Year Opened: 1975
Drinks: Full bar
Long ago, Antone’s was all blues, all the time. It was a place for purists, a club where twentysomethings like Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds learned to play and where you could hear legends like Muddy Waters, Albert King, Jimmy Reed, Fats Domino, and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. The venue—originally a small spot that opened in 1975 just blocks away from the current location—was the brainchild of Clifford Antone, a burly man from Port Arthur. Antone, who died in May 2006, loved the blues and found himself feeling responsible for promoting it and the people who played it, especially those who had fallen on hard times. Over the years, the club moved to three other locations and gradually began booking different kinds of music, from funk rock (the Scabs) to teenybopper rock (Vallejo). These days you’re as apt to find Bob Schneider or Cowboy Mouth as Marcia Ball or Pinetop Perkins (who moved to Austin from New Orleans at age 93 because of Antone). The club also hosts regular Blue Tuesday shows and Austin Blues Society Blues Jams with local musicians. The current location is huge, with a massive stage and a sound system to match. In many ways it’s a million miles away from the original dive. That probably has something to do with why Antone’s has survived so long. 213 W. Fifth, 512-320-8424 or antones.net. Open daily.
Year Opened: 1964
Drinks: Full bar
There’s no trick to figuring out what Spoke owner James White intended when he started building Austin’s favorite country dance hall on the site of a lumberyard in then rural South Austin, back in 1964. The place has hardly changed a whit in the intervening years, and White himself is still on hand every night in his pearl-snap shirt, tan leather vest, and tall white Stetson to tell you all about the place he calls “the last of the old-time honky-tonks.” But should he be occupied singing with the band, take a self-guided tour of the small museum he’s dubbed “the Tourist Trap,” where you’ll find country music curios like Bob Wills’s hat and Johnny Bush’s boots, plus photos of legends onstage at the Spoke such as Willie Nelson, Ernest Tubb and the Texas Troubadours, and George Strait and the Ace in the Hole Band. If that’s not education enough, venture onto the 1,220-square-foot cement dance floor, where countless Texans have learned how to two-step—and where White’s daughter, Terri, gives dance lessons every Wednesday through Saturday at eight o’clock. Or if you just want to hear what real country music sounds like—not the slick, modern sound; not bluegrass; and certainly not rock and roll—grab a longneck and slide into a chair under the neon beer signs and listen to local heroes like Alvin Crow. 3201 S. Lamar Blvd., 512-442-6189 or brokenspokeaustintx.com. Closed Sun & Mon.
Year Opened: 1979
Drinks: Full bar
Songwriters know they’d better bring their best stuff to the Cactus. It’s easy to fill the small room, and the audience is made up mostly of hard-core fans who are passionate about folk music. They hang on every word, harmony, and acoustic guitar riff. It’s been this way since 1979, when the room—originally a coffeehouse—began booking musicians. The first act to merit a cover charge was a young songwriter named Nanci Griffith. Other youngsters who vetted their material here were Lyle Lovett, Darden Smith, Lucinda Williams, and Townes Van Zandt. These days you’ll hear plenty of young bucks like Slaid Cleaves as well as old-guard Texas songsters like Eliza Gilkyson and the Flatlanders and national acts like Alison Krauss and Doc Watson. It’s not just folkies who play here—the club has hosted alternative legends like Daniel Johnston and rockers like Alejandro Escovedo. It has a famous open mic on Mondays that brings two dozen hopefuls onstage. Bruce Robison first played “Travelin’ Soldier” at a Cactus open mic when he was starting out. Jimmy LaFave performed as well; now he headlines on the weekend. The lesson? Work hard, write great songs, sing them well, and get booked at the Cactus. The Texas Union, on the campus of the University of Texas; 512-475-6515 or utexas.edu/txunion/ae/cactus. Check Web site for schedule.
Year Opened: 1963
Drinks: Beer & wine
If you like clowns and kitsch, the Carousel is made for you. The walls are covered with murals of gay circus scenes (think elephants and lions), and there’s a homemade carousel behind the bar, from which you can order setups—buy a bottle at the liquor store next door. The Carousel has been opened since 1963, and for decades the music on the jukebox, songs like “It Was a Very Good Year” and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” made the bar still feel lost in an age of innocence. The bands were all born post-JFK, from folkies and psychedelic rockers to alt-rock groups like Li’l Cap’n Travis and the Fire Marshals of Bethlehem. The Mad Cowboys play a regular Friday happy hour. And the stage is not really a stage, just a spot on the floor in front of the giant pink elephant toward the back. Which, for the Carousel, seems absolutely perfect. 1110 E. 52nd, 512-452-6790 or carousellounge.net. Open daily.
Year Opened: 1957
Drinks: Full bar
The venerable Continental is the place that the big-name rock stars—David Byrne, Neil Young, etc.—like to go once they’ve finished their own shows in bigger halls. The music veers to roots rock and alt-country, the sounds that defined Austin through the nineties and early part of this decade, as evidenced by the acts that have maintained weekly residences here: Junior Brown, the Arc Angels, the Derailers, the Grey Ghost, Toni Price. The club is going even stronger now, having recently added