The Heart of Austin: An Oral History of Spider House

Edited by Morgan Davis

Interviews conducted by Morgan Davis, Joel Greatbatch, Kayleigh Hughes, Robert Preliasco, Dany Recio

Spider House 20th Anniversary

This year Spider House Cafe and Ballroom celebrates its 20th anniversary, which is a landmark achievement for any venue in a city as crowded and oversaturated as Austin. We decided to celebrate this by speaking to some of the people who have made Spider House what it is, from its owner to its staff to the bookers and musicians who have curated its events before their 20th Anniversary Party this Saturday, August 20th.

On Spider House’s Origins

Like most cultural centers in Austin, Spider House has had a long and eccentric history. The building itself comes from a different era of Austin, and in the time that Spider House has operated, it has gone through many names and identities.

Conrad Bejarano, co-owner: [Spider House] was originally built in the ‘30s [by] the Fruth family, German immigrants to Austin. What is now Fruth Street was a dairy farm with this house on it. When we first discovered it, what was unusual about this house was that nothing had been done to it…it had the original “cheese cloth paper” and the wallpaper but nothing had been painted or anything like that. It was just like it was built, had the original tub and sink and everything. A friend of mine had told me about the house and it was for sale and John Dorgan [co-owner] and I had been in the video business since 1984 and thought we’d check it out.

I had already been in the video business opening video stores for this one company and I came to visit John one spring break and thought Austin was a perfect place to build a video store. I asked John if he wanted to go into business and so we started the video store together. So our first video store, I Luv Video, was down the street. Pushing the clock ten years forward the industry was changing from VHS to DVD. And so [we] thought “Okay, let’s start getting DVDs in, that’s going to be the new trend.” VHS at the time was like $60 to $70 to buy, that’s wholesale. That’s super expensive, and VCR’s were like $400. We had nine different stores with 1500 VHS tapes and we’d rent them out for about $2 each. The industry was kind of shifting, and then with Blockbuster it was laying waste to all the independents. So we thought OK let’s do something different.

Coffee culture was something that had been around the world forever, but in the US it was kind of novel and also I needed the distraction as I was going through a divorce and wanted another project. So we found the house and had to re-zone it because it was a just a residential house and we had to go through all the city stuff to turn it into a coffee house. The original concept was to create a community space that was more kind of European style, where you have coffee but you also have liquor. There were a couple of coffee houses in town but I just didn’t want a straight up coffee house but a kind of community space of not only in the morning but also an evening kind of community. We didn’t close until 2am every night and a lot of coffee places closed early in the evening. We used to open at roughly at 7am for roughly 15 years but we essentially shot ourselves in the foot because at some point this clicked to people that you could come and drink at 7am ‘cos legally you have to stop at 2am and you can’t open and serve liquor again until 7am. People would come in at 7 to drink and if you came in at about 8 you’d see the nurses and doctors and people on 24 hour shifts— stockers at HEB, Whole Foods or whatever. So by 8 you’d come in here and there’d be ten, fifteen, sometimes thirty people in here doing shots and drinking beers and you’re barely waking up at 7 in the morning. I personally never got used to it. You’d get your barflies, where every morning you’d get the same people who tended to be older and just kind of drinking. It really turned off the people who were coming to just drink coffee. So that coffee culture just sort of went away. And so after so many years we just thought ok, we need to open the place later.

That’s the reason I bought our coffee trailer, Beware Coffee. The trailer was super cute and the couples were really cute. I drink coffee from time to time but they made me more of a coffee drinker because it was just outstanding coffee, so good. So back in ’96 there was a place called Les Amis which is a pretty iconic, classic European style coffee house which was my favorite and then there was Mojo’s, that was another coffee culture community. And Quack’s. And that was it. So we were like the newest thing in probably years and it was funny because they were all kind of threatened, it was like “ugh a new coffee house,” because that was it! There was nothing else in the area in Austin and so we were something that was new. Our place was it. It wasn’t until about the mid-2000s that we just had a flood of coffee houses everywhere.

