East Austin club, the Skylark Lounge has placed first in a Yelp list of the top 50 music venues in America. The folks at Yelp say you should go to the local dive bar for “A piece of old-school Texas music and pretty good pizza.”
The club has a rich history, that current owner Johnny LaTouf shared with us when we caught up with him in 2014, about a year after the venue opened.
“I walked into this bar and I felt the history,” he says. The space was a lumber yard before becoming the Airport Bar and Grill, a neighborhood hangout for black folk, and later a lesbian bar called Bernadette’s. LaTouf decided to “grab it and try to preserve it.”
He was determined to create a space that caters to both sets of the bar’s former clientele. He wanted to fill a vacuum for East Austin natives alarmed at the way black and Hispanic entrepreneurs were being pushed out of the neighborhood, watching the local culture “getting obliterated off the map.” He also wanted to welcome the area’s newer transplants and tourists looking for an authentic Austin experience.
“The other bar people in town told me ‘Are you crazy? You cannot have a bar that is going to have gay people, African-American people, Hispanic people and white people coming to it. You need to figure out what your demographic is and you need to go for it,’” LaTouf says. But he was committed to the diverse vision.
These days, the club, a dimly lit haunt with candles on the tables and a regular roster of classic blues musicians onstage, does brisk business. A diverse mix of old and new Austinites flock to the Eastside hideaway for an intimate musical experience with an authentic old Austin feel.