I first learned about Studio 13, a new hookah bar and music venue, when the band Blackbird Sing sent out a Facebook invite for a gig they were playing there. While that was in early January, it wasn’t until earlier this month that I found time to venture out to the Castle Hills area to investigate.
As most businesses had to, Studio 13 played things by ear during SA’s unexpected bout with bursting pipes and other ice-related snafus. So on a recent Friday night, the live music wrapped up earlier than scheduled. Being unfamiliar with both bands on the bill, I wasn’t sure what I missed before the internet radio station Pandora took over the decks (as it turns out, regulars can also try their luck by showing up with playlists on slower nights).
Studio 13’s vibe is super-casual and unpretentious, with cozy seating arrangements allowing for small groups to mingle in what feels like a living room that serves beer, wine, and 40 flavors of shisha. Given the fierce chill in the air, a cold beer was the last thing on my mind, even though the selection was attractive, including everything from Fat Tire to Mothership Wit. I settled on a glass of Beringer Cabernet ($4.50).
Scanning the room, I spotted a bubbly pair of ladies giggling as they blew fruity clouds of smoke in the air. But when I approached them to ask if I might take a photo of them for the Current, they declined. “Thanks for asking, but no,” one said. “I’m a teacher and I’d rather not.”
“Fair enough,” I said. “But at least tell me how you like this place.”
“Oh, this place is my hideout,” she answered.
“So you live nearby?” I asked.
“No. I drive from Bandera and 1604 to come here. I used to go to Shisha `Café`, but I really love it here.”
Across the room, another couple sitting in red armchairs also looked to be in good spirits as they shared a hookah. Nelson (from Virginia) and Liane (from Germany), met through a course at Fort Sam Houston, and fortunately weren’t feeling camera shy. “This is only our second time here, but we’re having the best time,” Nelson said. “Did you see either of the bands?” I asked. “We saw the last one, and they were actually pretty good,” Liane said.
Also in the small crowd was Frank Ayala, Studio 13’s booking agent and promoter, who gave me the condensed version of his involvement in SA’s music scene. One year at SXSW, Ayala decided the live music scene here needed “a spark,” and began connecting the dots that led to him booking bands for the (now closed) Rock Bottom Tattoo Bar and eventually working at Backbeat Magazine, billed as “the insider’s guide to the SA music scene.”
In the 15 weeks Studio 13’s music program has been up and running, Ayala’s booked Deer Vibes, Egshan, Professor Amsterdam, Kaleidoscope Radio, the Great ’85, the Dangerfields, Tru Sku, and a sizeable list of others to play a stage possibly best described as intimate. But so far, one of the bar’s biggest draws has been Wednesday’s “Almost Open Mic” night, with Sundays (which alternate between comedy and poetry nights) close behind. “We believe in the natural order of things,” Ayala mused.
The natural order of things seems to be going well for Studio 13, where the tobacco comes in such exotic flavors as Safari Mellon, Apple Martini, and Sex on the Beach (as well as more mysterious ones like Code 69, Good Times, and Summer Crisp), but everything else is pretty down to earth and surprisingly warm -- even in the wake of our arctic blast.
VIBE: Relaxed, music-focused hookah bar (beer and wine only).
BEST USE: Live Graffiti with Werd and friends on Tuesdays; Almost Open Mic on Wednesdays; free live music on Thursday; cheap ($5) live music on Fridays and Saturdays. Don’t miss Funkotron with Franklin Bryson Brooks and In the Red at 9 pm Fri, Feb 26.
PRICES: Draft beer: $2-$4; wine $4.50; house shisha: $9.99; premium shisha: $14.99.