In between a bowling party and an art opening, Bar Tab convinced a small but open-minded entourage to investigate the freshly opened Reggae Bar on Austin Highway. After surveying the décor — dried palm fronds, strands of clear lights, pictures of Bob Marley, and Jamaican flags painted on the wall — we unanimously agreed on Red Stripe beer ($3). Since Reggae Bar is cash only, I made a quick ATM run (Kelly O’Connor was kind enough to take pictures while I refilled my wallet). Two nights later, I returned to hear the Dallas-based band Ugly Lion. Appropriately, Ugly Lion’s furry-looking frontman sounded as if he was growling into the microphone.
Intent on catching the place during some down time, I went back on a Monday evening. On this visit, I was fortunate enough to spend quality time with two cool cats — both named Kevin. When I walked in, they were busy on their laptops. Setting my own bag down on the counter, I noticed part-owner Kevin “Dish1” Hogan’s PC precariously balancing on a box of Chinese incense. “That’s the power of Windows,” he claimed. When resident DJ Kevin “the Anunnaki” Alexander, who was surfing on a Mac, saw me unzip my bag to reveal a PC, a conversation ensued that could easily rival Apple’s nerd-centric commercials. (To all you PC haters: I go both ways.) A TV perched atop the refrigerator played sexy Jamaican music videos as the three of us talked about New York (Alexander grew up there), Germany (Hogan lived there for 17 years), anthropology (Hogan has a degree in it), and hip-hop (Alexander is a veteran of the scene).
We stuck to the topic of music for a while, and I was intrigued by Alexander’s take on SA’s music scene: “It’s wide open, so I really hope we can attract everyone — from hipster to Tejano, hip-hop, whatever.”
Oddly enough, one of the first live acts to play the Reggae Bar was Astpai, an Austrian punk band. While the concept of punk-rock shows taking place in an unassuming little shack on Austin Highway might induce ’80s flashbacks (Video Taco, anyone?), it’s not likely to reoccur. Even though Hogan considers ska, punk, and reggae part of the same family, he’s determined to give the Reggae Bar a clear identity — specifically, the focus is on a modernized version of the genre known as “roots & kulcha.”
With the arrival of Hogan’s buddy Treson (T.R.R.E.) Scipio of Mojoe, the conversation took a turn down memory lane, as the old friends reminisced about bygone reggae clubs like Burning Spear, where Hogan remembers giving Mojoe one of their first gigs. Alexander and I swapped stories outlining the ups and downs of living in New York, while Scipio insisted to Hogan that he could get his friend Grace Jones on the phone if he wanted to. A comical discussion about the bar’s “silent” partner, Mrs. Wu, “from the Wu-Tang Dynasty,” had everyone laughing. Other topics being bounced around included political prisoners, Trinidad (where part owner — and Kevin’s Dad — Glen “Patch” Alexander was born), the Black August movement, wine, electronica, and a band called Irresponsible Voltron. Now, I happen to live in this neighborhood, and all I can say is: These are not your usual Austin Highway dive-bar conversation topics.
On my way out, I thanked both Kevins for their hospitality and candor. Even though I already felt I had scratched something truly beneath the surface, Hogan confirmed it when he told me, “Boy, you are so underground right now, you have no idea.”
— Bryan Rindfuss