Spider House Cafe

Spider House Cafe’s quirky patio and deco is what first put it on the map

Bill Knowles, longtime customer: Conrad became a friend of mine and a lot of his personality is in this place. He’s really open to everybody’s suggestions. And he’s really good about that and I think the reason this place is thriving and why it has survived is the diversity. He always kept changing for the one thing but still kept it the same. It’s like 1978 here, it’s 1990 in here, it’s like all of Austin from ’78 up to now. It’s all in here in some way. And he kept it diverse and changing and adding until it became the compound that it is and [eventually] a venue.

Conrad Bejarano: With our place progressing we started to have music, but before we had a stage it was originally just a vacant lot outside. It was just this house and there was a couple of patio chairs, but we were always constantly morphing and growing it. So we put in another deck and then put more seating outside and when we put the stage there we started having music and then years later we started to have some folks that wanted to start doing South by South West stuff.

Jason McNeely [now at Hotel Vegas], he was the barista here and his business partner was Brian Tweedy, they’re also now partners in Barracuda. They both worked here so he started booking a few bands for SXSW and we started having more and more of a following. Then it started getting kind of crazy. In ’99 we bought this building next to Spider House which was a plasma center for 50 years and it just kind of morphed into a community kind of space. And while we were just learning the cultures, we were more than just a cultural business. The place was vacant so we were going to make it into a video store. So when we gutted it out and it was empty, people started asking us “Hey, can I have my art gallery in there, or an art show there, or a play there, or can my band play there for SXSW.” I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase “if you build it they will come.” So we thought okay, this is interesting, it’s clear that there’s a community need.

Spider House Ballroom’s iconic velvet curatins and mirrorball

Bill Knowles: Honestly I was for about a nano second talking to Conrad about going in with him on it and making it a blues bar. But when they turned it into the Art Authority it was so much like Spider House and it was better than what I was talking about when I was thinking of a blues bar. And it was an awesome place to go, you could go in there and there would be new art up, you could have drinks and there would be a band. Conrad might have told you already, but I think Johnny Depp came along to see it when it was still Art Authority, or whatever it was when it changing into the Ballroom, he was really taken with it.

Conrad Bejarano: What happened was I thought “I’m just going to turn it into a community space” and the event that turned things around was called the Gold Show, it was like this underground New York/LA kind of event. It was like a play, it had a band and there was also this kind of art exhibit and it was this combo that was really cool and bizarre. This event really resonated and influenced me once again, [it told me] that the dish of culture was set, and as “a Culturator,” my new word, I had to pursue this venue “For the People from the People.”

And what made it super cool was people like the director Terrance Malick and Vincent Gallo were there and it was a bunch of people who normally wouldn’t come out this way, Hollywood people, and so from then on the event and website was called the United States Art Authority, as it looked like a cool federate building. So it still clicked with people who were wanting to do their events for free which went on for a couple of years.

Adam Protextor, co-founder of Austin Mic Exchange and artist: I was first introduced to Spider House when I started working at Toy Joy in 2010. At the time, Toy Joy was on the corner of Guadalupe and 29th, and the Spider House patio became an after-work ritual for the closing crew for a solid few years there.

I first started booking at Spider House in 2011 when I was put in charge of booking bands for the Toy Joy Art Show, an annual community-driven art party with live music the store threw.  At the time the Ballroom was the US Art Authority, and it was turned into a gallery space. That’s how I got to know the sound and booking crew at the club.

Some of Austin Mic Exchange’s performers talking on the venue’s patio

Mac Blake, comedian: I came to school here in 1-9-9-9! And then like a lot of people I just never left because I’m lazy. And I knew [Spider House] as the… I think the first time I noticed it, it was the U.S. Art Authority and I didn’t really know what that was except for one time I saw Paul F. Tompkins there. The next time I noticed it, it was the 29th Street Ballroom and then eventually Spider House Ballroom.

Chris Tellez, comedian: …cause of the spider problem that they have there, they thought they would name it after the spiders.

