Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Greatest Austin Clubs of All-Time: Broken Spoke, Saxon Pub, Backroom

#24 The Broken Spoke 1964- present

Honky tonk Texas lives in a rustic red roadhouse that used to be on the outskirts of town, but now is surrounded by expensive condos. South Lamar has changed, but inside the Spoke it’s still 1964, the band is playing “Walking the Floor Over You” and the dancefloor is a counter-clockwise swirl of bodies.

It’s all about dancing at the club, which was founded 52 years ago by James White’s stepfather Joe Baland, who convinced Austin businessman Jay Johnson to not only lease him the property at 3201 S. Lamar Blvd., but provide $5,000 worth of building materials. Just out of the service, White helped build the Spoke and took over running the joint after the dancehall portion was added in ’65. His first big booking was Bob Wills, whom he paid $400 in ’66. Since then, everyone from Roy Acuff and Kitty Wells to Willie Nelson and George Strait has played the low-ceiling joint with the plywood tables and cheap metal chairs.
But it doesn’t really matter who’s playing, as long as the crowd, a mix of oldtimers and nouveau Lamartians, can two-step.

Saxon Marriage: Stephen Bruton jams with old boss Bonnie Raitt. Also Eric Johnson.

#25 (tie) Saxon Pub, Back Room

Saxon Pub 1990- present
“The House That Stephen Bruton Built” has nurtured such acts as Los Lonely Boys, Carolyn Wonderland, Hayes Carll, Monte Montgomery, Guy Forsyth, many more. It’s also been the home of the late Rusty Wier, W.C. Clark, Bob Schneider and the Resentments.

The Saxon, named after a short-lived, yet legendary, singer-songwriter club at 38 1/2 St. and I-35, has booked at least three acts a night for 26 years. Almost always with Richard Vannoy at the sound booth. Joe Ables’ innovation was putting the headliner in the middle, which not only lets working folk get in bed by midnight, but turns the house, with a whole new crowd coming in for the late night set.

Back Room 1973- 2006.
I can’t think of any club that has had more transformations, from blues club to biker bar to metalhead haven. After a 1985 expansion at 2015 E. Riverside, the live room was the perfect size (about 1,000-capacity) for national touring acts on the way up or the way down. Steve Earle and Jane’s Addiction played the Back Room- on the same night! (The house was cleared between shows.) While Jim Ramsey booked the joint, Richard Thompson played here, so did the Ramones. During the late ‘80s, the hair bands took over and the BR spawned national label locals Dangerous Toys and Pariah. In the ‘90s, the club, managed by Mark Olivares, became best known for metal, and was booking a lot of rap acts like Public Enemy and 2 Live Crew. That latter crew was headlining on May 19, 1996, when fans rioted, stealing cash registers and looting the bar.
The Back Room closed in July 2006. The building, which also included a huge game arcade, was torn down to make way for the new Emo’s.

HONORABLE MENTION: Momo’s Henry’s Bar & Grill, Backyard, Black Queen, Beerland, Split Rail, Parish, Austex Lounge, Blue Flamingo, Chicago House, Spellman’s, Catfish Station, Elephant Room, Alamo Lounge, emmajoe’s, Hungry Horse, La Zona Rosa, Cannibal Club, Cave Club, T.C.’s/ Sahara, Jade Room, I.L. Club, La Polkita, The Ritz, Ego’s, Ginny’s Little Longhorn, Chequered Flag. New Orleans Club, Eleventh Door, Club Saracen, Sam’s Showplace, The Green Spot, Carousel Lounge.

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