About four months ago, Northeast bar and live music venue Zombies was forced to close down. Owners Steve Freeman and Toni Torres opened the horror-themed establishment in the fall of 2009 (see “Land of the dead,” November 11, 2009), and quickly cultivated a loyal following of Nacogdoches/Thousand Oaks area beer guzzlers and hard rockers. Rumors swirled about problems with the landlord and a few “Save Zombies” fundraisers popped up.
But it wasn’t long before these same loyal patrons (and a few former bartenders) started talking about a new Zombies location in the works. Apparently, Freeman and Torres (who double as publisher and editor, respectively, of San Antonio's Edge Magazine when daybreak hits) were hard at work on a new spot. Though they kept the exact location secret until days before last week’s three-day, grand re-opening bash, regulars were assured that it was only a couple blocks away from the cradle and grave of the original location.
Bets between barflies were settled last Thursday when a black-and-white Zombies banner appeared on the side of a brick strip center at the corner of Thousand Oaks and Bulverde Road (Frost Bank is the most obvious nearby landmark, and Nacogdoches the easternmost cross street). I pulled into the already-crowded lot around 9:30 p.m. Thursday night.
Nice, I thought, as the door opened on a large crowd clad in black and studded with metal. Zombies was already packed to the hilt (how were there so many people here already?). The front room was flanked by a single pool table on the left, dart boards on the right, and opened up to reveal high ceilings, a full-sized stage, and a long bar with black and white band photos plastered behind it.
While the old location’s punk-rock vibe was comfy and minimalist, the new locale improves upon it — Zombies has maintained street cred while upping their game considerably. The red-and-black color scheme and gory design elements remain, as does live music of the rock and metal variety. The size of the stage gives fans the feel of a big show, but the bar successfully maintains the intimate feel of a neighborhood dive. I elbowed my way through the crowd to check out the bartop, which is plastered with grisly images of blood splatters and spilled brains, a fitting tribute to the living dead. There’s even a screen grab of one of the most iconic skeletons from AMC’s late-fall sensation The Walking Dead in the decoupage.
I grabbed a Heineken ($3) but noticed that almost everybody else was swilling their brews from gigantic mugs. I asked about them, and was informed that Shiner, Dos Equis, Bud Light, Miller Light, and Alien Ale were $4 per 24 oz. draft, while PBR and Lone Star were $3. Lone Star tallboys were standard fare for everyone who wasn’t sporting the 24 oz. mug. Zombies serves beer and wine only, but they usually have a handful of bottled specialty beers available. BYOBottle is also available for those who want liquor; setups can be purchased from the bar.
A swift scan of the crowd revealed a who’s-who of SA’s rock and metal scene and service-industry folk from other bars and live music joints across the city. I spotted reps from The Mix, White Rabbit, and Dixies, and members of Top Dead Center, Tension Speak, and Lokey, among others. My first thought was that it was great to see several San Antonio nightlife outlets coming together to celebrate the rebirth of what could be considered a competing establishment. The “united scene” mentality was refreshing, and San Antonio needs more of it.
Freeman and Torres thanked diehard patrons for their patience and support before giving way to the first and only band of the night. In Ovo hit the stage at 11 p.m. and entertained the tittering crowd with their brand of metal for over an hour. The crowd grew steadily through the night, and people started being turned away at the door during In Ovo’s set. Torres said Zombies hadn’t done any radio advertising to promote the grand re-opening, and the only advert I saw was a flourishing Facebook thread. That’s some great word of mouth. •
4202 Thousand Oaks
VIBE: Hangout factor is based on good company and friendly barkeeps who know their clientele.
BEST USE: Neighborhood hangout for the rock and metal set during the week; doubles as a live music venue on weekends.
PRICES: 24 oz. draft: $4 Shiner, Dos Equis, Bud Light, Miller Light, and Alien Ale, $3 PBR and Lone Star.