In 2009 the bar that I called an annex to my living room closed. There isn’t even a hint of exaggeration to say that when I got in my front door that night, I literally took a deep breath and let it out slowly. It had been almost a two-decade long party, and I was exhausted.
Red River north of 6th street in downtown Austin used to be a desolate wasteland of empty buildings and wandering crack zombies. Besides Emo’s there were a few notorious bars like the Cavity Club where I saw my first show (definitely not my last) that featured fire inside the building, and the Blue Flamingo which was a drag queen bar run by a character named Miss Laura that who was nice enough to share the space with all of us rowdy, mostly underage drunks. You could do whatever you wanted in the Blue Flamingo and it became common knowledge that if you stood directly underneath the safety camera in the back room, you couldn’t be seen doing it.
It was creepy as hell on Red River, and the only reason to even be down that way was to find secret parking spots in front of this old ice factor. Today where that building used to stand is an apartment building with ridiculously high rent. It is directly across the street from Club Deville which used to be a sketchy lesbian bar called Chances and adjacent to Stubbs’s which also didn’t exist at the time. Eventually a few brave souls decided to try their luck at opening a couple of bars in that area and from there the gates were opened into one of the most unique parts of Austin that ever existed.
The first bar that opened down north of Emos was the Red Eyed Fly, and the first show was a band called the FuckEmos. They named themselves after their failed attempts to get booked at Emo’s which was the mecca of punk and metal in Austin for years. It was a wild show and kind of set the tone for how the rest of the street was to become.
Years before this place opened that I spent the majority of my thirties in, it was a building with no electricity full of furniture run by this guy that would just be sitting outside in a folding chair reading a newspaper in case you wanted to wander around inside and buy something. (I only know what used to be inside because I’m terribly nosey and had to investigate after driving past it one day I ended up buying an entertainment center.)
I had moved away for a few years to get my head together after one of the many horrible breakups that habitually occur in my life, and when I moved back it had been turned into a bar. I was hesitant to jump back into the scene I had left. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to start all over again seeing as how I had spent the main part of my 20s blind drunk at the aforementioned Emo’s. I didn’t even know who was still around, but as soon as I saw one of my oldest friends working the door, I knew I was back in the game.
The bar was called Room 710 because it was located at 710 Red River. At that point other bars had popped up, but this was the one that fit me the most.
As the years went by Red River became the playground of me and my friend’s dreams. Because we were off the beaten path we were basically left to our own devices. We watched out for one another and policed ourselves because the actual police were all down on 6th street arresting drunk frat guys who’d had too many flaming Dr. Peppers.
We were free to run from bar to bar, dodging cars to cross the street, seeing bands that no one would ever hear being played on anything but KAOS, the local pirate radio station.
Because Red River was our playground, 710 basically became our clubhouse. There wasn’t anything that didn’t happen in there, and I mean anything. We spent holidays, birthdays, wedding receptions and wakes there. One night we even had a prom! Bands were created there, and bands imploded there. Successful drug deals, a few unsuccessful drug deals…the level of energy, creativity and cocaine down there was off the charts. You couldn’t contain it. It was like a game of double Dutch that never stopped, and you were either able to jump in and go with it, or you had to watch the pros that could do it right.
Music, magazines, artwork, photography and a plethora of solid friendships were all created on Red River.
When it closed it was a big deal, and in a way, we were all kind of scattered to the winds until some brilliant friends started a bar on the east side that I feel very comfortable spending my 40s in.
710 had been bought by people we knew, but it had been turned into…I don’t even know what the theme of the new bar was, but it wasn’t a live music venue anymore. It was really cold, really quiet and really dark. Above the door when you walked in was a Dixie Witch album, one of the local bands we all loved, displayed like a family name over a mausoleum entryway. It was just kind of depressing. The day after 710 closed, the owner had given me a huge Guinness mirror that I would sit and stare at sometimes thinking about how many friends had passed through it dead and alive. How many events had it witnessed? Way too many to count.
So, a few weeks ago when I heard that the bar was going to start having music again, my initial reaction was joy. I thought about how awesome it was going to be to start hanging out down there and partying again. Seeing music with my friends and making more memories excited me. I was thrilled. Almost immediately I felt this overwhelming sense of sadness. It was a complete 180 as all the friends who wouldn’t be there entered my mind. So many people have moved. So many suicides. So many overdoses. So many car and motorcycle wrecks. And worst of all, so many marriages and children.
The vision in my overly dramatic mind was the bar was now a coroner’s office opening a drawer in the morgue attempting to reanimate a long dead corpse. That after all of this time the bar had been lying in state, and turning the lights on would show a sterile, clean environment that was just primed and ready to make new forced memories, and knew I wasn’t going to the re-opening of my living room annex. I avoided seeing who was left standing out of all of us, and who had uprooted themselves from their normal lives to come and celebrate. Somewhere that had brought me so much joy over the years wasn’t going to be able to do it again, and I didn’t want to pretend like it would. It was just a moment in time, but it was that time, and it was fabulous.