Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle A Night at the Eastside Lounge

By Jay Hardwig

JUNE 29, 1998: 

The Eastside Lounge

"We saw this place just sitting here, so we decided to buy it." So goes the rather prosaic creation tale of the Eastside Lounge, the East 12th Street nightspot that has bucked the neighborhood trend by surviving - even thriving - as a live music venue for more than 10 years. Run by Ira and Rosa Hill, the Eastside Lounge books live music five nights a week, most of it some take on roadhouse blues. Regulars include Sly & the Houserockers, Hosea Hargrove & the Enter City Band, T.D. Bell, and Matthew Robinson. Clarence Hicks, "The Best Guitarist in Town" by Rosa's estimation, fronts the house band, which plays for the Monday night talent show and on most Thursdays.

Though they're warm and welcoming, happy to serve a cold one to any decent folk who come through in search of blues and brews, the Hills brook no foolishness: They run a tight ship, and only allow in the young crowd "if they can come here and act like grownups, but most of them can't do that." Truth be told, it's an older audience at the Eastside Lounge, the distinguished set, that make up the majority of the audience. It's also a very friendly crowd, relaxed, open, aiming to have a good time, and seeing to it everyone else does, too.

The appeal of such a neighborhood bar is not lost on Eva Lindsey, who invokes the Eastside when explaining her notion of black community: "In the early 1900s, we'd gather for everything. We'd gather for church, we'd gather for celebrations, we'd just gather as a people because that was essentially all we were allowed to do under Jim Crow.... And I think the Eastside Lounge is the epitome of gathering. It's probably the last bastion of how people gather - and music is made and people really still have a good time.

T.D. Bell, a customer some nights and the featured act on others, appreciates the Hills' commitment to their community.

"Mr. Ira Hill, he's been about the only somebody on the Eastside that has supported the black musician," says Bell. "But to have free entertainment on the Eastside, his place should be packed every night. Every night he's open."

photograph by John Anderson

The Eastside Lounge (1522 E. 12th at Comal) may not be packed every night, but on the night of my visit it certainly was. It's a small place, nothin' fancy, but comfortable at any rate; tables, a few booths, and a small stage up front. As a white-boy writer visiting the Eastside Lounge for the first time, I felt a little conspicuous at first, well aware that I was the only blonde patron in the bar, the odd one out by virtue not only of skin color but of age. An awkward moment or two, but that uneasiness faded quickly, chased both by Budweiser and the goodwill of those around me. By the end of the night, I found myself up on the dance floor, moved to motion by Hosea Hargrove's take on "If You Love Me Like You Say."

A fellow next to me tapped me on the shoulder, and when I turned to look, he gave me a grin.

"Ain't nothin' but a party," he sang.

Damn right. - J.H.

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