Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight: Austin’s lost Latin clubs

Ysidro Samilpa of Conjunto Los Pinkys performs during the first day of the 2022 Rancho Alegre Conjunto Festival at Central Machine Works in East Austin. Conjunto Los Pinkys is one of the few local acts that continues to regularly play shows in venues across the city.

KUT 90.5 | By Jerry Quijano


Mourning an old music venue that now belongs to the ages is as Austin as complaining about a time when the city was cooler or weirder, from lost classics like Liberty Lunch and the Armadillo World Headquarters, right down to the location of Antone’s you first visited upon moving to the city.

These venues hold memories that will forever be tied to the Live Music Capital of the World. Gone too are many of the city’s premier Latin clubs, with some venues limited to a one-off Latin-themed night in the middle of their regular programming.

There are fewer and fewer places in the city where conjunto, norteño, Tejano and ranchera dominate the night’s playlist, but this wasn’t always the case.

Just a couple blocks down from the Texas Capitol building, in a place where you now can order barbecue with all the fixings, you could hear the accordion stylings of aficionados like Steve Jordan at Club Islas.

A 1986 poster promoting a Steve Jordan concert at Club Islas.

Farther down Congress Avenue there was more Latin music to be found. Long before its vacant walls were adorned with the words La Bare, there was the Escape Club. In 1995, an up-and-coming young Latina named Selena Quintanilla-Perez rocked the place.

“La reina de la música Tejana” played the venue in February, just a few weeks before her untimely death. For those who were there on that night, the memory, just like her music, lives on forever.

Heading east down Riverside Drive would provide you with even more opportunities to get your “baile” on. In the ’90s, a stretch of clubs just east of Interstate 35 was known colloquially as the Latin Strip. That’s where you’d find the club El Coyote, featuring many local artists including the likes of “El Montopolis Kid,” Johnny Degollado.

Johnny Degollado y Su Conjunto play at La Villita Inn in 1976.

Other venues in the area include El Pepe’s Polkas, Club Latino and Club Carnaval, one of the only remaining venues still rock ‘n’ rolling on East Riverside. These are just a few of the clubs that once proudly and loudly shared música for “la raza de Austin.”

It’s a history that’s long gone, but one that lives on in the hearts of those who spent unforgettable nights on those dance floors. The Live Music Capital of the World would not be so without their contributions.

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