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Should The New “Tacoland” In San Antonio Have Changed Its Name?

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Punk band the Dead Milkmen mostly wrote joke songs, but a lot of people who spent time in the South Texas punk rock scenes in the eighties, nineties, or early 2000s felt the opening lines of the band’s 1987 song “Tacoland” right in their hearts: “There’s a place / in San Antone / where I can go / and not feel alone,” they sang of the dingy dive bar located “just three quarters of a mile past the Rockwood exit in beautiful downtown San Antonio, Texas.” 

Taco Land—and its abrasive-yet-charming owner, Ram Ayala—were vital to a part of the state where punk rock and other types of underground music didn’t get a lot of play, even in the years after they became socially acceptable elsewhere. If you were in, say, a touring stoner metal band named “Bongzilla,” Taco Land was your home in San Antonio well into the 2000s; if you were a local band who wanted stage time for your first—or fortieth—gigs, booking at Taco Land was usually as simple as calling the club and asking Ayala when you could play. (If he liked you, he might call you a “pussy,”—a word Ayala famously used a lot—and then pull out his calendar to book you again.) Taco Land, improbably, was an institution, a CBGB’s or 924 Gilman Street in a city that wasn’t otherwise on the map. NPR told the Taco Land story in 2009:

Taco Land quickly became a sanctuary for all the bands in San Antonio that didn’t fit in anywhere else. Ram became their patron saint.

“He allowed that music to be here which was more underground —- punk, you know, surfer or rockabilly, everything that most of the clubs wouldn’t allow,” long-time customer Bell Solloa says.

Ram’s original customers didn’t necessarily see it the same way when these kids and their bands started coming in, dressing weirdly and playing really — really — loud music.

“They’d say, ‘What the hell are you doing, bringing these bands in here?'” Jeff Smith of the Hickoids remembers. “And [Ram] goes, ‘Hey man, they’re here to rock and roll. And if you don’t like it, you can go sit outside or you can go somewhere else.'”

Some regulars left. Some stayed. And the bands kept coming.

The cultural importance of Taco Land to the fledgling underground music scenes dotting various parts of South Texas made it especially shocking when, in June 2005, Ayala was shot and killed in a robbery at the bar, along with employee Douglas Morgan. (Another employee, bartender Denise Kroger, was shot and survived.) Taco Land closed shortly thereafter. 

Today, though, “Tacoland” reopens in San Antonio. The San Antonio Current explains that:

Legendary music venue/dive bar Tacoland (103 W. Grayson) is finally re-opening. The bar will open its doors Wednesday, February 19 at 5 p.m. Jason Dady’s DUK Truck will come out of its winter hibernation to sling its famous eats along with Umai Mi fare (tacos have gotten a heck of a lot fancier since the bar’s closing).

Chris Erck, of the Worm Tequila & Mezcal bar and Swig Martini Bar says the full-service bar will feature 36 beers on draft, 99 bottles of beer and a collection of signature cocktails, which draws inspiration from the SA River and surrounding trees.

 […]

“We’ll be playing music of our times,” Erck said of the amplified acoustic he hopes to bring in to the bar and not the punk staples the bar was known for. He hopes to draw in emerging talent, much like Taco Land did previously, without pigeonholing a genre.

“People have great expectations of it being the old Taco Land, but it’s not the same, it cannot be the same,” Erck said. “The DNA is there and we’re trying to respect that history as we continue the legacy.”

All of that makes Erck’s bar sound like it might be a nice place for a drink or a bite to eat. Craft cocktails, high-end tacos, outdoor patios, and acoustic music can all be pleasant things. But it’s hard to see how calling this a “reopening” of Taco Land is appropriate. Taco Land was a punk rock dive bar where the owner yelled obscenties at the bands. This is an entirely different concept.

Erck (who won a Bum Steer from Texas Monthly in 2012) seems to acknowledge that in some ways. He told MySA.com “That Taco Land can never be rebuilt” and that his place is “evolving into something of its own.” 

Which raises the question: Why did he call it Tacoland? 

