Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Remembering the Ritz

The original downtown Alamo Drafthouse is scheduled to move into the Ritz Theater on Sixth St. late this summer. The new location will be called Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz, which is a nice way to avoid having to replace the grand old marquee out front.

I think this is a perfect match for both the Alamo and the Ritz. The former was facing a serious jump in rent at their current Warehouse District location on Colorado St. and the latter is a long-neglected old husk that would clean up nicely with the right improvements. The Alamo will sink as much as $1 million into the 1929 theater. Parking will continue to be tight, but it’s probably not going to hamper the Alamo’s business any more than it already does.

The Ritz had many lives after the movies stopped running in the Seventies. It was home to Esther’s Follies for a spell before becoming an on-again, off-again music venue for the next three decades. Roky Erickson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys and the Butthole Surfers all played the Ritz.

One of the first concerts I saw after moving to Austin in 1987 was a 7 Seconds show at the Ritz on a Tuesday night. It only cost $1 to get in. On July 4th of that year, I saw Poison 13, the Party Owls and the Hickoids at the Ritz. That show ended with a naked skinhead fellating the microphone while Jeff Smith sang Alice Cooper’s “Be My Lover.” Fishbone came to town in August, just in time to salve the burn of my unrequited summer school death rock girl crush.

In 1991, I played at the Ritz with Cheezus, my first Austin band. We sounded terrible, but we kept the audience entertained by giving them Planters Cheez Balls and individually-wrapped cheese slices to throw at us while we played. We were opening for Crust and I’ll never forget watching John "Rev. Art Bank Lobby" Hawkins set his pubic hair on fire to end the show. I was latently accepted into graduate school at UT the next morning.

About a year ago, The Ron Titter Band played the Ritz with Oh, Beast! and Gretchen Phillips at one of the last non-SXSW shows they did before an ill-fated attempt at becoming a more upmarket pool hall. With the Alamo moving in, the Ritz will be the site of many more such fond memories in the years to come.

Kudos to the intrepid folks at Metroblogging Austin for breaking this story.

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