Faster Than Sound: Renovated Beerland Opens, Dozen Street on Its Way Out
Rounding up 2020 venue news plus all things Hi, How Are You Day
By Rachel Rascoe, Fri., Jan. 17, 2020
The newly renovated Beerland opened quietly on Dec. 31, just hours after getting the necessary permits. The Red River club closed unexpectedly last May during an employee strike over unpaid wages from former owner Richard Lynn. Workers were paid back by community fundraising – overseen by Donya Stockton, who co-founded the bar with husband Randall in 2001 – as well as contributions from Lynn's family.
In October, Stubb's GM Ryan Garrett confirmed takeover of the lease following months of shutter (revisit "Ryan Garrett Assumes Beerland Lease," Oct. 18, 2019). The venue, with no website yet, is open daily 4pm-2am. Garrett hopes to begin hosting live music in February.
"We're talking to as many talent buyers as we possibly can," adds the new owner, who begins a nine-year lease. "We're going to do everything we can to fill the room with fans of live music, and look forward to Beerland being a venue in Red River for the next decade."
The former Red River Cultural District VP, along with business partner Ned Stewart, is also in talks with SXSW. The duo received investment from the Stubb's ownership group, including C3 Presents head Charles Attal.
The new concept reignited complaints over use of the Beerland name. As for renovations, placement of a grand antique wooden bar against the northern wall opens up considerably more floor space. Near closing time in the early hours of Sunday morning, Beerland was empty, with both ESPN on TV and Parquet Courts' "Berlin Got Blurry" over the PA.
General manager Randy Conrad, veteran of the original Emo's and Scoot Inn, calmly tended bar. Despite photos where the space appears overdecorated, tin roof panels extend only over the bar area, maintaining empty, unadorned space for concert crowds. Wooden tables sit in front of the stage, to be moved on music nights.
It all adds up to a slightly modern saloon vibe, complete with vintage Texas maps and a souvenir penny-presser from the venue's previous iterations. I doubt the aesthetics would cause much fuss at just any new bar, but it's near impossible to examine Beerland without the baggage. The street-facing patio – stage for rowdy SXSW sets and late-night community chatter previously – looks nearly identical.
Now, we wait for the true arbiter of Beerland's new identity: a live music calendar.
Adieu Dozen Street
Dozen Street will close at the end of January. Owner Maydee Distefano cites personal reasons for closing the Eastside venue, known for hosting local acts on its guitar-shaped stage since 2014. An actor/director in Philadelphia prior to relocating to Austin, she plans to focus on theatre work.
In October, landlord Gene Mays sold the 1808 E. 12th building to Dallas' Eureka Holdings, which bought up over 100 properties on the historic street. Distefano says this didn't impact her decision, and that the remaining four years of her lease will transfer to potential buyers. While it could remain Dozen Street, she says currently interested parties "want to do their own thing."
The last concert in the mosaic-adorned lounge lands Jan. 31 with Whiskey Shivers, Mamis, Prom Threat, and more. Over five years, Distefano invited various residencies like the Friday Night Get Down, Drunk Piano, and the Eastside Blues Syndicate. She developed Wednesday "Butter N Jam Vibe Sessions" with fellow Philly transplant Dave Manley.
"Dozen Street provided an opportunity for artists to fail," adds Distefano. "Having produced art for 25 years, I know how important it is."
More Venue News
523 Thompson has relocated, again. After a year at 523 Thompson Lane, anonymous complaints pushed the DIY space to a new warehouse in late December, and more anonymous complaints shut down that space before it even began. Core duo Patrick Lehman and Andrew Malesky now rebrand as Unit 108, very close to where they started out. Get Real Promotions kicked off Jan. 7 with hardcore San Antonians Bloodhound and New Methods. Message them on Facebook or Instagram for the address.
The White Horse owners are at work on a new bar for 5500 S. Congress called Sagebrush. Co-owner Denis O'Donnell confirmed plans to open the club this spring, live music included. Former tenant Club Casino closed last March following an investigation into human trafficking and narcotics by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
Some Things (Hopefully) Last a Long Time
In early January, campus restaurant Thai, How Are You? announced that they had closed down. The side of the building at 2100 Guadalupe hosts Daniel Johnston's famed Hi, How Are You? mural. The late local songwriter painted the friendly frog in 1993, commissioned by Sound Exchange record store.
Unlike community rallying to preserve the piece around the 2004 opening of Baja Fresh, there's no uncertainty in this changeover. In July 2018, Austin-based American Campus Communities (ACC) purchased the building with the Goodall Wooten dormitory. According to ACC Vice President of Brand and MarCom Strategy Gina Cowart, the company "pledged to preserve the mural in perpetuity" through a restrictive covenant agreement with local nonprofit Austin Creative Alliance.
Essentially, ACC is in charge of mural upkeep, and the ACA oversees preservation of the iconic art piece. The former is the largest private dormitory manager in the nation.
"We do plan on redeveloping the site, but the existing wall will be preserved in its current state and will be protected throughout construction and beyond," emails Cowart.
There's no timeline announced for construction, and Cowart says they're "evaluating options" as to whether another tenant will fill the restaurant space. ACC also emerged as a major supporter of the nonprofit Hi, How Are You Project, founded by Johnston's longtime manager Tom Gimbel and Courtney Blanton. The student housing giant sponsors the third annual Hi, How Are You Day at ACL Live on Wednesday, aligned with the launch of a HHAY Project mental health training program at over 200 ACC residencies across the US.
The birthday benefit rounds up Cage the Elephant, White Denim, Jason Falkner, Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio, and more, streaming live at www.stingray.com/hhay. Wednesday, the Harry Ransom Center holds "Poetry on the Plaza" at noon, with reading and song selections from Adebimpe, Ethan Azarian, and Kendra Sells (BluMoon). The Austin Public Library also hosts a collection of Johnston's sketches until March 31 in the sixth floor Living Room Gallery, and plans to unveil a permanent tribute mural by artist Jason Archer on Jan. 22.
C2: Charlie Jones, co-founder of Austin concert giant C3 Presents, has left the company. That leaves Charles Attal and Charlie Walker in the former promotions triptych. Read more on our Daily Music blog, or revisit Andy Langer's 2002 Chronicle feature, including the hilarious tidbit that ACL Fest almost initiated as Stevie Ray Vaughan Fest.
Oblivion Access, formerly Austin Terror Fest, unveiled its full lineup. Heavy-hitters Carcass, Autopsy, Youth of Today, Duster, Daughters, and Zola Jesus add to headliners Converge and Lil Ugly Mane. Tickets are on sale across Barracuda, Empire Control Room, and Mohawk.