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The Bar Tab


The SWC Club
1210 E. Elmira
Beer + well drink: $5
The SWC Club is located on East Elmira, on the periphery of the former Pearl Brewery and a few blocks south of the legendary Taco Land. The club has been dormant until quite recently, but like Pearl, it is returning to life in a slightly altered form. To quote a tagline from the zombie film The Return of the Living Dead, the SWC is “Back from the dead and ready to party.”

I first knew the SWC in the early to mid-’90s, when art bands and enthusiasts began to spread out ever so slightly from the home base of Taco Land, which was going strong. Bands began to play across the street at a bar called the Winner’s Circle; not long after the Winner’s Circle began to absorb and expand some of the Taco Land scene, people stepped out even further and ended up down the street at the SWC.

For another perspective, I tracked down poster artist Mig Kokinda in Austin to get his thoughts on the ’90s-era SWC. “It was always a cool dive bar,” Mig opined. “It reminded me of a VFW Hall.” Asked about rumors that the SWC Club might have been a cathouse in the 1940s, Mig laughed, “I never heard that rumor, but it sounds cool.”

With this in mind I made it over to the SWC on Friday night. Allow me to first describe it by saying what it is not. Whereas Club Cohiba at the Hotel Havana on the River Walk is a lesson in lush historical preservation, SWC, in contrast, is an exercise in archaeology, with all the clues to the past in plain view. It’s almost like someone found a missing key, opened the door, and turned on the lights. There might have been some cobwebs still hanging from the ceiling, but the chest-rumbling jukebox most likely knocked them down. A quadruple shot of Aerosmith blasted the bar intensely, careening sharply off the wood paneling toward the pool table and empty dance floor. This must have been what it was like in 1989 when Manuel Noriega took temporary refuge inside a Vatican embassy as the American Army blasted him with high-decibel rock music. The great part is that the songs that were popular then are most assuredly still on the SWC jukebox.

The drink prices were from the past, too — another good sign. A Lone Star and a whiskey and coke cost less than $5. The crowd was small but diverse: a couple of young preppies wearing Gap clothes and baseball hats, a group of slightly older women sitting by themselves, and a couple of punks, all existing harmoniously in distinct spheres.

The SWC is at an interesting turning point. The employees want the Club to get its mojo back. To make that happen, they are temporarily shutting the doors so they can remodel the kitchen and open a back area with a stage for bands to perform. The SWC will re-debut this Saturday, featuring the band Sexto Sol. I’m intrigued to see what changes they make. I’m more excited to see what stays the same.

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