consider this longtime Tex-Mex establishment a goodtime joint. The dining room, with its large portions and nightly specials, is a separate deal.


713 Congress Ave., 472-5470

Yes, the seats are too narrow and the legspace is too shallow, but that’s what comes with a genuinely historical venue graced by priceless performances. Built in 1915 as a vaudeville house, then used for movies and plays, the gilded Paramount now shines when musical or comedic stars descend on its hallowed stage. The lobby bar is elegant, and the ushers try very hard to help. The deco-era State Theater next door sometimes hosts musical acts as well.


1100 E. Palm Valley Blvd., Round Rock, 244-1204

This is old Round Rock, highway to Taylor Round Rock, the Round Rock before Dell and tens of thousands of suburbanites claimed their slices Williamson County. A U-shaped bar divides the game area from the music club and its old-style country dance floor. Variations on Bud and Miller are on tap, and the clientele is eager to make one’s acquaintance. The stage could handle a big band, but that would overpower this modest club, parked paradoxically in a drab shopping center.


214 E. Sixth St., 478-6372

Music critics agree this is one of the best places in town to hear music — deep house, high stage, discreet bar, separate chill-out area, superb sound mixing. And yet . . . the crowds can be dishearteningly thin. Could it be that the managers haven’t learned to market their prize? Among the amenities: A backed bench along the west wall rests your weary heels. Downstairs, the Jazz restaurant includes a semi-circular stage, but several recent visits failed to turn up a live act.


100 W. North Loop Blvd., 454-8965

Bang! Walk through the door of this red-and-black, wedge-shaped pizza place on The Curve and you might trip over the accordion/tuba punk band playing right in front of the the door. Once bearings are regained, the bartender is tack-sharp and the beer flows freely to patrons along the high bar, or assembled among the several tables. (The patio out back, in contrast, is tomb-quiet.) The crowd is young and punk-nerdy.


617 Red River St., 478-0099

The only thing plush about this tiny, dark, spare room is the thickly layered music. One of its former incarnations was a punk transvestite bar, but now electronica/house/hip-hop geeks rub elbows with quiet, curious interlopers. The tan Austin brick, very low lighting and a trim, well-thought-out bar are complemented by a musicians’ storeroom/chill room. Even without a Powerbook under your arm, it’s easy to slip into the sonic waves of Plush.


22308 Texas 71 W., (512) 264-0318

A spillover from Willie Nelson’s nearby empire, this casual roadhouse comes with all the comforts — game tables, food and drink, super-sized chairs, giant TV screen, dance floor and, oh yes, a corner stage for mostly country/Americana bands. The Spicewood regulars look after your well-being, while Hill Country and lake weekenders blend into the mood easily. It’s hard to imagine a place with less pretention. Note: It’s easy to miss the sign at night.

69. RAIN

217 W. Fourth St., 494-1150

A sleek gay club with class, this still-new Fourth Street establishment feels welcoming and, at the same time, a tad fancy. While the popular patio waits out back, the live acts — singers, bands — can be seen on the bottle-shaped dance floor inside. Bar and lounge sections create an informal viewing pit for standing and sitting spectators. Gay, lesbian and straight audiences appear appreciative of the entertainment opportunity — and the reasonably priced cocktails.


209 W. Fifth St., 478-5120

Meet me in Morocco. This West Fifth Street club is among the most intensely designed in town, decorated with tiled tables, glinting screens, shadowy niches and hookahs filled with flavored tobacco. Live acts play a stage situated very near the front door, an apt place for viewing performers,  except it discourages potential visitors — from international tourists to regular downtown denizens — from popping in. Excellent cocktails.


715 Red River St., 474-1084

‘You gotta speak up, because I can’t hear you.’ Loud is the L-word for the clever sound bubble behind this hard-living, but lovable Red River club. The staff holds up admirably and tall drinks help, but the floor is sometimes blasted by the sinus-clearing amplification. Best to take interior-bar breaks with the lively mix of spiky regulars and lost-looking tourists.


