Making the best of an off night
After driving up and down Lexington in search of The Venue, I had both an “ah ha” and an “uh oh” feeling when I finally found it. From the outside, the bar has the look of a windowless warehouse — a dubious indicator of the activities within — and, unlit, it also appeared to be closed. But as we circled the building, a sparsely populated parking lot provided evidence of life inside.
But what kind of life? Dungeoness 12-foot iron doors only fueled my imagination: a dark and cavernous bar, a few grizzled patrons slouched over well drinks, cigarettes burning their yellowed fingertips as they leer at spot-lit girls pole-dancing in their skivvies ... Instead, we were greeted by bright lights, high tables, and leather lounge furniture. There was art on the walls — an eclectic range of portraits from Aztec Gods to Prince to Dr. Teeth — and though a handful of people lingered around the bar, the place was mostly empty. Except, that is, for a group of models seated in front of the stage, looking marvelously pouty as make-up artists dabbed at their faces and photographers swirled around them with umbrella reflectors.
800 Lexington Avenue
5:30pm Thu, March 16
Squinting like moles, we asked, “Are we allowed to be here?”
“We’re closed, but I’ll sell you a drink,” answered owner Eduardo Carranza. The Venue, he explained, is only open on Thursdays, which is jazz night, and for special events; the rest of the week it is a “private entertainment center” for rent. The models were there for a promo shoot for Austin designer Linda Baptista’s upcoming show, a multimedia extravaganza of dance, poetry, and fashion to be held at the Venue on June 24.
It would have been entertainment enough to watch the models — one posed sulkily on a leather ottoman in a plunging white macramé-looking top with a skirt of pink silk torn into lopsided panels and clear plastic heels — but we were soon joined by Ivan Miller, who introduced himself as an Austin poet and friend of the photographer.
Over the course of a half hour, Miller pulled us out of a mid-week slump with recitations from his recently published book, Love Language, a collection of erotic love poems illustrated with photographs by Derrick Brown (a poem called “Forbidden Fruit” is punctuated with a photo of an apple balanced in the curves of a woman’s butt cheeks), and rhapsodic tales of his life in Austin: The locals-only café that serves amazing French food and magically feels like whatever country the music it plays comes from (“They have a spot for me on the back porch,” Ivan said. “And when I go there, I’m in the zone, I can’t stop writing. It has that spiritual feeling.”), a swimming hole that trumps Barton Springs with Jamaica-like waterfalls, and a thrift shop where everything costs $2.
“People who go there don’t tell,” Miller said. “People say, ‘Dude, where’d you get that jacket?’ And I say, ‘I got it.’”
To protect Miller’s confidence, I can’t tell you where he eats French pastry or where he buys his stingy brim hats, but I will leave you with a portion of this strangely invasive poem he told us: “If I only had a corner of your space/ I would open up the window to your art/ and paint the walls with glow in the dark images of myself.” •
By Susan Pagani