Conrad Bejarano: TABC, the Texas authority for liquor licenses said you can’t have two names, and when I told them the story about United States Art Authority they didn’t want to hear it. We needed to call it Spider House so Jason McNeely said “Why don’t we just call it the ballroom” and it sounded perfect so we called it The Spider House Ballroom. But then when he was marketing it with posters and stuff he started putting 29th Street Ballroom on it, it’s like “dude, don’t do that” as then it’s confusing to people and most will need to know it’s part of the Spider House. So there was this period where people started reviewing it as 29th Street Ballroom and it took a while to switch back again to Spider House Ballroom.

Adam Protextor: Some of my best friendships were christened in late-night beers surrounded by those Christmas lights. The first show I went to would’ve had to have been one of Jason McNeely and Brian Tweedy’s You Got Me Fucked Up Sundays at the Ballroom.

Bill Knowles: Everyone who’s been here they’ve left their print. And everyone who were the managers and the general managers they all left a print on here too. Brian Tweedy, now manager at Hotel Vegas, during his time when he was manager here he’d do a lot for all of the music. But they started doing just one type of music a lot more than anything else and you could see things kind of changing and some of the diversity [was] gone and they actually ended up leaving and opening Hotel Vegas which is killin’ it. It’s the music they exactly want to do and it’s one of the hottest places in town.

Sabrina Ellis, singer in A Giant Dog and Sweet Spirit: I was going there when Jason McNeely was booking a lot of the shows before he moved to [Hotel] Vegas. He allowed Bobby Jealousy to have a residency there in 2011, I think for three months on Mondays and that built us up. He called it Jealous Mondays.

We were playing there back when we had a Boombox and two guitars and no band yet. And it was in walking distance from where I lived at the time. We played every stage they have, I think. I also once played a show there wearing nothing but a loincloth and pasties, and beard and a crown of thorns.

Bobby Jealousy performing as Blondie at one of the Ballroom’s New Year’s Eve parties
George Garcia, bar manager: The culture has changed a lot. Before I started working here it was called 29th Street Ballroom, the guys who later ran Hotel Vegas used to run the place here so there was this particular culture that used be here. The girl who was booking after they left, Jessica Ryan, she took over at a time when we were in trouble with the IRS and so she began bringing stuff like we have now that’s really doing well. Being diverse, not just one scene kind of like it is at Vegas. I used to book here when I started just to help out, as I play in bands, and thought if we need help then do whatever it takes to get us out of this rut. So I’ve seen it go from really terrible, with like no one here, and I’ve seen it come out of that and make money, lots of money, it’s nice to see that. Because when I started here I had only worked for a few months and they were going to shut down.

On Spider House’s residencies

For most of its history, Spider House has been defined by the variety of residencies and continuous shows it has rather than specific events.

Adam Protextor: The idea of Austin Mic Exchange came out of seeing a lot of the great residency parties SH was throwing (like the aforementioned YGMFU), and the desire to start something in that vein, but with a hip hop slant. I used to DJ a hip hop radio show and throw parties in college, and I wanted to translate that to a regular affair in Austin. As a new artist to the local scene, I’d been trying to play everywhere, and it occurred to me that no common space existed between all the scenes of Austin hip hop, and that the draw of free stage time with your peers might be able to crystalize into something as communal for rap as the other events I’d attended were for their respective scenes.

Jason McNeely was my point of contact, one I’d had from working on the Toy Joy art shows. I originally approached him with the idea of a DJ night, but once I revisited the concept with the open mic slant, he was more intrigued, and gave us a Sunday slot for a few months to start to build our potential residency. Honestly, he was nothing but supportive.

The first few AMXs were definitely small events, 10-15 people. But once word began to spread, the emcee and fan bases began to grow, and by the time we hit our first anniversary we had a packed room. Really, the most memorable parts from that first year are just the undeniable buzz you could feel in the atmosphere. A lot of these rappers I know now and take that for granted, but that first year was definitely its own breed of electric. As the event got bigger and rappers started coming back to flex week after week, it really started to feel like family.