Talk about “DNA” and how the building is “easily recognizable as parts of Taco Land” are by definition going to be true, if Erck’s new place occupies the same building. But there’s something that feels crass, tacky, and disrespectful about opening a place that, most people who spent time at Taco Land would probably agree, Ayala would have hated—and claiming it as part of his “legacy.” 

That’s especially egregious considering the circumstances of Taco Land’s closing. If Ayala had been forced out by rising rent, a failed concept, or money mismanagement, the question of whether or not Erck’s decision to use the name was appropriate would have a different flavor to it. But Ayala was killed at that bar. Given that, it seems like the respectful way to acknowledge the “legacy” that Erck talks about isn’t to drum up publicity by claiming the re-opening of an institution: It’d be to open what’s clearly a new business in that space under a new name. If it’s important to him to honor Ayala, maybe he could leave the tributes outside commemorating the man intact, or hang a plaque and a photo behind the bar.

It’s not news that yesterday’s punk rock institutions will end up tomorrow’s high-end establishment. Anyone who’s seen the John Varvatos retail store in the old CBGB space in Manhattan can attest to that; and while the original Emo’s location in Austin is so far unoccupied, the eventual Waller Creek redevelopment will probably end with somewhere pretty nice in that spot too. This is the way of the world, and there’s nothing wrong with Erck opening a pleasant-sounding bar in the building that Taco Land once occupied. 

But he probably should have called it something else. 

 

Photo of Ram Ayala by Erik Sanden. 

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  • E. Cortes

    What, just cause they’re not gonna play punk they should change the name? Gimme a break! The building is there, the name will be there & there will be music. Who knows, maybe they’ll move on to heavier stuff down the road but either way, I completely disagree with you. The Cedar Door in Austin changed how many times to how many places? And people still love it.

    • Steve Vegas

      Sorry, but you’re wrong in so many ways it’s not even funny. This article is spot-on.

    • Greg Goodman

      this isn’t Austin, it’s san Antonio and unless you’ve spent time at taco land, you don’t have a clue. there was a whole lot more going on than punk music, it was open to all kinds of bands and people. you’ve never met a character like ram ayala who was murdered in cold blood along with my buddy doug right in the bar. there’s way more to the backstory than you realize. you cannot compare ‘cedar door’ to ‘taco land’, not by a longshot.

      • Texas_gal_4ever

        Spent many messed up crazy nights there, and it’s okay that it’s a new updated place, get over it

        • Patrick McManis

          A new updated place should earn its own damn name.

          • Texas_gal_4ever

            Why? It’s a tribute to him

          • Patrick McManis

            Not saying you’re high, stupid, or never met the man but-
            IT’S CLEARLY NOT A TRIBUTE!
            What, do you work there or something?

          • Greg Goodman

            patrick she clearly is an advocate for the owner and has demonstrated in previous posts that she doesn’t know shit about taco land.

          • Texas_gal_4ever

            Nope and I hang out with many old school band members who along with my husband were very close to RAM and who are ok with the new TACOLAND
            It’s the people In this forum who can’t let go of…. Not sure what. Owner would have been damned by all of you if had changed the name or if he kept it. What I know is it won’t be the same TACOLAND but it can be a new TACOLAND with new bands and a new music scene

          • Patrick McManis

            Ohhh you know somebody who knows somebody who went there the day AFTER. You should probably shut up about it.

          • Guest

            Go have a signature cocktail by the Riverwalk – really you are annoying as fck

          • My Dad owned The Crazy Horse Saloon on St Mary’s; saved that district from being re-zoned via Huey’s, La Playa, Wacky’s. Call it PUSSYLAND and be done with it.

          • A tribute? By RIPPING OFF THE NAME? Do you even know the origins of Tacoland, the tacos?? Didn’t think so.

          • Texas_gal_4ever

            TACOLAND was a taco place before he bought it hence the name TACOLAND
            I know a lot about it since I spent time there and my history is deep, be a hater it’s YOUR problemo not mine, went there for a beer last night, not a hater or a person who is so stuck on them keeping the name.

            If they had leveled it and built a hotel you same haters would be crying because it was TACOLAND. And you would want it preserved. So there is no winning with people like you.

