Monday, April 28, 2008

The Texas Showdown and the De-Austinification of Austin

Austin American Statesman writer John Kelso writes in his April 20th, 2008 article ( that he's sick of old Austinites "crabbing about Austin losing its long-standing traditions". He lists defining Austin institutions that have been forced out by rising rents/development - "Liberty Lunch, Steamboat, Chances, Club Cairo, the Black Cat Lounge, the Electric Lounge, and next month, the Texas Showdown Saloon". He goes on to say, "...I'm afraid most new Austinites don't really care if the old Austin is taking a hike. And why should they? If you didn't see Stevie Ray Vaughan play at Hut's, how would you know what you missed?"

Here's why.

Austin has maintained itself as hub of cultural oddity for as long as any long time resident can remember. My history here being filtered through alternative culture/punk rock I can say with confidence that no other city in the US could have produced bands like The Big Boys, The Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid, or The Hickoids. Name another band in the 1960's that sounded anything like The 13th Floor Elevators. Or The Sir Douglas Quintet (technically from San Antonio, but I feel pretty secure in including them here).

I remember a time when one could walk down Guadalupe St. perusing amusing, absurd, offensive, and pretentiously artistic band flyers while passing unique, independently owned businesses serving one's needs for clothing, coffee, books, food, records, art, or general wierdness. It was a reputation for such that made Austin a destination to begin with, and the fact that newcomers "didn't see Stevie Ray Vaughn play at Hut's" has no bearing on the fact that the soul of this city is being sucked out of it.

Here's a list of defunct businesses that were located on or near Guadalupe either overlooked or forgotten in the sparse media coverage of the closing of The Texas Showdown.

Mad Dogs & Beans - Just off Guad on 24th St., this tumbledown shack of a burger joint served some of the best and cheapest artery clogging chow in the city. They also served beer to wash it down. Sometimes they had free punk rock shows in the parking lot with free beer.

The Varsity Theatre - I've read a couple of laments of the closing of Tower Records, a CD/Video superstore that was an attempt at corporate expansion originating from the first Tower Records in Los Angeles. I was glad to see it go, for no small reason that it occupied the space where The Varsity had stood. Cheap art house cinema in a cool old theatre right on the drag. What could be better? Certainly not Tower fucking Records.

Les Amis - A small, dark cafe' behind The Varsity on 24th serving vegetarian fare, good wine, a decent selection of beer, and a completely unique ambience. One of my favorite places to study.

Inner Sanctum Records - A basement record store crammed to the ceiling with vinyl of all kinds, and a proprieter who knew where you could find any specific one.

The Cadeau - Crazy ass clothing and accessories for queens, freaks, or anybody else that didn't consider tan bermuda shorts, a frat t-shirt and a ball cap fashion.

Quackenbush's - Fuck you, Seattle - this was a real coffee shop. Studying on their clautrophobic patio drinking double cappucino's, adding to the haze in the air chain smoking Silk Cuts, and watching two UT professors continue a glacial chess game that's been going on for months is not an experience one can replicate at a Starbucks. The book store next door, also now gone, the name of which I sadly can't remember, was awesome too.

Sound Exchange - THE punk rock record store in Austin. New and used. In a pre-internet era it was the only place to find copies of magazines like Maximum Rock 'n' Roll so you had some idea of what the bands you liked were up to and what new bands were worth checking out. Daniel Johnston didn't paint that mural on the outside wall for whatever lame-ass shit hole is there now.

Technophilia - As much as we resisted the Compact Disc revolution, when it became inevitable this was the coolest place to find 'em, at least before hold out Sound Exchange gave in and started carrying them.

I'm certain there are more I'm missing. The Texas Showdown, a mainstay for 26 years and occupying the site that legendary punk club Raul's once occupied, is next on the chopping block. It's literally the last business on "The Drag" with any character at all, and I don't just say that because I've been drinking there for my entire adult life. As of May 25th it's history, that part of Austin history that newcomers apparently shouldn't care about, and it's literally the last place on Guadalupe worth a tinker's damn. Some might make a case for The Hole in the Wall, but the business operating in that location, in spite of carrying on the name, is a soulless franchised shell of what The Hole in the Wall really was.

Why should they care? This is ostensibly what they fucking came here for. The most insidious thing is that the developers and landlords are cleaning up replacing these beloved places with chain or chain subsidiary operations designed to look all Austiny and unique. Go check out the Triangle development and see for yourself.

Hope springs eternal with the Red River and North Loop districts hanging on, and thank God for that. It's just too bad there are "districts" at all - most of Austin used to look like this. I suppose I should give props to S. Congress as well, though there's something way too fabricated in its aspect for me to trust it entirely - "Hey! Look folks! Here's the wierd Austin you moved here for! All on these few blocks!". As for the venerable Emo's, I remember when it was an attempt at a chain like expansion originating in Houston, and its "No Cover! Ever!" policy put all the cool downtown punk clubs right out of business. Funny how quickly the "no cover" policy evaporated after that.

But back to Guadalupe St. and the closing of my favorite bar. Right now it's hard for me to give a damn that this bullshit is happening all over town because The Showdown's fall is hitting me where it hurts. I don't drink anymore for health reasons but I'm not perfect, and when I fall off the wagon that's where I do it. Or at least I will until May 25th.

The Broken Spoke. The Continental Club. The Horseshoe Lounge. La-La's Little Nugget. The Carousel Lounge. The Poodle Dog Lounge. Those are the last of the last, and I wouldn't lay bets that any of them except The Continental will be around in five years, so get ready to pony up a $20.00 cover and pay $5.00 a beer to get a taste of what Austin was like before it was replaced with a facsimile of itself.

I'd like to think those newcomers who aren't supposed to care will somehow be able to tell the difference, but no-one's ever accused me of being an optimist.

Drink up, Austin. You don't have to go home but you can't stay here.


Anonymous said...

Ah, the Showdown. One of the highlights of my miserable collegiate years was a semester with last class in Communications-A Tuesdays & Thursdays. Class dismissed just in time for the Happy Fifteen Minutes across the street and down the block. Suck down a pitcher of Shiner fast so you could order another one before the deadline. Eases the pain of public education.

Anonymous said...

great article man, glad someone listed all these great defunct haunts