[AMX’s former residency partners] the Austin Poetry Slam folks are fantastic people, and we definitely shared a kindred spirit on Tuesday nights. It was pretty fantastic to watch poets and rappers geeking out over rhymes, freestyling together, and pushing each other to find their own true message with their art. A lot of those relationships are still going strong.

George Garcia: The poetry slam was one of the first shows that I worked the bar at and I’ve been here for about four years now and it’s always packed. It’s open signup but sometimes they do competitions within the group that runs it. Because all these people go to nationals and complete nationally, so there’s a lot of poets here that have been published and things like that, so it’s not just a typical coffee shop open mic, some of these people have books and things like that.

Susan Tomorrow, curator of Black Widow Cinema: Black Widow Cinema initially started because I’ve worked at I Luv Video for about three and a half years now as a clerk and as their outside film programmer, and I also worked as as the executive security bouncer at the ballroom for probably about a year or so. And the booker at the time, Eva [Mueller], and I got together because I wanted to do a series there that was specifically female focused. But also I’m a horror movie, sci-fi maniac, so I didn’t want it to be like most of the female-focused series in town, of which I think maybe there are only two, that are like, you know, Clueless, Beaches, and Pretty in Pink all the time. I wanted it to be like, an awesome lady with her tits out and a machine gun, just like blreahhh. So Alex Ward, who was the manager of the I Luv Video at the time, the three of us got together and conceived of this idea and I was like “Well yeah, I’m happy to host it” because I do that, I’ve hosted events at Blue Starlight and stuff like that–movies are my main jam. Afterwards Eva left the ballroom and Alex fell off pretty quick–she did do some amazing poster art for it–and so I’ve just been doing it since then and it’s been about three years.

It’s a monthly series–end of the month–and it’s really cool to be able to program a free event that’s accessible to a lot of people and that’s something that’s really unique. And doesn’t charge money because everything in Austin in super expensive now. And you don’t have to go downtown, which is great. Conrad owns I Luv Video and Spider House, he’s just like “Yeah, show some cool stuff, that’s great!” And I was just like “Yess! Freedom! Freedom to do whatever!”

Katie Moore, organizer for the Austin chapter of Mortified: I’m an improviser. I do improv at ColdTowne Theater. I used to work at ColdTowne, I was the general manager for two years up until this past March and we worked with Spider House with Austin Sketch Fest, which was really great because Austin Sketch Fest reached a point where it could grow into a bigger venue and Spider House was ready and willing to work with us on that.

Mac Blake: Basically [Jazz Cigarette started when] Spider House [asked] Coldtowne “Please do something on Monday.” So Ramin Nazer was running this show that I don’t think he wanted to be running. In fact, he straight up [said] “I don’t want to do this anymore” and me and and this guy Joe Hafkey were looking to just maybe start a show and we’re like, “Hey, this Spider House thing fell in our lap.” We were talking to the person there at the time, [former booking director] Jessica Ryan and she [said] “Hey, you wanna do a show?” and we settled on second and fourth Mondays with Jessica.

She did say one thing tough that stuck with me and made me laugh, she was trying to program some other entertainment after the comedy and she’s like “You guys have to help me out, I don’t know too much about the comedy scene, I’m just more into the Burlesque and Marching band scenes in Austin.” And I was like, “Oh those are things?”

Susan Tomorrow: You can have anything from a band play to a film event to a burlesque show, poetry reading, performance art. I’ve seen some weird shit here that literally just cannot be hosted at any other venue. And it’s big enough to have enough people, and small enough to have it be a super original experience. Also, Spider House proper, there’s such a weird mix of people: punks, grad students, people bringing their parents who are like “oh, how funky!” There isn’t really an age limit… It’s a really cool mix of people that you don’t really see anywhere else.

George Garcia: We do this show here called Mortified and it always sells out. It’s really fun to work when it’s on [because] people read out of their journals from when they were [in] about 3rd grade until around their teens, and these are actual stories from their actual journal and it’s really really funny. That’s one of my favorite shows to work. Because it’s really busy and they sell out and we only do it about every two months.