          • Yes Ma’am after the brewers at Pearl got off of work. Snap. Ugh:(

          • San Anto

            You are wrong about those of us that are not going to let this just fade away. If Ram had sold Tacoland under his terms and gotten to enjoy his retirement, then i suspect we would all be there enjoying a beer, even Ram. BUT, he was murdered along with dear Doug and it was sold as is and now there is someone that thinks that opening the same place can be called the same.yet doesn’t wan it to be the same. hmmmm, then CHANGE THE NAME! The fact that it was a taco place when Ram purchased it again has no bearing because he purchased it from the original owner, see this guy didn’t get this place and blessing from Ram, he didn’t get to actually say to the guy, it’s okay, call it Tacoland….

        • Greg Goodman

          So many people with opinions that clearly didn’t know Taco Land or Ram. To respond to both of your posts, Ram didn’t just die, he and Doug were murdered. So no, not getting over that for the sake of someone who wants to capitalize on the name, yet doesn’t have a clue about what Taco Land and Ram were all about. Just because you got fucked up there doesn’t mean you know shit. You’re obviously an advocate for the owner, I hope he knows what he’s in for by maintaining the name.

          • FCN

            maybe you can start a scream-o punk place nearby! Once the Dead Milkmen played “Taking Retards to the Zoo” right across the street from a mental institution for a record store opening and the hospital admin begged them to stop as the “patients were all going INSANE(I guess there are degrees?) anyway it was a headbangers ball inside the funny farm! The DM said OK and played it LOUDER .
            This is punk- the DM were the pranksters of Punk.
            BTW I danced on the bar with Ram and “the bottle”.

          • Texas_gal_4ever

            He would also want it to carry on so don’t judge til you go, my husband loved ram and I was with one of my friends who was VERY close to ram last night at….TACOLAND and he loved the place and he knew Ram would be ok with it, the haters have not gone apparently, they jus want to hate because they can’t let go

          • Texas_gal_4ever

            And u don’t know shit either buddy

      • FCN

        Greg my brother is Dave Blood of the Dead MIlkmen—-> RIP along with Ram and the other real punks,,maybe I can get the DM to write a NEW song about the new beer PHAGS running tacoland.

        • Greg Goodman

          Wow. May he rest in peace bro.

          • FCN

            beep beep! I am his sister. I was the only girl in a collection of 4 children.
            The Dead Milkmen are very active again after finally having found Dan to play the bass. They were actually playing in Austin last December at a club in what I suppose is a new punk circuit venue.
            They will play all the old stuff for everyone-all age shows are still a huge part of their local presence in Philly.

          • Greg Goodman

            lol, sorry about that.

    • DerRabbi

      I’m sorry the Cedar Door was fine but it had about 1/1000th of the affection for it that TacoLand had.

    • Bhut1313

      You’re missing the point completely. It’s not about the style of music they may or may not feature there. It’s about taking a beloved, legendary institution, turning it into the antithesis of what it was and trying to capitalize on the name. It’s shameful and pathetic. TacoLand was an important part of San Antonio history. TacoLand died with Ram. Let it rest in peace.

  • Greg Goodman

    he definitely should have called it something else. there are other ways to commemorate Taco Land and Ram if he really wanted to do that. if it was one of his serious regulars or a family member that opened it up with the intent on maintaining the spirit of the original, maybe, but that’s not the situation. it will never be Taco Land.

  • Taco land lover

    When Ram was killed taco land died! If your not going to do it how Ram did, change the name.

  • netod

    3 dollar Lone Star and 4 dollar Shiner, keep that shit in Austin!

  • Texas_gal_4ever

    Leave the name, it’s a tribute to him and that’s awesome, the original place was a dump and I went to it. It’s sad that Ram died there, but I think he would be ok with it. The haters are going to hate and they don’t like change but the owner was a patron of it but he also needed to update the building to fit the area

    • Edmund LeStrange

      There is no way in hell Ram would be ok with the pussification of his club.

      • Texas_gal_4ever

        Really?? Because I was there last night with many of his friends and they all said the opposite. You have not been there and it’s a tribute to him. You don’t know what Ram would want but he was trying to sell it before he died.

        • DerRabbi

          And you don’t think the 1% of Ram’s friends who would like it are the ones that would be there and the 99% of his friends that would think he wouldn’t like it would be nowhere near the place.

