After a failed attempt at an investigative drink at a “revamped” local institution (the bartender was nowhere to be found — for a good 10 minutes — at 9:15 p.m. on a Friday night, and the only people in sight were taking turns whining about the bugs floating in their White Russians), I decided to visit an out-of-the-way place I’ve been curious about for a while.
Booking agent Debbie Murphy (of the company Spectrum Talent) has been listing live music in the Current’s calendar for as long as the paper’s been in existence. Not surprisingly, you’d be hard-pressed to find a member of a local cover band who doesn’t know her name.
Frequently, the music calendars Debbie sends us raise questions. “Are Insomnia and ’Nsomnia the same band? Are they any good? Does their music cure insomnia?” or “Where on earth is the Wild Rhino?” Thanks to Debbie, we know the band Pasenger intentionally spells its name incorrectly, and that there’s a live-music venue across from Mission San Juan de Capistrano (formerly) called the Blue Mustang.
I thought the Blue Mustang — which just officially changed its name to the House of Rock — had a nice ring to it. The name instantly conjured gritty, vintage imagery — a worn-out T-shirt with a blue mustang rearing against a sunset, or maybe a 1975 metallic-blue Mustang convertible that appears out of nowhere to whisk you away from life as you know it.
About a mile away from the House of Rock, I got a call from my vixen-friend, who’d beat me there. “Dude, it looks rough! And there’s polka music blasting from inside! I’m ready to go in and start drinking, but I’ll wait outside. I think you might want to walk into this place with a woman,” she warned.
Pulling into the parking lot, I quickly spotted my friends, who were dancing comically while a serious-looking police officer watched from the bar’s front door. The ominous-looking officer turned out to be a friendly, armed security guard named Darren Brock, who drives a former squad car with “Your safety is our concern” printed on the side. As Brock checked our IDs, one of the guys in my posse contemplated removing his necktie, fearing he was about to look like a game-show host who’d accidentally wandered into a roadhouse.
As the name suggests, the House of Rock is not a Tejano bar. But that night, Grupo Maldad (who aptly play both regional Mexican and rock music) played to a well-behaved crowd that ranged in age from 25 to 60. Owner Chris Chavez explained, “The band determines the crowd. When Drive play here the last Friday of the month, we get a lot of Northsiders.” Chavez was in the process of restocking the beer coolers with a lifetime supply of Bud Light. “We sell a ton of beer when there’s a Tejano band. When we’ve got a rock band, we sell more liquor.”
Noticing that it was already 1:15 a.m., I took a spin around, looking for friendly strangers who might be willing to pose for a photo. “May I ask you something?” I asked a group of ladies sitting at the bar. “I guess,” one of them replied skeptically, looking me up and down. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re white. What are you doing in this neighborhood?”
I did my best to explain why I was white and in the neighborhood. As Chavez had mentioned, the ladies were indeed there to see Grupo Maldad. When I asked them if they’d ever been there before, they shook their heads. “No,” one of them replied, “this is our first time, and I take back what I said about you being white. Because we like to hang out on the North Side sometimes.”
“Really?” I said, “I don’t. And I’d rather listen to Tejano over cover rock any day.” Smiling now, they let me snap a few pictures and even shared their professional affiliations (Sears, AT&T, and “housewife”).
By now, my crew was busy doing a Bar Tab of their own, posing suggestively under a vintage bar sign that reads “Waitress Only.” Chavez, who was (unbelievably) still unpacking beer bottles, explained his reason for the name change: “We’re close enough to Mustang Sally’s that people get the two bars confused.” Brock had given up his post outside and was now chatting with Melinda the bartender. “Does it ever get rough in here?” I asked.
“I don’t let it get rough. I stop things before they happen. I had to keep an eye on a few people in here tonight,” he said proudly.
“We’ve been here three years, and there’s never been a fight,” Chavez chimed in. Turning to Brock, I asked, “What about all those little bars along South Presa we saw on the way over here? Do you do security anywhere else?”
“Yeah, this neighborhood is my beat. But this,” he said, looking around the room, “this is my hangout.” •
The House of Rock
8902 S. Presa
Vibe Southside music venue that’s charmingly stuck between a rock and a Tejano place. Your safety is their concern, and they’ll never run out of beer.
Best use Ladies night: $.75 wells and domestics till 10 p.m., with a guest DJ. Live music Thursday-Saturday.
Prices Wells: $3; domestics: $3; imports: $3.50