Katie Moore: I got involved with Mortified maybe three or four years ago as a participant. About a year and a half ago I became the organizing producer for the Austin chapter. The Austin chapter of Mortified started either in 2006 or 2008…We’ve put the show up at Spider House for at least three, maybe four years.

The venue is perfect for us because Mortified is– you’re discussing very intimate content, you’re discussing really embarrassing things that people went through in their childhood and we wanted a space that could be very… the performers could be very close to the audience, the audience could be very close to the performers, and a place that has a really warm, fun vibe. And we’ve actually taken the show to another venue for a little while and it just didn’t have the same feel. The ceilings are kind of low, it’s got all these funky art installations, and so it’s a really good fit and sets a good mood for the show.

Everyone is really supportive of the performers. I do think the Spider House vibe plays into that a lot. There’s this feeling of wanting the performers to be successful and in other cities and in other venues you might not have that same feeling and that’s really important for Mortified, for everyone to walk out feeling good and feeling like they survived.

The stage there, there’s audience sitting on three sides and you can see people’s faces while you’re reading these very vulnerable things about your past and I think that it is more meaningful for the performer when they can see people smiling at them and supporting them and cheering them on, versus just the abyss of blackness, hearing laughter or not hearing laughter.

We’ve very happy there, I consider that our home.

We usually do about five shows a year, we do four shows in a weekend, two shows on Friday, two shows on Saturday, and for the most part they usually sell out, so we usually have about 900 people come see the show in a weekend. I know they can depend on us for people to come because Mortified Austin is very popular, it’s one of the bigger chapters of the organization, so not only is it a draw, but also it’s a fun show that everybody likes.

Mac Blake: [Our residency] Jazz Cigarette kind of grew and there wasn’t really comedy here at the time. So it was something about getting people used to the idea that it was a comedy venue. It was tricky but it was a venue where at least other things were happening so people would be like, “What’s going on at Spider House tonight?” that kind of thing. And then eventually they added two more comedy shows.

Chris Tellez: I’ve been doing [Shit’s Golden] a little over four years now and I started it over at the New Movement Theater. And then I wanted to move it over here to [Spider House Ballroom] and I was working pretty hard to move it here cause I was doing it at New Movement but I was coming to shows here when they had Jazz Cigarette and I just liked the venue and I was like, “Man, it’d be funner to run a show here.”

We got to a point at the New Movement where they were putting my show on a break, they were going to put it on a little hiatus and then at that point I was like, “Well, that’d be a good point to transition it over [to Spider House].” And I came in and talked to Eva [Mueller, former booking director] and for the first two months it happened to be in a month that had an extra Monday, so they let us have like a test run. Then they cancelled Vapid Show and they let us have their slot. And I moved it here and then I brought in Ryan Cownie as a cohost.

Mac Blake: Joe and I cohosted [Jazz Cigarette] at the same time on stage, which is not an original idea, a lot of people have done it, but it is funny ‘cause I don’t know why but every show at Spiderhouse Ballroom now needed to have a cohost. It just sort of worked out.

Chris Tellez: I got tired of doing like a set at the beginning of every show, like sometimes if I didn’t write or do anything new I’d be like, “Oh great, I got to do the same shit again?” So at least bringing Ryan in to cohost it would force us to do something new. Attendance went down when I brought Ryan on as official cohost but, uh, you know, then he left and we brought on Pat [Dean].

It’s been about one year now and then attendance went even further down with Pat Dean joining.

Mac Blake: Is this real? No…

Chris Tellez: Yes. People ask me all the time why I picked Pat Dean when there’s a lot of talent in this town but honestly he just pays me monthly to let him cohost.

Katie Moore: I think over the past couple of years they’ve tried to diversify quite a bit, especially in terms of comedy events. The Austin comedy scene is thriving and I’ve noticed they’ve been really accommodating to comedians who want to produce their own shows be it sketch comedy, improv, stand-up comedy.