          I notice you don’t answer the question what your relationship to the ownership/management of the new place.

        • Guest

          Hey Texas Gal what do you really know about the probate? Just askin’

    • dino reyes

      Texas gal, you’re high right? What do you mean “It’s sad that Ram died there”? Die? He didn’t die there, he was killed — along with another person. Seriously. A double murder took place at Tacoland in 2005. The bar does not even have a picture of Ram up anywhere, so what tribute to “him”? The “owner” actually there are two owners, were not “a patron” of Tacoland because no patron would have even think of disgracing Ram. Stop trolling this thread and go back under a rock.

    • Rene M. Lagunas

      You “think he would be ok with it.”? Now Texas gal 4ever says “the original place was a dump”. Sounds like you didn’t really like the “original” Taco Land. Sounds like you & your upscale Anglo-Saxon friends much prefer the “new & improved” Taco Land, with its high-end gourmet food truck, full-bar service, and “signature cocktails”.

      The new ownership doesn’t want any of the old patrons to ever set foot in this perversion of the “Taco Land legacy”. I, for one, will never come within 100 feet of this travesty, nor will I ever spend a single cent on any new Taco Land drinks, food, or merchandise.

      Taco Land died with Ram, end of story, not open for debate.

      Ram was a personal friend of mine. I knew the man. He would call me asking for a last-minute band to fill in, or a P.A. for a fundraiser he was holding. That’s right, Ram held fundraisers many times for the local homeless or anyone in need of assistance, let’s not forget that part of his “legacy”. He never pocketed a single dollar from those fundraisers. The man gave all he could to his community, and then some…

      I was the first News Photographer to arrive on-scene, the night of Ram’s death.

      Working for WOAI-TV at the time, I heard the call on the overnight police scanners for a “robbery-in-progress”/”shots fired” at 103 W. Grayson St. I knew immediately where to go: Taco Land. I shot video of Ram being wheeled out of the bar by EMT’s and saw them load him into the EMS unit, followed by Doug and Denise.

      I’m sure Ram’s family sold the building/property/rights to the name, etc. to some greedy, opportunistic property developers, eager to exploit the “legacy” that Ram had poured his life into and worked so hard to build and maintain for decades.

      Only time will tell what becomes of this new incarnation of the wealthy white man’s version of “Taco Land”. Personally, I like the way the old “abrasive” Mexican did things. I prefer to keep those old memories close to my heart and remember the “dump” the way it should be remembered, Pussy.

      • San Anto

        I know for a fact you speak every ounce of truth Rene.

    • Not haters. It’s a gross display of disrespect.

      • Texas_gal_4ever

        My husband was THERE the day after Ram was shot, he saw the aftermath, it destroyed him. We went there last night, their energy is there. But you old schoolers need to realize that there is a whole new generation out there that can learn and appreciate what TACOLAND was and they can make it t be what they want. I guess they should have put a Starbucks there, you would have griped about that too

        • Guest

          Really. Was he hiding under the pool table?

        • San Anto

          Hey chick you really just don’t get it do you? It IS (just like)a Starbucks now! You can argue all the way up and down Grayson st. about regulars and friends supporting that mess, but i for one know that this is NOT going to go away, it’s going to start to really piss off the truest of the regulars, so tell your new friend the owner that he better be ready, because this here is only the beginning…

        • Bhut1313

          It sounds like they might as well have put a Starbucks there.

    • My friend Doug was shot and fckin’ killed in agony, Ram shot to death, Denise, wounded. Gamboa and his co-hort in prison – do you even know wtf you’re talking about?

      • Texas_gal_4ever

        Yes Kelly i DO
        Now get over yourself

        • Guest

          I simply do not bullshit; end of story

        • Go hit your head on a tree while outside to take a pee; have some fun, elsewhere

    • Guest

      Leave the name; why? Tribute my ass; let the new owner/s come up with something original. Ram and Doug are gone, and so is Tacoland.