9901 Capital of Texas Highway N., 342-7977

You don’t need an expense account to enjoy Reed’s, but it helps. A concept club with style to spare, Reed’s spans three huge swooshes — stairwell, bar and cocktail area. Upstairs find the fine dining. Downstairs, the 1940s-inspired jazz club is as tony as they come, with drinks priced to match. Bands swing on a stage at the end of the swoosh, which makes it hard for some patrons to see, while others dance romantically near the musicians.


401 Sabine St., 275-6575

Another new location for loud music, this club has moved into the Sabine Street structure that formerly housed a lumberyard and a well-liked restaurant. The wood is reverberant; the tin reflective, and the pitched roof combines to make this a very live-sounding venue. The old, long bar receives new stock every day, and the staff is working hard to turn this into a clubhouse for the hardcore set, just a block away from Red River Street.


320 E. Sixth St., 474-9574

Above the billiards parlor and game room (and sometime music venue) is a club fashioned out of the balcony of an old movie theater, one of the building’s former incarnations. The tiers are extra-steep and the stage often encompasses the entire floor. A tiny bar twinkles to the side. There seems to be little consistency in the acts booked into this upstairs venue, but, unlike some Sixth Street establishments, it’s about the music, not the tequila shots.


1500 Barton Springs Road, 476-1090

We were seated in Siberia: between the well-trafficked patio door and the grand piano. Still, our waiter was helpful, the pasta was al dente and the drinks tall and cool. Then the piano player entered . . . and started tinkling out the melancholy theme from ‘Valley of the Dolls.’ Heaven. He entertained us for the next hour, and we have made a pact to return to this festive Italian eatery just for the delightfuly moody music.

76. ROOM 710

710 Red River St., 476-0997

The bifurcated arrangement for this club is unusual — but it works ingeniously. One can hear and (partially) see the band on one side of the enclosed bar, or toddle around the back hallway to experience the music straight-on, standing near the stage or loitering in the teeny, slightly scary balcony. Like the Fly, it’s on the loud side and this is within hard walls, so the ‘lobby’ bar might be best for those with any hearing left.


11800 N. Lamar Blvd., 835-2414

Urban, then suburban, then semirural, then suburban again: North Lamar Boulevard reveals the rings of Austin’s growth spurts. Ross’ sits modestly in a semicircular center designed to preserve — or rather re-create — a country feeling on far North Lamar, as old structures serve new functions. Plastered with memorablia, Ross’ feels like the real deal. Half the cafe is given over to a cafeteria-style food-service area (beer available), the other half to a glassed-in porch/performance area.


3601 S. Congress Ave., 707-9637

Best thing that ever happened to this socially conscious business — hightailing it out of its hot Warehouse District digs and into the Penn Field complex. The coffee/beer station hunkers down close to the entrance, but the rest of the venue is an open game. Sometimes, the floor is crowded with tables; at other times, it’s the biggest folk/flamenco/etc. dance expanse in town. The corner stage is large enough to handle most musical acts, and outdoor areas add to a feeling of social fluidity.


701 Cheatham St., San Marcos, (512) 353-3747

Bliss. Idyllic hours on the San Marcos River. A fat burger and tangy Rio Ritas. Then stretch out on the riverside lawn for music, pitched from a gazebo to a crowd of 100 to 150 intent fans. The PA system captures every delicate guitar strum, every emotion-tinged variation in a singer’s voice. Though you can blanket it, the chair people stake out the best spots early, so bring a collapsible one if you want to see the performers’ faces. The concerts are free, and you can buy drinks on the lawn.


1320 S. Lamar Blvd., 448-2552

A split experience: One half (a formerly smoky) old-regulars bar; one half superbly booked live-music venue. Located a few miles from the bustle of downtown, the Pub is best reached from the blur of Lamar Boulevard by spotting the oversized coat of armor that guards its parking lot. The stage is none-too-commodious, but the fans are considerate and loyal. You can overdose on good music here, as band after band nods and winks as they pass each other for the favored spotlight.


1624 Barton Springs Road, 474-9991

As the name suggests, this restaurant/bar/hangout spot unbends under a mature pecan grove, and the limestone-and-wagon-wheel patio is shaded by a Ent-like tree (that blocks some views of the triangular stage). Servers emerge regulary from the peanut-brittle-style rock building, but there’s also a handy, well-stocked bar-shed in the patio. Fairly well-established acts play here, mostly on slower nights, which are rare for this preferred stop on Restaurant Row.