Mac Blake: It is a great venue for comedy. In terms of the Ballroom aspect it does have a vintage charm to it and it looks cool, like it’s just a fun room and because it’s so big there’s space to do things. But like some of the other comedy theaters around town, you get 20 people there and it looks full but you get 20 people here and you’re like, “Eh, this show is a failure” so there is some pressure to do better shows and I feel like the shows benefit from that.

Chris Tellez: It’s also a good place for comedians coming from out of town and they want to do drop-in sets it’s a classy venue, it just works.

Mac Blake: As soon as we started Jazz Cigarette we had these people just falling into our laps like Chris brought over TJ Miller one time. We had a SXSW show that was just ridiculous one year and it is nice that the venue can sort of expand. Especially with the seating too, like if you have tables and stuff you could have, I don’t know, forty people in there and it feel pretty intimate and if it’s like “Oh shit, this is going to be a big show,” clear out all the tables!

Adam Protextor: Right now you can definitely sense a newfound confidence in the booking and a push to try out weirder or larger shows. I think the sky’s the limit. Spider House is such a great space for so many different kinds of events, and the management is definitely being super open-minded at the moment without being yes-men to every promoter. I think we’re gonna see larger headliners and stranger B-shows in the months and years ahead where the venue can support both by being savvy.  And that’s the best of both worlds right there.

Roxy Roca playing Spider House during Free Week 2014

George Garcia: We’re not just known for one thing but a lot of other things as well. When I go through my calendar every event has a different name. My girlfriend will ask me what’s going on and I’ll have a look at the calendar and it will have some details, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen or heard of them so it’s all blind for me. So going to a show based on a name, something that might say “Burlesque” but then I’ll get here and I’ll be completely wrong as it’ll be three jazz bands and so I don’t really know what to expect when I come in unless I’ve seen the show before. It’s random every time.

Adrienne Lake, booking director: What’s unique about Spider House is that we’re not just a typical club that’s just music all the time. We have regular events, we have music events, and then we’ve got everything in between. We’ve got Shitfaced Shakespeare, we’ve got comedy, and a million one-off events, and those one-off events have different promoters or people who have brought them to us.

Sometimes those people can be very experienced and sometimes they’re very inexperienced, so sometimes a show comes together naturally and quickly and it’s perfect and easy, and sometimes it’s like pulling a tooth. It can be a lot of work when you’re working with an inexperienced person, but that’s how they get more experience. And this is a community place. That’s the idea behind Spider House: we’ve got something for everybody. It would be easier if it were a venue where we were just booking bands every night but it wouldn’t have all the great benefits. We wouldn’t be serving so many different communities.

Katie Moore: I’ve noticed changes at Spider House. I feel like they’re making good use of the spaces they have and they’ve kind of developed into more specific spaces, so you have the Ballroom and you have that outdoor area and I see a lot more stuff going on concurrently in multiple spaces, which I think is cool, because it gives the opportunity for a lot of different performers to put up work somewhere. I think that with the issue of performance venues in Austin being such a big deal with Ground Floor Theater not having a space, Salvage Vanguard losing their space, Spider House is really valuable because it’s accessible.

On Spider House shows

Of course the venue doesn’t just book residencies. It has been the home of a number of legendary shows over the years, including New Year’s Eve parties and mega SXSW events.

Adrienne Lake: As a booker, you kind of have in the back of your mind the bucket list of bands that you want to bring to the stage and those moments that you want to create. One of my favorites was when I had Roky Erickson for New Year’s Eve, and the lineup was just my dream lineup. That was amazing, that was a really big high.

And then, during SXSW, one of the greatest moments I have seen— and people are constantly talking about it— was the Peelander Z and Octopus Project show. Peelander Z climbed onto the roof, they pulled people out of the audience and put their instruments on audience members while they crowd surfed, and it was just unbelievable. The photos and the looks on people’s faces were incredible. And then a little bit later, Octopus Project played on the main stage. One of the band members threw himself into the audience while he continued to play, and then Yellow from Peelander Z came up on stage, pulled the crowdsurfer back onstage, and then threw himself into the crowd in full costume. The whole crowd was just going nuts.

