Continental Club

Written by
Sean Cope

Continental Club

As told by
Cope
This place still feels like Austin in the 70s.
Price:
$$
Best time of day:
Nighttime

What everyone knows

The Continental Club was brought to life in the ’50s as a swanky dinner club and has grown into an Austin treasure, where blues, folk, soul, rock and country music get along like hippies and cowboys at a Willie Nelson show. If it’s not on your list of great Austin music venues, that list might need some work.

What they don't tell you

There have been so many unforgettable, once in a lifetime shows happen here. From Robert Plant playing with Patty Griffin to Johnny Depp playing with ZZ-Top.

Do it like a local

Grab a cold Shiner and ask the bartender about the motorcycle dangling from the ceiling in the back. Friday and Saturday nights are always hopping but there is a great Monday night act called the Peterson Brothers. These guys will blow you away and there only 19 and 21.

For the History Buffs

The club served its first patrons in 1955. The property had been a laundromat in the 40s, but the new owner's vision was a swanky supper club. They commissioned an artist from UT, Jacque DeLamar, to come in and paint murals of Paris, Venice, and various other European cities, which still hang in the club today. Small bands would play cocktail music as dinner and drinks were served; a real continental vibe, lending to the club's name "The Continental Club". That style worked... in the 50s, but times were a-changing and once the 60s rolled around, the money and the people started moving to the burbs. The Continental fell to the ranks of a, well... basic bar. The neighborhood got a little sketchy and the club transformed into (Kids, plug your ears) a topless bar, oh my! For a while, the Continental even had a happy hour for graveyard shift workers and day drinkers that started at 7 am. But that's not where is tale ends. In the early 70s, Austin's music scene started gaining traction... a lot of traction. Willie Nelson moved to town from Nashville and started the Hippy Cowboy movement which, in some circles, has never gone away. A little public television music series called "Austin City Limits" aired for the first time with Nelson as its first guest. Local music promoters started booking bands at the Continental. "Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble" rocked the stage, along with "Link Wray", "BB King", "Janis Joplin", "Doug Sahm", and the list goes on. 1987 arrives, along with a fledgling music and culture festival called "South By Southwest". Punk and New Wave were alive and well but the Continental was on the brink of death. The club found some luck when an accountant and audiophile in his 20s by the name of Steve Wertheimer came to the rescue with a few partners willing to buy it. Wertheimer wanted to bring back the 1950s feel, so amidst the renovations, finding those original murals was a big win, despite them being yellowed and faded from years of smokers. He had an artist come in and colorize and restore them to their former glory. These days the club is alive and well. Nestled into an ever-burgeoning SoCo district, the club has a bright future that, I'm sure, will be just as weird as its past.
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