El Coyote

"Have you been to El Coyote yet?" is the question I would inevitably get asked when I would tell my accordion-loving friends of my forays through East Austin conjunto bars. And for about three years now, I would shamefully have to tell them no, I hadn't gotten over there yet. I was starting to feel like I was missing out on the hip scene - everyone had been there but me.

So finally, I decided it was time to quit hitting the same old places, head south of the river, and go see what the fuss was about. And they were right; El Coyote is a classic cowboy bar, highly recommended for nights of old-time Tejano.

Owner Bernardo "Benny" Romero still books the same traditional style that was popular when he entered the club business 26 years ago. He started off on Sixth Street (back when the "arts district" was better known for conjunto than frat boys) with clubs named Las Palomitas and La Plaza, which featured the likes of Austin legend Johnny Degollado. He has been running his dancing hotspot at 2120 E. Riverside Drive. (it's easy to miss if you're not looking for it, so keep your eyes peeled) for 10 years now. He's not about to abandon the old-style conjunto, and he's blunt about his reasons why:

"I don't want minors in there," he says. "They're a pain in the ass. Older people are a better crowd, you know what I mean?" Well, okay, there is another compelling reason: "I want the bajo sexto and accordion to stick around. I keep lots of those kinds of instruments around to help musicians out." Romero also likes to stick mostly to local conjunto bands, rather than the touring norteño bands coming up from Mexico. "Those bands play that Mex-Tex," he says. "I like the old German-made Hohner accordions; they have a clearer sound than those big accordions. I also play that kind of stuff. Conjunto is a good draw." And, somewhat contradictory to his stance on minors, Romero says, "Accordion and bajo sexto are good for young people coming up. You're seeing it everywhere today."

My debut trip to El Coyote turned up a good band from Hutto, Los Compadres. They played a straight-ahead, Texas-style conjunto that seemed a bit slow out of the gate, but once the dance floor filled up, the band quickly smoothed out with some confident, strong playing.

Unlike other conjunto bars I've visited, there are no pool tables at El Coyote, but frankly, I've never understood why one would want to shoot pool when you could be squeezing a girl in front of the bandstand. And guys, if you're looking for a place to cruise the women, get to El Coyote early. When we arrived, before the band started, we quickly noted that the crowd was, no kidding, about 90 percent female. It didn't take long for the ratio to even out, though, and pretty soon everyone had a dance partner. - Lee Nichols

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