George Garcia: Some of my favorite shows were SXSW shows with some really awesome bands. Like two years ago we did a show for Ty Segall. So he’s like anti-SXSW and every year he picks a venue and plays to throw parties. Two or three years ago he booked here and brought in all these other artists from his own booking company. So we were packed full of bands to listen to on a daily basis and I’ve never seen that many people here.

Sabrina Ellis: The New Year’s shows that go on at Hotel Vegas started there, and we did a CBGB’s 1977 show one year. My friend Rocky from American Sharks performed as David Bowie.

Sweet Spirit played there during SXSW when we first got started and A Giant Dog got to open for Paul Collins, [co-founder of ‘70’s power pop band The Nerves] which was cool.

Adam Protextor: The 3-stage complex there is a really natural fit for large format shows.

Susan Tomorrow: One of my favorite things [was when] Lloyd Kaufman, the founder of Troma Films, came and premiered one of his new movies and I got to do the Q & A with him. And he was so amazing. He is 74 years old and stayed in the venue until like 3:30 in the morning signing shit for nerds because he’s just a boss like that. And that would have never been able to happen at, like, the Ritz, probably.

On working at Spider House

Working at Spider House has become a rite of passage of sorts in Austin, with the venue not only launching the careers of some of the city’s best booking talents, but also providing part time jobs for a number of musicians and artists.

Sabrina Ellis: It seems like you have to pay your dues there as a service industry person or as a musician. Everybody I know has worked there. It’s kind of a jumping off place for bartenders or servers. I think I worked two dishwashing shifts there at one point in 2013. I mean two shifts total. I wasn’t really into being a dishwasher anywhere, for anyone. Not my gig.

George Garcia: When I first moved here for the first six months I got a job at a store that used to be right behind us here. I got a job there folding clothes and things so it was working there that I got to know [Spider House co-owners] Conrad and John but then I didn’t start working at their bar until about three years later.

Susan Tomorrow: It’s really supportive. There’s people that work here in the age range from 21 to fucking sixty.

A lot of people here are in bands or do movie events, or art junk, so like if you need your shift covered, people are open to that, or if you need to pick up because you’re broke as fuck, you can do that too, because everyone knows you have your own artistic thing going on but you still need to make money and of course, don’t be a dick!

Pretty much every punk kid or artist I know has worked here at some point. It’s a place where you can work where you can have your tattoos and have weird hair–which should be everywhere but it’s not–as long as you do your job like they don’t care.

On the ballroom side, let’s say you’re like some twenty-one year old kid that just started his first punk band, you can probably book a show there. Which, there’s just so few spaces that will do that. Any venue downtown or on the East Side, they’re just not going to do that.

Vampyre performing during an Ovrld show at Spider House

Adrienne Lake: We’re such a family here. Everybody loves to come to work every day. We’re all friends, we all hang out together when we’re off work.

Chris Tellez: This is going to sound corny but I do like the staff, I really like working with the staff here. The door guy, AJ, and the bartenders are always really awesome. They work with us on any ideas like if we want the door guy to be a part of the sketch he’s excited to do it. So it becomes like a fun environment and the sound guy Dan [Richardson]. It’s just easy to work with everyone and it’s a nice venue.

Mac Blake: Oh yeah, Dan is great.

Chris Tellez: I know for an ex-convict it’s hard to get work you know so it’s good for him to find steady work and he likes doing what he does. I think he’ll be there until they fire him or whatever.

Dany Recio for Ovrld: He’s an ex-con?

Chris Tellez: Yeah yeah yeah, look it up on the internet, Dan Richardson.

Mac Blake: Or just type in Dan Convict.

Chris Tellez: Also, just “murderer.”

NOTE: Dan Richardson is not actually an ex-convict and has not murdered anyone that we know of.

Bill Knowles: If you’ve been hanging out here a long time you’d probably know 20 bar tenders all over town and I still hear from Spider House employees from all over the place, Australia, people way up in snowy mountain areas, all over the place. And then because most of the people like I said are artists in some way or artists or musicians or whatever so pretty interesting hearing from them.

