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The Continental Club has been key to keeping Austin entertained since 1955, evolving and changing over time from a supper club to the city's first burlesque club to, finally, one of the most forward-facing live music venues. Its stage has been shared by world-renowned musicians like Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Replacements and countless local favorites.
After weathering one of the harshest years on the entertainment industry, The Continental Club opened its South Congress Avenue doors for the first time since the pandemic began, with a Friday night show from 30-year regulars The Blues Specialists.
There wasn't a mask in sight as people of all ages gathered in front of the Red Velvet stage to dance to The Blues Specialists, Greyhounds and Barfield the Tyrant well into the night. In fact, the scene was one straight out of the before times.
Now that The Continental Club has returned, the Blues Specialists will be back on stage every Friday at 6:30 p.m.
In case you missed Greyhounds and Barfield the Tyrant, the bands will play again Saturday at 10 p.m. and 12 a.m. respectively.
In scenes that look uncannily similar to the pandemic, the 1997 Hotel San José saw Austinites upon Austinites look Liz Lambert in the eye through a plexiglass screen and ask for a room for the night.
Lambert's newest documentary, "Through the Plexi-Glass: the Last Days of the San José," serves as a moving reprisal of her original, "Last Days of the San José." The documentary debuted at SXSW and tells the untold story of the San José, gentrification and how it led to her eventually leaving Bunkhouse Group, the hospitality company she created.
In the beginning, the film shows a peek back in time to South Congress in the late 1990s.
A lawyer who had just returned home to Austin from Manhattan, Lambert loved spending time on South Congress. She frequented the Continental Club, a longtime Austin staple, which lived across from the Hotel San José. While it looked decrepit, Lambert would soon discover that the hotel was "teeming with life."
The hotel had just been listed in China when Lambert approached asking to buy it. They said yes, and after buying the hotel, the previous owners left town and were never to be seen again.
Lambert didn't buy a traditional hotel. The Hotel San José was low-income housing, and she continued to run it, as-is, for more than three years while she raised capital to renovate.
Over the course of those three years, Lambert saw unimaginable things in that "red-light district," met a hotel full of characters and befriended many of them.
Lambert finally got a loan to renovate the hotel a few years later and closed. Ever since, South Congress has not been the same. At the end of the film, Lambert took responsibility for the spark that started gentrification on South Congress.
"That's the thing about change: You're losing something to create something new," Lambert said in the film.
Lambert said she sold the majority of Bunkhouse to Standard Hotels in 2017. She was fired from Bunkhouse Group because she and the company disagreed on "how to best grow the company."
"Why does every business in America see growth as the path to winning? I fought against it for, I guess, a couple of years," Lambert said. "I really hoped the specialness of what we had grown at Bunkhouse and at the San José would prevail."
In the film, overlaid with beautiful b-roll of the hotels she helped create, Lambert said it isn't lost on her that the gentrification sparked by the hotel's renovation was brought to bear on her.
"You're kidding yourself to think things aren't changing," Lambert said. "No matter what happens to the San José, it's always where I came from. Things aren't forever. Nothing gold can stay, right?"
If you were there to witness South Congress in the '90s, this will bring you back to old Austin. If you weren't, the film will show you a side of Austin that is gone forever.
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Native and adopted Austinites (those of us who have a few decades here under our belts) like to complain about how newcomers have changed the city, added to traffic woes, ratcheted up the cost of living and brought in shiny hotels and shopping centers.
But the less crabby among us realize that while people can bring problems, they can also bring progress: Good paying jobs, tax money to build cool things, a major league soccer team.
So if you're out there thinking about moving to Austin—I mean, as apparently everyone is—let us give you some insights on your new soon-to-be hometown.
1. We're not just for weird people anymoreDreaming about becoming an Austinite? Here are 8 Things You'll Love About Us.(Karen Brooks Harper/Austonia)
Part of Austin's draw is its unique bars, restaurants and small businesses like Wild About Music, the Continental Club and the Austin Motel. But Austin has grown long past weird, bringing in hip national restaurant chains and high-end shopping centers, along with sprawling mixed-use developments in the suburbs that cater to the tastes of newcomers and those used to living in more mainstream environments. Plenty for the Keep Austin Weird crowd, and more than enough for everyone else.
2. We are a town of foodies
A server at Uchi on South Lamar delivers food to curbside customers.
(Karen Brooks Harper/Austonia)
Austinites tend to be fit, healthy people, but we do love our food. Our chefs are international celebrities, and our choices range from homegrown Turkish wraps to world-famous sushi to award-winning pizza. During the pandemic, Austin lost some iconic places, but other long-time establishments are pivoting, digging in and staying afloat. Fonda San Miguel is still serving some of the city's favorite interior Mexican food for take-out and dine in, and promises a return of its famous Sunday Hacienda Brunch soon. Vespaio, one of the city's original South Congress eateries, is open for Italian dine-in and take-out. Mother's Cafe, serving vegan and vegetarian fare in Hyde Park since 1980, is also open for take-out and delivery.
