Austin venue closes, leaving hole in music scene

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Carolyn and Dave Martin, a western swing duo, perform at Strange Brew Lounge Side. Strange Brew abruptly closed its doors earlier this month.
Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa | Daily Texan Staff

Earlier this month, Strange Brew, a coffee shop and music venue in South Austin, suddenly closed its doors without notice, leaving unemployed baristas and a canceled lineup of musicians in its wake.

While those closely associated with the venue knew its business was struggling financially, not many expected the abrupt end to Strange Brew. Jeff Plankenhorn, who worked as a consultant and musician at the store, said the venue had a vibrant community of supporters in Austin, but ultimately, increasing rent and other financial factors led to its closure.

“Strange Brew tried really hard to reorganize things and take care of their employees,” Plankenhorn said. “It’s just a shame because Strange Brew has developed a different kind of vibe than a lot of places, and it was in an area where it was needed.”

Rose Bush, an Austin nurse and regular at Strange Brew, wanted to help former employees, so she put on a benefit for them Sunday night.

“It was more of a thank you from the Austin community for what Strange Brew was,” Bush said. “It’s difficult now for any small business owner, but especially those who want to make music happen.”

Musicians have praised the venue as one of the best “listening rooms” in Austin where customers could focus on the music. One of the great things about Strange Brew was its attention to the sound in the room and its desire to take care of the musicians, Plankenhorn said.

UT alumnus Bruce Hughes was one of those musicians. The Austin native played clubs and venues throughout the 1980s as a student, and in recent years, he was a familiar face at Strange Brew. Hughes said it was sad to see a venue as valuable as Strange Brew close down.  

“We’ve seen a lot of really beautiful clubs meet their demise,” Hughes said. “It’s harder and harder to find venues that can actually afford to rent dirt here in Austin, Texas.”

In September, Mayor Steve Adler announced a plan for a bond that aims to sustain Austin music venues facing surging rent in Austin, with a goal to acquire $10 million to purchase and preserve iconic venues. 

While the bond is still in the planning phase, Jason Stanford, communications director for the mayor’s office, said his office is moving as fast as they can. Stanford said he expects the mayor to make an announcement about the bond in March.

The bond will probably not be able to help venues such as Strange Brew that have already closed, but it’s too early to make that call yet, Stanford said.

Bush, who knows many of those in the Austin music community, said the bond is a sign the city is moving in the right direction, but “it’s a small drop in a bucket.”

Bush referenced mutually beneficial venue situations such as at The Saxon Pub, where Gary Keller, head of Austin-based Keller Williams Realty, worked with city leaders and bought the venue’s land “to ensure that Austin doesn’t lose important musical landmarks like the Saxon Pub,” according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Despite the closing of Strange Brew, Plankenhorn said the music of Austin isn’t going anywhere.

“(The Austin music scene) is beautiful and durable,” Plankenhorn said. “It goes through phases that are beyond a structure or a club, but we have a very resilient music community here in Austin.”