909 N. Lamar Blvd., 474-0805

A place that reveres traditions of good times from Louisiana to Colorado. The fried seafood is hearty and the beers inviting, all served by an unusually sympathetic staff. Bar, dining area and creekside porch are south of the game/performance room, which is just the right size for small acts, including a comedy music duo we caught recently. Students make up a significant portion of the crowd, but also those who wish they could recap college days.


1224 S. Congress Ave., 444-7770

There’s nothing affected or trendy about this Tex-Mex standby on South Congress. The food is prepared with care; the drinks arrive promptly. When the weather permits, it’s a luxury to sit inside the iron-and-vine-corsetted patio, watching stray passersby and listening to the occasional bands that play a cleared-out station for customers in shorts and open shirts. Not many come just for the varied acts, but it’s a congenial touch.


412 Congress Ave., 476-8017

Is there a better stage in town? Transferred from the east wall to the spotlight position in the center of this swank club, the peformance platform looks like something from the Moulin Rouge. It can be viewed from the upper lounging gallery, several tiers of seating and the bar — perhaps the best-stocked bar of any live-music venue in town. Alas, the roof deck does not benefit. We recently heard a sweet-voiced solo act, but the weekends go crazy with R&B cover bands. Yes, you may dance.


6550 Comanche Trail, 266-2441

The main buildings at this sprawling Lake Travis attraction are under reconstruction after a catestrophic fire, but the Starlight annex still offers dozens of sunset-friendly decks, giant drinks and utter relaxation for international tourists and lake folk alike. Callow staffers weave their way through the revelers, who respect the protective banisters over the limestone cliffs. Dancing is encouraged, and party food pours from the busy kitchens.


801 Red River St., 480-8341

The former junk shop turned national music attraction meets the visitor at street level as a barbecue restaurant with a limited indoor listening area. The outdoor stage, in a little dale out back, can be crowded with marquee touring acts. A nearby bar takes the edge off the sometimes Amazonian conditions along Waller Creek. The stage is enormous, and musicians feel free to range around its expanses. The sound varies — another issue, besides weather, at almost all outdoor venues.


1413 Webberville Road, 926-2200.

It’s hard to dismiss the joyous noise of blues night at this East Austin joint, another neighborhood dive that’s been ‘discovered.’ You might drive by the informally built wood building without noticing, because signage is minimal, but inside you’ll find cold soda and beer, as well as free soul food. The bands play beyond the pool tables in a windowless niche. Black and white patrons (in equal numbers on Mondays) shake, rattle and roll on the tiny dance floor or along tightly squeezed tables.


534 E. Oltorf St., 442-2799.

This South Austin lunch fixture and its garrulous owner keep some evening hours, scratching an itch for hamburgers, sandwiches and luscious milk shakes. The arched interior is crammed with memorabilia and, every once in a while, a musician plays an acoustic set against one of the windows. The staff drifts amiably from table to table, but nobody is in a hurry. Patrons are soaking up the atmosphere as much as anything else.


301 W. Riverside Drive, 472-9304

It’s appropriate that this musical descendant of the Armadillo World Headquarters is outdoors, casual and friendly to both ancient hippies and delighted toddlers. The landscaping is slowly growing in around this comfort-food establishment, but more shade would help. The wedge-topped stage is easily viewed from the plastic patio chairs, stone ledges or wooden bleachers. Cash-only, beer-only outdoor bar feels festive; go inside for heartier fare.

90. 311 CLUB

311 E. Sixth St., 477-1630

Now this place has a stage. A small gathering niche and a discreetly sized bar lead to cabaret-style seating, set before a real stage framed with drapes and everything. A small dance floor beckons to ethnically diverse patrons, who are thrilled by the R&B performed by a big-sounding bands and full-voiced singers. The music makes people happy, happy, happy. So do the reasonably priced, nicely mixed drinks.


206 N. Edward Gary, San Marcos,

(512) 396-2236

A testament to the maturing San Marcos club scene, this little pub is an ideal listening room an up-and-coming bands like the funk outfit we heard there on a weekday night. A block from the city’s transformed square, the Crown feels like a dozen downtown Austin venues, but its dark, truncated box and accessible bar are exactly what the young (or older) San Marcos music lover has always needed. Reasonable prices contribute to the good will.