  • FCN

    hi there my brother is Dave Blood of the Dead Milkmen and I was there the night they played Tacoland. We all know that Dave is gone now (he committed suicide shortly after my Mom died in 2004). I am still on great terms with the band especially the new bass player Dan Stevens. How about if there can be a new song written about the New Tacoland starting out by mentioning beer phags and people who ride other people’s coattails?
    I bet the family grubbers got the most money for the NAME – I think this is where people missed the boat on WHY. I hope Ram’s daughter can live with herself-she knows her dad is hating all this but she is one rich beotch by now I am SURE

    • I see nothing but $$$ signs!

      • FCN

        I saw the scramble for the dead people stuff when my mom died and then when david died there were a few specific vultures named Jenny (the most welll trained blue blooded b* tc h in the USA) and two P OS’s named Kurt and Joe Sch* T Thise aka my younger brothers. I made sure they didn’t rob my dad’s grave. They got way more than they deserved. yes it all comes down to the money -that kurt and joe team had an angle on my dad called the sooner the old man dies the more money will be left. Well I brought BIG DAVE down here and he spent the last two years of his life wonderfully cared for and loved.
        yes they even cast lots for Jesus’ clothes.
        Some have NO SHAME.

  • HMK

    I loved Ram and Taco Land (2 words). I sadly set up this tribute blog in 2005 on the morning he was taken from us just hours after our Spurs beat Detroit in the finals as place for folks to share thier Stories From The House of Ram. http://tacolandstories.blogspot.com

    There are some truly funny stories in the comments section as well as the posts. RIP Ram and Taco Land. Peace, HMK

  • CS

    Taco Land was an institution. This guy is trying to capitalize on a name he didn’t make. I hope he fails.

    • Total opportunists

  • Bhut1313

    This is in no way an homage, or a carrying in of a legacy. It’s nothing but exploitive and crass.

  • Guest

    @Texas_gal_4ever KISS THE BABY FOOL!

    • Texas_gal_4ever

      muuuwwwahhhh. you have been kissed fool.
      why you mad bro? Kiss the baby was Ram’s special mix..

  • dino reyes

    I miss Ram, I found this great picture of him on the internet. He seems to be speaking to us from beyond…

    • No shit, her husband was there when Gamboa approached Ram for a cpl hundred bucks (hiding under the bar or the pool table?) – very interesting.

      • Texas_gal_4ever

        you don’t know shit Kelly… you really don’t. you see me and you know my husband and you will be very very embarrassed when i come up and reveal myself to you. very embarrassed. but keep going…. I can’t wait to see you at his next show. as i will make it a point to say hi to you…

        • General consensus says quite the opposite about you as a simple, annoying troll on this thread. I’ll pass on the show, thanks. You’ve offered no details to anyone which speaks volumes. Also, watch the innuendos about “meeting” me.

    • Texas_gal_4ever

      don’t be a fuc king Pus sy dino….
      as Ram liked to say.

      • dino reyes

        You’ve already been outed as a troll, you seem to have made hundreds of stupid comments using your Troll ID Texas_gal_4ever Now when people google Texas_gal_4ever the word Troll will be closely identified with you. Is this you on the right Texas_gal_4ever?

  • From a local muscian I support 100%; “Stopped
    by the new Tacoland just now. Didn’t order anything, just walked
    through the brick entrance and walked around a bit. I felt an
    incredible sadness. It sounds a cheesy to say but just walking the same
    ground made me realize that I may not be playing music anymore if it
    weren’t for my experiences there. There won’t be another Tacoland. If
    you weren’t there you missed a magic place. Tonight I’ll be at the
    1011,a place that has more in common with the original Tacoland spirit,
    if you wanna come by and hang out.”

  • Interesting question from my ex musician bf who played there regularly as well, just now; “WHY” change the name? I stand my ground. Change it. Bueno bye.

  • Where’s the troll’s photos?

  • Gawd El Gato
  • Name

    Ram was about the people and the bands. If the new “Tacoland” offers the same opportunity then I say go for it…in the meantime..what are YOU doing aside from pissing and moaning here? Not a damn thing…so best to shut up or do something pussy!

  • Bill

    I wasn’t around for the original Taco Land. But after visiting the new one and listening to the terrible house music they were playing, I won’t be back. Third Eye Blind came on. Uhhhh.