This is how you know this list isn’t based on my personal preferences, but, rather a host of considerations including influence, goodtimes-ability, schedule and historical importance. The Continental Club of the ‘80s is my favorite spot on Earth. The CC of Mark Pratz and J-Net Ward was a perfect place to hear rock bands- intimate, yet powerful enough to hit me on the back wall. The bookings, with Louis Meyers, brought in so many great acts: Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Johnny Thunders, Bad Brains, Replacements and so on. But the core was the local acts, especially True Believers and their crowd, and LeRoi Brothers and the roots pack. Lou Ann Barton, Dino Lee, Glass Eye, Poi Dog Pondering- so many of the greatest sets were from folks we knew from Wheatsville or wherever.
When M&J closed the club in ’87 to concentrate on Liberty Lunch, it was taken over by Steve Wertheimer of Ski Shores, who tried a rock n’ roll diner at first, then allowed Junior Brown to show the way to the next glory land. Junior’s Sunday residency started slow, but once word got out that there was this Ernest Tubb guy in a cowboy hat who could play like Link Wray, the lines were down the street. It was also the best place to see Alejandro Escovedo in all his configurations.
The Continental Club rocks on like Clara Que Si’, the go-go bartender who started going to the Continental as a teenager from Mexico. I’ve been in Austin over 35 years and it’s always felt like family at the Continental, which was built in 1947 as a Laundromat. The Continental opened as a private club in 1955, owned by Morin Scott, with Bill Turner’s jazz trio as the house band. The Sunday night jam session brought out some of the area’s best musicians, but after the club was sold, the jazz moved to Club Unique on Guadalupe St., just north of the Drag.
The club hit some down time in the ‘60s, when it was an alcoholics’ dive with Happy Hour from 6 a.m.- 8 a.m. That’s not a misprint. It looks to have also been a disco for a bit in the ‘60s and also, reportedly, was a topless bar for a few months.
The turnaround came in 1979, when some of the former One Knite owners teamed with Wayne Nagel and Summerdog to bring the blues-rock to the black box. Pratz, Ward and soundman Terry Pearson took over in ’83.
Wertheimer has grown the club since 1988, adding the Continental Gallery listening room almost 10 years ago. Wertheimer is a special kind of club owner, which is why he keeps waitresses and bartenders for decades- and musical residencies even longer. Toni Price, Jon Dee Graham, James McMurtry and the members of Heybale! were assured at least one payday a week for years thanks to Wertheimer’s loyalty.
It’s a rare thing, indeed, for a club to have two golden eras with different owners, but the Continental was all that and continues to bring much-needed soul to South Congress.