Chronicle Live Music Venue Guide

Continental Club

Photo of Wertheimer outside The Continental Club.
Steve Wertheimer
of The Continental Club

photograph by John Carrico

Up until the late Seventies, the Continental Club was something of a Sixties artifact. It had opened in 1957 as an uptown cocktail joint for the working-class South Austin crowd, but was reborn during the heyday of punk rock as a live music venue where country, blues, rockabilly, and New Wave met and rubbed shoulders. The rebirth not only gave the Continental a rock & roll heart and saw the delightfully tacky original wall murals restored, the South Congress club then became home to roots-rock bands much as Antone's nurtures blues or Emo's does punk. The Continental Club is also uniquely Austin, as swing, R&B, roots-rock, and singer-songwriters still dominate the venue's eclectic calendar.

Like most of Austin's favorite live music nightspots, the Continental's owner is more often than not in attendance, meaning great pride is always taken in the club's image and development. Steve Wertheimer is the dapper gentleman with Buddy Holly glasses and silver hair, always looking for an excuse for a Continental occasion. That may be why both Elvis Presley's birth and death are celebrated with big blow-outs, as is Buck Owens' birthday, which, unlike the Elvis bashes, actually attracted the birthday boy one year. The Continental is also a big fave of celebs from Chris Isaak to Quentin Tarantino to Sandra Bullock, while Austinites like Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Charlie Sexton, and Ian McLagan make stargazing especially fun, since the club has no real VIP area.

What sets the Continental Club apart from other live music venues in town is its incredible happy hours, especially the near-legendary SRO Tuesday shows with Toni Price and her stellar cast of sidemen. Price, a genuine down-home diva, holds court with her ever-funky musical repertoire as vintage cars line the street out front and folks dressed to the nines crowd the dance floor. In the evenings, local favorites such as Jon Dee Graham, Alejandro Escovedo, Dale Watson, Charlie Robison, Cornell Hurd, Monte Warden, the Damnations, Kelly Willis, Bruce Robison, Junior Brown, and 81/2 Souvenirs keep things singing and swinging.

In the years since the Continental Club opened its doors, many businesses around it have adopted its unpretentious retro-cool look. In fact, South Congress has one of the fastest growing trendy shopping areas in the city, just steps from the club's doorway, where vintage clothing stores specialize in that Continental look. Good thing, too. At the Continental, style just comes naturally.

--Margaret Moser