It would be an understatement to say that San Antonians are wondering about Scout Bar. Music scenesters are buzzing, and loudly — I couldn’t go an hour last week without someone asking me if I knew when Scout was opening.
Thomas Wilson, the owner and operator of the original Scout Bar in Houston, may be onto a great idea. He decided to open up shop in San Antonio with a Northside location just outside the 1604 loop off Redland Road. He’s had a bit of a rough time dealing with the City’s codes and compliance inspections, and the bar and live-music venue’s projected opening date has been pushed back numerous times. But at press time they’d cleared virtually all hurdles and are set to open on Wednesday, May 28, or Thursday, May 29.
Wilson is exhausted but extremely friendly when he gives us a preliminary tour of the place. He and his staff have been working around the clock, literally, to get the location up to spec — on this night, scattered staffers are staining wood trim and painting bathroom stalls. Tons of rock memorabilia already decorates the bright yellow walls of the main room, while large-scale artwork hangs on the walls of the Red Velvet Lounge, an additional room with swank décor that will house DJs and dance nights.
Scout Bar will fill a void in San Antonio’s live-music scene. There’s a huge difference in capacity between a club like the White Rabbit and our next step up, Sunset Station. So many up-and-coming touring bands fall into this gap, and the lack of an appropriate venue has hobbled SA’s ability to attract promising shows.
“I think San Antonio has always had a great scene, they’ve just missed a few shows because they didn’t have that middle-sized venue,” Wilson says, when asked about the expansion to SA. “We looked at something like 80 properties here, and it took a year of research to get this thing to where it is now. It’s been extremely difficult, but I hope it’ll be worth it in the end.”
If the success of his previous venture in Houston is any indication, it should be. I’ve never been to Scout in Houston, but have heard nothing but rave reviews from musicians and fans. Wilson says the two clubs are aesthetically similar, and the professionalism, quality, and exceptional sound that people associate with Houson Scout will also be an integral part of the San Antonio location. SA locals who’ve jumped on Wilson’s Houston shows are often surprised to find a case of beer and water waiting for them in a plush dressing room — complete with a Playstation and TV — that leads directly onstage.
One of the most interesting aspects of the venue is that Wilson is a musician himself. A vocalist-synthesist for electro-metal band The Hunger, Wilson maintains that one of his top priorities is to treat bands the way he always wanted to be treated while on tour. Part of the buzz surrounding Scout Bar is the word that it’s a venue run by musicians for musicians.
“Everything about this place has the musician in mind,” Wilson says. “Silly things like, ‘Can I still see the band when I go to get a drink?’ And yes, you can.” Exceptional sound is a trademark of Scout, something that keeps bands coming back to the Houston location and has sparked a wave of excitement in the San Antonio music community. Good sound not only motivates touring bands to play your venue, it offers local bands the opportunity to play on the exact same PA that meets the standards of nationals on tour. Wilson notes that the entire sound system was a third of the total cost of the venue. “For San Antonio, we just went over the top and the production is really great,” he says. “I look at the sound system and lights we have, and I just can’t believe we have them.”
I’d heard through the grapevine that two of the three sound engineers he’d hired were Steven Bishop and Chris Bower, and he confirmed that. Area musicians who double as sound guys, Bishop and Bower are known as two of the best sound engineers in the city. Wilson says he was surprised to discover that San Antonio has many qualified engineers, and they were the first people to contact him about employment. “Usually you get a ton of bartenders, and I got all my engineers hired before anyone else,” he says. “We’ve got qualified engineers in Monitor World and at Front of House, and we’ve got a talented lighting designer who’s gonna make everybody look like a million bucks.”
Wilson also stresses the fact that he doesn’t want Scout to simply be labeled a music venue. The bar will be open seven days a week, and he expects to amass a strong crowd of regulars. In
addition to touring bands and local shows, there will be themed parties, dance nights, and daily drink specials, like the $2 Big Ass Beer night in Houston. “We want to be thought of as a place that people go and hang out at because it’s cool and comfortable, that you just happen to see Sevendust, or Shinedown, or Seether at occasionally,” he says. “We’re doing shows with 99.5 KISS’s Texas Traxx, and it will be a cool place to hang out at on the developing side of town.”
Scout’s northside location is a bit of a departure for scenesters, who primarily congregate around the North St. Mary’s strip, where the White Rabbit, Rock Bottom, and Limelight are live-music hubs. Many people have suggested that this might be a venue that will be able to expand the SA scene. It’s worth considering that one of the main reasons the Austin music scene thrives is because there are so many places to play. “There’s gonna be enough shows to go around,” Wilson says. “Rock Bottom’s still gonna get a lot of metal shows, White Rabbit’s still gonna get a lot of touring bands and locals, everyone’s gonna survive. We’re all about elevating the whole music scene.”
Wilson says common sense is the bottom line of the venture — build a venue for musicians that’s women-friendly and everyone else will come. “I never understood why all the clubs had to have black walls with holes in them everywhere,” Wilson says. “If you’re a guy and you’re afraid to use the bathroom there, imagine what the women go through. Why can’t you have a place that looks nice and has a cool, young, heavy format? And so that’s what we did.” •