3. We're a great city for bikes
(The City of Austin)
We are a bike-friendly city and we are getting more so every year. Over the years, the city has reduced auto lanes to make way for bike lanes, it has created bike-forward intersections to help traffic and cyclists flow together, and it has recently completed phase two of the Walnut Creek Trail System, which will eventually connect north Austin to downtown via 20 miles of paved, peaceful, zero-traffic bike trails. So far, more than half the miles have been built and are open. The town is peppered with bike shops big and small and is headquarters for Lance Armstrong's Mellow Johnny's bike shop, training center and cafe downtown. All that is in addition to the Thursday Night Social Ride (currently on pause until the pandemic passes) that has drawn hundreds of cyclists of all levels to the streets of Austin every week for more than a decade.
4. We have unique neighborhoods to fit your personalityBillion dollar company Rex Teams to join Austin's tech hub(Roschetzky Photography/Shutterstock)
Whether your taste and means suit a penthouse in a shiny downtown high-rise or a room in a hostel over a Sixth Street bar, a funky duplex near the university or a comfy retirement community in the suburbs, there's a neighborhood to fit your profile. For instance: Young, hip, trendy and looking to avoid downtown? The East Side is for you. Old-school with some cash and a hankering for the good ol' days? There's a home in South Austin with your name on it. Small school districts, decent shopping, affordable housing and still close enough to see the skyline? Head north. And if you want to be a neighbor to the stars, head out to moneyed homes of Lake Austin and move in next to Sandra Bullock or Joe Rogan.
5. We have a love affair with high techHere it comes: Elon Musk says 'stunning' $1.1 billion Tesla Gigafactory will be built in Austin area(Mike Mareen/Adobe)
They don't call us Silicon Hills for nothing. Nicknamed for its place in the Hill Country and its status as the next Silicon Valley, Austin is one of the most attractive places for the world's biggest tech companies, and they keep on coming. Even as Austinites shake off the vestiges of PTSD in the wake of the devastating tech bust of the early 2000s, the city still loves its tech, welcoming wave after wave of industry barons who want to relocate, build and live here. The most recent, of course, is Elon Musk, whose Tesla factory in Southeast Austin will be home to the new Cybertruck.
6. We offer plenty of star-gazingMatthew McConaughey offers himself and UT football to raise funds for coronavirus recovery
In case you thought Beverly Hills or NYC had the corner on celebrity sightings, you should know Austin is absolutely crawling with famous people. Pretty much year-round—but particularly during our festivals—you really can't swing a stick without seeing Meg Ryan hanging out with Ben Harper at Amy's Ice Cream or Doug Benson wandering around Sixth Street or Bill Murray crashing house parties or Anthony Michael Hall behaving badly in a hotel swimming pool. Celebrities swing in and out of this town in part because Austinites are so used to seeing them that they tend to get left alone to enjoy their lives. But we also have some who actually eschew the million-dollar mansions in the Hollywood Hills and instead buy half-million bungalows in the city's hip neighborhoods or on the shores of Lake Austin. Variety Magazine recently rounded up the big ones, but let us highlight a few: Elijah Wood, Matthew McConaughey, Dan Rather, and most recently, Joe Rogan.
7. We're no place for introvertsTravis County bans outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people, with exceptions (ACL Radio via city of Austin)
Get used to crowds—at least, when they're legal again. Right now, the festivals are off due to COVID-19. But when they're on, IT. IS. ON. From the gigantic South by Southwest to the dual-weekend Austin City Limits show, the iconic Eeyore's Birthday (and attendant drum circle), the Kite Festival on the shores of Lady Bird Lake and the Blues on the Green free concerts in Zilker Park, not a month goes by without some kind of festival or event for Austinites to come together and enjoy their beautiful city with their neighbors. To illustrate the pervasiveness of the festival culture in Austin: When the coronavirus made large gatherings impossible, more than 100 festivals had to be canceled.
8. We Are still the Live Music Capital of the World—even without live music
Local singer-songwriter Bonnie Whitmore plays live on Facebook.
Home to an estimated 8,000 musicians and performers, the Live Music Capital of the World feels quieter with all of its nightclubs and venues shut down. But the city is running financial assistance programs to keep its musicians in town and afloat, and has become part of a national pilot program for re-opening its venues safely in the face of the pandemic, which has kept them largely shuttered for six months. Meanwhile, musicians—creative innovators that they are—have taken their shows online for a robust virtual music scene that delivers us a satisfying piece of Austin's musical soul while we wait for the stage lights to come back on.
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