UPDATE: Empire owner, Sidewinder crew hope to reopen club

The Sidewinder has closed and will likely reopen as a new club, Stephen Sternschein, owner of Empire Control Room and Garage, confirmed Friday afternoon. The news of the club’s closing was first reported in the Austin Chronicle.

Arrow de Wilde of Starcrawler performs at the Secret Sounds party at Sidewinder during SXSW on Wednesday March 14, 2018. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“My partners and I are working on securing a lease for the space from the landlord, and of course we want to keep it a music venue,” Sternschein said.

Sternschein says the new venue team hoped to come to terms with the landlord without closing, but “because of the code issues (which need to be addressed before any new business could operate in there), it’s a complicated deal and taking a lot of work to get across the finish line.”

The Red River Cultural District club opened in the space formerly occupied by the Red Eyed Fly in late 2015 and rapidly became a haven for emerging artists, presenting shows by locals and touring artists on two stages. Graham Williams’ company Margin Walker Presents regularly booked shows in the venue, and John Wickham, who owns neighboring club Elysium, is a principal owner. Wickham and Sternschein are working together on the new venture.

The Chronicle traces the beginning of the end for the Sidewinder to a load reduction that dropped the club’s capacity on the outdoor stage from 238 to 49 during the South by Southwest Music Festival. Many music venues rely on an influx of cash in March to float them through slower months.

The Sidewinder’s liquor sales for March 2018 were $50,018, down from $88,088 in 2017 and $76,001 in 2016, as reported to the Texas comptroller.

“According to Wickham, the reduced occupancy came as a result of city staff’s reinterpretation of what are considered exits and entrances,” according to the Chronicle story.

A statement from Fire Marshal Rob Vires provided to the Statesman in March said the city had notified the club about the need for a second exit in 2016, but issued them a variance with the expectation they would make the necessary fixes.

“Although we do our best to work with all of the venues in town to ensure they can operate during SXSW, the safety of our citizens and our guests must come first. Without sufficient means of escaping the structure should it become necessary, the Austin Fire Department cannot — and frankly, will not — compromise the code, whose sole purpose is to protect patrons,” the statement said.

Vires said his team worked with the venue to increase their capacity somewhat during the festival. “However, the owner is acutely aware that a permanent solution must be implemented without exception after the conclusion of SXSW,” the statement said.

“I was not involved with the club in 2016 so I can’t speak to the accuracy of that statement from AFD, but i will say that it is challenging as a business operator to stay abreast of code changes, departmental policies, and individual preferences, and understand what to do in order to comply,” Sternschein said.

Sternschein, who also owns the Parish, which he bought on Ebay last year, said if his team can secure the new lease (the club is currently under a month-to-month lease), they will remodel the outside space to address the issue with the exits.

“It is not a lot of construction work, but it will take a few months to get permits and approvals,” Sternschein said.

“The city has been helpful in giving us the roadmap and I’m confident it will all get sorted and this story will have a happy ending,” he added.

 


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