2008 S. Congress Ave., 447-0969

It’s happened to other neighborhood bars (Carousel, Ginny’s Little Longhorn) — they get discovered by the cognoscenti. Now, creased regulars mix with inked scenesters at this scruffy dive on South Congress. Acts play a broad stage to the back, while serious drinkers and storytellers cluster against the well-attended bar near the door. The beer selection is admirable, if you can catch the eye of the bartender.


912 Red River St., 482-8404

Since its last incarnation, this Red River bookend has grown darker inside. The paintings of nudes now hang next to devotional candles. Bands can play outside on the bilevel, geometrically challenged patio, which actually works much better than the DeVille stage next door because all focus leads to the narrow south end of the lot. A truncated bar sprouts handily to the side of the iron patio furniture. The nature of the crowd depends on the the nature of the band at this Club Land gateway.


508 E. Sixth St., 474-0632

The visitor spying the supple curve of a modern bar and higher-end furniture is tempted to order a fancy cocktail, but it’s beer-only here. ‘Because of taxes, ‘ says the otherwise helpful bartender. Clearly, this place has undergone a recent transformation, which puts renewed emphasis on two moderately sized stages, one outside. Stragglers from the Sixth Street cruch can hear proficient acts in either venue.


1104 E. 11th St., 391-0174

This East 11th Street veteran, once a regular stop on the ‘chitlin’ circuit, ‘ has creaked through renovation for more than a decade. Owner Eva Lindsey seeks to revive the former home of blues and jazz with fundraisers. The grill and club are accessed from street level, but the stage area itself is below grade, creating a tall, partly improvised performance space. Cabaret tables crowd the floor, while movie theater seats and dark booths line the upper gallery for an overall party atmosphere.


600 N. Lamar Blvd., 472-5400

The potentially noisy food-serving aspect of this popular eatery does not interfere with the rapt attention devoted to Austin favorite musical sons and daughters. The bright, high-ceilinged room, discreet sound system and low stage against the facade wall feel uplifting, and the crowds of shaggy boys and girls (and their moms?) sip from the excellent selection of beers on tap.


303 W. Fifth St., 481-8599

Almost a doppelganger to the Lucky Lounge down the street, this bar is deep and dark and employs some of the most informed bartenders in town. Want to sample rare scotches or single-batch tequilas? This is the place. But the layout is strange. The band arrives, sets up equipment near the bright entrance and plies the small crowd with its wares. If you are at the bar, you’re looking out at the sidewalks. If you stick near the band, the passersby constantly interrupt your pleasure. It’s just backward.


7720 Texas 71 W., 394-0220

Musicians perform under a green umbrella, set against the green-green landscape behind this high-design Y-shaped Oak Hill-area eatery. The regional modern food reflects the regional modern architecture, and the patio turns into a cool retreat at dusk. The sports bar (four screens) distracts from the acts, but the gurgling fountain contributes to the overall ambiance of leisure. No more jazz brunch, but singer-songwriters and others delight upscale and downhome patrons.

99. Z’ TEJAS

1110 W. Sixth St., 478-5355

Perhaps it’s unfair to consider this deservedly popular West Sixth Street restaurant a music venue. But there it is in the music listings every week, so we had to check it out. Acts generally play the bar area reached through the “skywalk” from the main body of the eatery. And a grand bar it is — U-shaped, luxuriously stocked and scrupulously attended. Folks flock there after work. Then the band plays. And the yammer rises. The band plays louder. The crowd out-yammers the acoustic set. Oh well.


612 W. Fourth St., 472-2293

Air conditioning certainly helps this lively and deeply loved spot, which in its original incarnation had none. The high stage and even higher ceiling lend an airy, big-concert feel to what is essentially a shed. Inside bars and back bars are always busy. The mixers are kind to older eardrums, perhaps because the acts are aging as well, but La Zona also books some pistol-hot pop. Standing on concrete for three full sets can weary one’s tired soles, but the music can also lift one’s tired soul.

View Comments 0