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San Antonio Music Venue Uses Shutdown to Renovate, Add Party Bus and Earl Abel's Chicken

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Jessica Marinez (l) and Amber Hernandez (r), have made significant upgrades to their Northside venue, Picks Bar. - COURTESY PICKS BAR
  • Courtesy Picks Bar
  • Jessica Marinez (l) and Amber Hernandez (r), have made significant upgrades to their Northside venue, Picks Bar.
Picks Bar, a North Side nightspot known for live music and live-band karaoke, has yet to reopen from the pandemic, but its new owners are using the downtime for major upgrades.

When Jessica Marinez and Amber Hernandez purchased the venue last November, their ideas for the space included fresh paint, new lighting and an elevated VIP area for special parties. However, when COVID-19 swept in, the team decided those upgrades should just be the beginning.

The highest-profile of those additions is Billie the Bus, a refurbished and repainted short school bus with a bar, solar panels, a sun (or moon) deck and an aggressive sound and lighting system with karaoke capabilities. The mobile party room is designed to liven up special events and will make food and drink deliveries via an online ordering system.

Among the other bar renovations are a couple of “selfie swings,” a refurbished patio, 14-tap beer and liquor system and an arcade claw game machine stocked with bar essentials — think cigarettes, gift cards and condoms.

Picks hasn't yet set a reopening date for the bar, but Billie the Bus will begin operation July 2.

“We’re all about live music,” Marinez said in a news release. “But we also want to do funky stuff that really stands out and is a lot of fun. We want to surprise people. And we have some things going on that I think people are really going to like.”

As part of Picks' repackaging, Marinez and Hernandez have also partnered with the culinary team at iconic diner Earl Abel’s to offer its signature fried chicken at a concept dubbed Earl’s Back Porch.

Marinez and Hernandez thought the full kitchen that dominates the back half of the building would be best used by outsourcing the menu to a group with a proven track record. The space has offered eats from food truck operators in the past, but nothing seemed to stick.

“Most bar people just really don’t want to get into the kitchen, so it’s a good arrangement for both of us,” Earl Abel's Manager Danny Badiola said in a release. “We want to maintain our customers at Earl Abel’s while reaching out to a younger generation, and Picks is a perfect place to do that.”

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