The 12 People You Meet at Sam’s Town Point, Austin’s Real-Life Roadhouse
You’d never know the South Austin honky-tonk is there, but wait 'til you meet its cast of characters
For decades, people discovered Sam's Town Point the same way Christopher Columbus "discovered" America: by accident – while lost. Camouflaged by a wooded neighborhood beyond Slaughter and Manchaca, where the road in looks like the road out, the venue exists as the South Pole of Austin's musical axis. Lately, the city's least visible venue – geographically speaking – has emerged as a happening scene.
An anachronism in contemporary Austin, Sam's lacks glossy modern architecture, serves no craft cocktails, and brags no contrived concept. It feels like old Austin because Penny Grossman and her family have run it as a working-class neighborhood joint since 1981. And yet, beyond its beige walls and value-brand hamburger buns, STP isn't frozen in time. Over the past two and a half years, a community of artists and associates captained by eclectic songster Ramsay Midwood have focused their ingenuity into transforming the sprawling property into a homey event space.
While others chase the zeitgeist of Austin, Sam's Town Point exudes a lowfalutin' creative fortitude that's refreshingly real. Spend some time poking around the compound and you'll know what makes it special: the people. Here's a cast of characters, none of whom are named Sam, that you may run into on any given night.
If you arrive at Sam's on the night of a big show, the first person you'll come across is a burly, bearded man in a ball cap named Dave Morton – directing you where to park. Morton's been a fixture at STP since stumbling upon the place while making a U-turn in 2002. Soon after, a regular got the throttle jammed on her car and crashed through the bar's front wall.
"When the insurance money came in, Penny decided – instead of fixing the wall – to have me build the room on the front," recalls Morton.
Building that addition, which now serves as the venue's green room, became Morton's first job at Sam's. He's remained an essential member of the STP crew, beloved for rectifying any problem with a solution that makes the business greater. Overseer Midwood considers the gruff-looking yet kindhearted and in-tune Morton the aesthetic representation of STP.
There's a seat, near the elbow of the bar, reserved for Penny Grossman. As reliably as the sun sets, she posts up each night and watches each act intently. She's a dreamer, a survivor, a supporter of musicians, and the founding matriarch of Sam's Town Point.
Grossman, who lives under the same roof where customers drink and dance, settled this land in 1979 and, two years later, began running the watering hole with her family. Four decades on, STP remains a legacy of those who lived and died with the bar. Penny's son, Wally Jr., proved a driving force behind the venue before losing his life in a 2011 motorcycle wreck. Likewise, a sign at the bar's front entrance immortalizes her youngest son, Sammy, who perished as a little boy. He's not the namesake "Sam." That's in reference to a former business associate of Grossman's from Illinois.
Years back, people scoffed at Penny's hope that her tavern on the edge of town would host packed dance floors, but dreams come true.
Marisa Smith & Marlon McAllister
To find nightlife, follow the dancers. On almost any given night, Marlon McAllister and Marisa Smith swing around Sam's dance floor.
"Sometimes dancers don't even know why they love it here other than the vibe," offers Smith. "There's a standard and manners that are a legacy of Penny and her love."
McAllister, who instructs regularly at the White Horse and has danced around Austin for nearly three decades, offers a more technical take: "It's got a great wood floor that's really generous and springs a little bit. And it's right in front of the bandstand, so you're dancing with the musicians.
"And a lot of people from different dance communities come together here – swing, dance, and blues; honky-tonkers and two steppers; and a great Cajun music dance scene," he continues. "Penny's always been adamant about making sure everyone is welcome and that everyone receives Sam's hospitality."
Ramsay Midwood quickly dismisses any notion that he saved Sam's Town Point. He shrugs off recognition in deference to a litany of folks that have given countless hours and energy to transforming the bar and surrounding acreage over the past couple of years. Still, there's zero doubt he's been the catalyst for that change.
When the songwriter stumbled upon the bar after moving to town from L.A. in 2002, he became a regular onstage and helped out where he could, from booking shows to fixing up the outside area. In 2017, Penny made him co-owner of the business and, after a year of repairing and expanding the club, deeded the entire four-acre property over to him as well.
"I think Penny just wanted to shore up the legacy," he allows while sitting out back in the gazebo. "She saw that we were making sure the business was running and tending to her needs, and more important than all of that, people were dancing and having a good time at her bar. That's all she really wants."
Not that taking over the business and property didn't also mean inheriting a host of problems, ranging from family squabbles to clearing out the sordid cast of addicts, scoundrels, and lowlifes that squatted around the property.
"I sort of simplified a lot of the nonsense and made it very clear that if you want to contribute and make an effort, you can stay," he says. "I couldn't do this by myself, so I've gotten lucky the same kind of people are attracted to the whole shebang. With that spirit and so many people helping out, we know opportunities will arise from this."
Midwood maintains a hands-off control, letting others bring their vision into the space while still making the hard decisions needed to turn the business around. Most of all, he's focused on taking care of those who contributed to making Sam's a community.
"The business mantra is: If you're taking care of Penny, the dollars will take care of themselves," he attests. "Penny is the spirit of this place."
"Ramsay called me after he had moved out there and said, 'Man, I just walked into the coolest place I've ever been in,'" recalls Kevin Russell of his first encounter with Sam's about 15 years ago. "I'd never heard of it, but he started playing a residency and I would go and sit in with him."
Russell became a regular, with Shinyribs now one of the biggest local acts to play Sam's somewhat regularly and sometimes under other names.
