The Hugh Beaumont Experience

Mark and Sarah Pratz

photograph by Bruce Dye

Maybe Mark Pratz's daughter, Sarah, has been the biggest beneficiary of the clubowner's good common sense. Despite the fact that Pratz the elder has been booking Liberty Lunch basically forever and has been in the rock & roll business for the entirety of his 17-year-old daughter's life, he has managed to raise a well-adjusted teenager. "I didn't bring my world home with me," says the elder Pratz. "I didn't bring home a bunch a crazy drunk rock musicians and go, `Hey honey, they're sleeping on the floor tonight, and we're going to do drugs all night, then we're going to go back to work tomorrow.' I never did that."

Pratz started at Liberty Lunch in the spring of 1977, working first as a doorman, then a bartender, finally as club manager. Within a year, he started doing the bookings for the club and eventually put together Lunch Money Productions, still the name under which Pratz handles business for the club. In 1993, Pratz got the lease for the building, and despite repeated warnings from the city that termination of the lease was imminent, he has continued to invest in and operate one of Austin's most successful live music venues -- one that moves an estimated quarter of a million people through its doors every year.

For her part, Sarah Pratz doesn't remember much about the club until the mid-Eighties, sometime during which she remembers dancing by the side of the stage when she was five or six. According to her father, she was actually hanging around the Lunch even earlier than that -- quite literally hanging around. "We first tried to run a restaurant out of here," says Mark. "Her mom was a teacher so she went to work every day, and I'd bring Sarah down on one of those backpack things when she was an infant. So she's been coming down here off and on since she was born."

Not that Sarah was ever a fixture of the club; growing up, she simply didn't spend much time with dad at work. It wasn't until that point when little girls stop being little that she realized the potential advantages her dad's vocation offered her. "I came in more when I was in seventh and eighth grade and it started to be like, `Wow, my dad owns a nightclub,'" says Sarah.

Living out the teenage phase of a rock & roll fantasy? No, falling right into the old man's trap, it turns out. Dad wasn't so much worried about his daughter becoming a groupie-degenerate as he was interested in orchestrating his master parenting plan.

"She was real interested for a couple of years and then she was real bored with it," he explains. "That was sort of my hope -- that she would realize that it was not so glamorous and exciting and not want to go in doing the bar thing as heavily as a lot of people do when they think it's all real cool."

Okay, so it wasn't total lassiez-faire parenting. Sarah was getting to go to the club, but she wasn't exempt from rules. As the elder Pratz averred, the young Ms. wasn't really allowed to hang out with the bands, so she stayed with her mom while at the club. "She knew the rules here," says dad. "She didn't go on stage. She didn't go backstage. She didn't deal with any of that. She basically came to see a show."

It's still a relatively preferable situation for a young girl. Jane Doe had to go to bed once Pearl Jam played and didn't get to watch the rest of Saturday Night Live. Sarah Pratz, on the other hand, had to go to bed once Pearl Jam played and didn't get to hang out with the band backstage after the show. That's not the type of thing that'll elicit sympathy from your peers.

C'mon, though, a teenage girl spending lots of time in an environment where there are always cool rock stars hanging around; are we really supposed to believe that Sarah hasn't done anything deviant enough to really send her pop over to the harsh side of the disciplinary fence? Apparently not, according to the not-that-I-can-recall glances the two of them exchange. But maybe, just maybe there's a silent skeleton or two still bound and gagged in the closet. When confronted with the question of the most egregious violation of family code she's perpetrated that dad is still in the dark about, Sarah is suspiciously quiet, fessing up solely with, "No comment."

Does that get dad worked up? Not at all. His daughter's invocation of the Fifth Amendment only provokes an excruciatingly understanding-parent reply. "We discuss a whole lot of stuff that I would never have told my parents," says Mark. "In that regard, if she's done something really bizarre and outside and deviant that she won't tell me, then I probably shouldn't know. Otherwise it's probably nothing that I haven't done before in the past, too."

If you're shrieking because you think Hugh Beaumont couldn't have spoken it anymore textbook (okay, a Hugh Beaumont that participated in the Sixties), then, well, you're right. Mark and Sarah have that type of Leave It to Beaver-esque relationship that makes grandparents glow and the products of dysfunctionality sick. "I usually tell my dad almost everything anyway," claims Sarah. "It's not a big secret with me. I tell him stuff and it's not a big deal. He understands."

She switches to the second person and begins addressing dad directly: "It's better that I'm truthful, because I know I can tell you anything, so you'd rather me be truthful anyway and tell you what I was doing than lie to you."

photograph by Bruce Dye

If you think she's just reciting the goody-two-shoes party line for the sake of snowing Daddy, think again: "Like she told me she was still a virgin," says Mark to prove Sarah's point. So much for dirt digging and sleazy stories. The real truth is that Sarah is a pretty ordinary girl -- she plays volleyball for Westlake, she's graduating from high school in the spring, etc. -- whose dad just happens to own a club instead of managing large corporate accounts for Dell or whatever. And actually, it's the owning a club part that may have made Mark the very type of parent that he is.

"This is a very open environment," explains Dad, "and it tends to be the sort of environment that -- well, I wouldn't say begets honesty, but you certainly are on an outer fringe of society where pretty much anything can be said and anything goes. You're in a nightclub. People drink and they say crazy things and they do crazy things, and they come in and they're all screwed up. You see everything -- drug addictions and alcoholism and all the stuff that you see. If your kid is dabbling in any of that, it's nice to know about it and also nice to be able to comment on it. But I think it gives me a broader perspective at least to where I don't just react: `God, no. I'm pulling you out of that school and I'm putting you into a nunnery.'"

And it's worked for the most part, or to the extent that Sarah has no plans to make the club business part of her long-term goals (and that seems to make Dad happy). Sure, she's spending more time at the club now than she ever has, but that's primarily because she's been working at the Lunch as a bar back since last summer -- and doing so for the cash, not for any particular affinity for the environment. How many other (legitimate) jobs are out there that afford a
17-year-old the chance to pull down $80 a night?

While dad couldn't be expected to maintain the separation of Lunch and estate forever, he did successfully anesthetize his daughter to the realities of bar life. And she's none the worse for it. "It's more like I see what's going on -- it's not like being in the party, but watching it," says Sarah. "You see a lot of drunk people asking for more beer and giving out their money and flirting and acting silly. So I see what it's like. It hasn't really impacted me in any negative or positive way." How well-adjusted is that?!?

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