Jackson Albracht, bartender: I’ve had to carry someone’s lifeless ass out of the bathroom because he got fucked up before he came here and then I had him in the alleyway that runs behind the main stage. I was on the phone with the EMS and they were giving me different instructions to help him out, watch how his breathing is doing and all that kind of shit. Meanwhile these two underage kids, I knew this from the stamped x’s on their hands, they were walking by smoking cigarettes and they just thought it was all really funny and were laughing at his misfortune and I said “Hey, can you guys shut the fuck up ‘cos I’m trying to find out if this guy is going to live or die” or whatever, and their response to me was basically “We’re not in your bar so you can go fuck yourself” so that was a pretty low hilarious point, because I was like well I don’t really care for this guy as he really made my life hard right now and will do the best I can for him, but these guys really don’t respect what I’m doing and really don’t give a shit about anybody.

On the vibe of Spider House

Spider House is perhaps best known for its unique approach to decor and multi-tiered stage set up. The venue’s aesthetic might be best described as “David Lynch gone hippie,” which is part of why it has become such an icon for Austin’s embrace of the weird.

Adrienne Lake: I had just moved out here in 2011 and I very distinctly remember getting lost because there was so much to look at. I was overwhelmed by everything that was going on in the place, in a very good way. I just wandered around the place discovering all this cool old stuff around every corner. I got a really good vibe, a really good sense of raw creativity from the space, so that’s why it’s great that all these years later I ended up here.

Conrad Bejarano: When you go into the ballroom it has this Frenchie feel. Kind of like a brothel ballroom or something. It’s where I love that period of the world, during the teens and twenties. I’ve done research about Paris and Munich. Some parts of this time in history were nuts, some things in Paris that involved big orgies and drugs. Part of the thing that creates communities… well, not to that extreme [as] the ballroom orgy, is that having a community space that is accepting for all, ‘cos you can come here, you hear stories of people who used to come to Spider House when they were 14 or 15 because like most places in America there was nowhere to go. You’re going to usually get yourself into trouble, there’s no other place to hangout. But if you have a place like Spider House well then I can come here and go to a hip hop night or watch some cool music that’s accepted by all ages or hanging out at the coffee house. Just to hang out. Something to do.

Bloody Knives performing during an Ovrld show at Spider House

Adrienne Lake: The space itself is filled with all these unique bits and pieces. There’s a bumper car and gargoyles – it overwhelms people because there’s so much to look at but it’s why we were called an Austin institution. We’re one of the places that are hanging on to that old Austin vibe.

Sabrina Ellis: It’s red, it’s very red. It’s got like a fake swank to it that makes it really fun. There’s definitely a vibe.

Susan Tomorrow: I think it’s a very unique space, especially for an on-campus area, where we’re getting taken over by Jamba Juices and like, tanning salons and bullshit. It’s a great tie-in and especially at the ballroom, it’s one of the few places you can be in a band and book a show if you’re not already totally established and you’re not fussy and want to charge a 20 dollar cover or something like that. It reminds me a lot–I’m from Olympia in Washington–there’s a lot of punk and DIY spaces and that doesn’t really exist anymore in Austin, like, there was Trailer Space for a while but [it closed]. Spider House is really open to–as long as the event is cool, it’s more so about fostering that sense of weirdo community and especially [for an] on-campus area, that’s really really hard to find.

Bill Knowles: I would recommend it to anybody who wants to see Austin and will tell you too that a lot of times some people have sat down and I’ve started talking to them— this is uncanny man— I say “Where ya’ll from?” and they say “Well, we’re traveling from California to Charleston” or whatever, and I said “You know people in Austin?” “No.” I said “You been to Austin before?” “No.” I said “So you just stopped and decided to come to Spider House?” “Yeah, we just figured we’d come here.” So if you can travel from somewhere across the country and go “Oh ,that place looks pretty cool,” or “I’m just going to hang out here,” in my mind they get the spot that is the heart Austin.

Spider House’s 20th Anniversary celebration is this Saturday, August 20th with Octopus Project and more.