"To me, it feels a little like a Southeast Texas dive bar, or like places in Louisiana," says the singer. "It's a true roadhouse that's fun as hell. I'm most proud of Ramsay just creating this culture and giving a place for his staff to inject themselves into it. What he's doing right now, it's already legend."
Imagine a bedridden patient suffering from hospital delirium, hallucinating that he's the host of a cable access talk show. That's essentially Hospital Bed Karaoke, a cringy convergence of singing and surrealistic humor that unfolds wildly at Sam's Town Point on Wednesday nights.
Scott Mason, aka Scott Wade, stars as the show's eye-patched host. The drummer and cardinal STP employee turns up his sneaky wit to orchestrate proceedings: calling hotlines, bantering with guitar-wielding sidekick Ben Rich, and being lovingly disruptive to those volunteering to sing – including regulars like Lucas Hudgins and Marghi Allen.
"It's kind of a look inside the collective consciousness of Sam's Town Point," Mason says of the outlandish gags orchestrated by himself and Midwood, who handles audio/visual foolery.
HBK's unpredictable nature was evidenced this month when a participant received a call from his wife as he stood onstage preparing to sing. Over speaker phone, the audience heard him being upbraided for maxing out credit cards and not signing their divorce papers. Smartly, Mason called into a prayer line, telling the operator, "I have some friends who are going through a divorce ... right now!"
Mondays and Tuesdays at Sam's belong to Rose Sinclair. Her early evening bookings of Steel Mondays and Swing Tuesdays are a hallmark for the bar and dancers. The residencies have allowed Sinclair, who plays steel for Wayne Hancock, to provide a home base for a rotating cast of standout players from Geoff Queen to Floyd Domino, and a haven for classic Americana sounds. Sinclair's looking to expand the nights into steel guitar and Western swing day festivals.
Wild Bill Ogden's been championing Sam's since long before it landed on the maps of Austin's musical cognoscenti. The litany of events that the Lost Knobs' bandleader hosts at STP amount to some of the venue's most fascinating programming: his highly curated songwriter showcase Joint at the Point (famous for its extended smoke breaks); an annual multiday run of his Honky Tonk Holidaze musical; and even the Roast of Wild Bill, during which Midwood cracked, "I feel like every time Bill and I talk, we get closer," referring to Ogden's penchant for getting up in your face. Wild Bill's proved so instrumental in spreading the Town Point gospel that he was honored as "Best Cointelpro" at February's inaugural Sammy Awards.
Penny's daughter has lived and worked on the property intermittently since her parents bought the place in 1979. She took over the small back kitchen full time at Midwood's request in 2015. In a city where even the dive bars boast a gourmet food truck dishing truffle fries, Diana Grossman's grill doesn't serve any pretension. It's burgers and fries, cash only, made on demand. Although she admits she'd love to expand the menu, the simple formula carries a comfortable familiarity.
"This place is like a commune. You got people living all over the property, and all of us are here all day, every day together," explains Hannah Alpert while painting a mural in the backyard of STP.
Alpert, a Pennsylvania native who moved to Austin a decade ago with her boyfriend Ben Rich, bartends at Sam's; but within a business where the employees hold undefined and expansive roles, her work extends far beyond cracking beers. She creates art, helped remodel the old house that'll soon be a coffee shop, and generally contributes to a multitude of creative endeavors swirling around STP. Same goes for Rich, who bartends and builds things in addition to being one of Sam's most omnipresent entertainers.
"There's not a hierarchy that other places have," Alpert points out. "It's amorphous. It's a rad collective of people who know what's here that makes it so special. We all want to see it work."
"Yeah. We make that shit happen."
When Rance May utters that in his distinct East Texas drawl, the impossible becomes possible. As Sam's backyard transforms from an overgrown plot with single-family houses to a parklike event space, May – an extraordinarily handy honky-tonk singer who grew up on a cattle ranch in Anahuac and later operated UT's power plant – remains a crucial asset. He's the MacGyver-like get-it-done guy, who not only owns a tractor but knows how to fix a tractor.
At STP, there's no brain trust or labor force. Instead, there's an "action committee." It's a motley collection of characters that also includes Tim "Colonel" Fucik, a rasping Army colonel who proselytizes community ingenuity. In many of their accomplishments, including building STP's legit outdoor stage and bushwhacking out the newly minted "grotto," May's had a sizable hand.
"We don't do any of this 'cause we're making money off it," shrugs May. "We're just creating something we can be proud of at the end of the day. Hopefully, that can translate to other people enjoying it."
Jonathan Tyler & Nikki Lane
When Jonathan Tyler and Nikki Lane discovered Sam's, the artists both felt they'd found the Austin they'd heard about before moving here.
"A lot of artists are hungry for a real community," Tyler offers. "When you go to a place like Sam's and see all these people in a real community, it helps you recharge. It's about the bones of the place and the history, but it's more about the people there helping each other out, and that's why artists are all flocking there."
The couple took over the main house on the property and helped renovate it into rentable units and a recording studio. Their SXSW party, the Hideout, now counts as one of the week's highlights.
"It's just inspiring," offers Lane. "Each night there's a different vibe. It takes a lot to maintain all that property, so we've all taken a little corner to try to refresh it. More than making it better, it's about putting a sense of life back into it that Penny had always had there."
Located at 2115 Allred Dr., Sam’s Town Point is open seven days a week beginning at 4pm, except Sundays, when it opens at noon.