Beloved East End music venue Satellite Bar closes

Laramie Joseph, from left, Jazzmin Readeaux, and Rye Lorelei of the band Lagrimas performing at the Satellite Bar on Nov. 26, 2021, in Houston.

Photo: Ben White @bensiive, Contributor

Houston has developed a reputation as an underwhelming destination for live music, but if you saw a show at Satellite Bar, you knew that characterization was unfair.

There was nothing second-rate about the Magnolia Park music venue, which hosted world-renowned acts on the same stage as local underground bands, often on the same night. It was a fixture in the city’s do-it-yourself (DIY) music scene and a trusted stop for touring artists passing through. On Monday, though, the venue announced that it would be closing shop after over six years in the East End partly due to surging rent and a string of expensive break-ins.

“Since day one we have tried to do our best to share our passion for live music with the city of Houston in our own special way. We were never the flashiest, shiniest venue around but we knew how to set the vibe and knew who y’all wanted to see,” the venue announced on Instagram.

“We have hosted countless bands from all over the world in a little sack in the East End, right between a car wash and a Whataburger — isn’t that something?” they wrote.

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The club, located at 6922 Harrisburg Blvd., opened in late 2015 after owner Erick Quiroz, a Magnolia Park native, took it over from a friend who had been operating the space as a short-lived bar called The Shop. Quiroz, who had been working in the oil-and-gas industry, had no experience in the music industry, but saw value in holding a space for local artists in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood where he grew up.

“What we did was just out of love, and watching these bands grow out of our little bar was cool because there weren’t a lot of places like this where they could play,” Quiroz said.

In addition to giving Houston artists a place to grow, Satellite Bar also developed a reputation for booking critical darlings such as Turnstile, Beach Fossils and Helado Negro — bands who might otherwise play larger, more traditional venues such as White Oak Music Hall or House of Blues — to play their backyard stage, which had a capacity of fewer than 1000 people.

That was a credit to the ambition of doorman-turned-talent buyer Gil Castillo, who persuaded Quiroz to fly with him to New York and Los Angeles to build relationships with agents and musicians.

“The main goal for me was booking awesome music and bringing these bands to a space that wasn’t traditional, that was far more intimate. In the backyard, you just felt like you were at somebody’s house…and there were so many times that me and Erick would just be standing in the back like ‘man, this is insane’,” Castillo said.

“People from Live Nation would be like, ‘how did you get this show?,’ but it was really just because we built a reputation for treating bands well. And then these bands would tell their friends, ‘if you’re coming through Houston, you’ve got to play at Satellite’,” Quiroz said.

The venue was also known for giving local vendors their big breaks — Tacos Bomberos, one of Houston’s most popular taquerias, and Full Court Houston, the streetwear company, both got their starts as pop-ups at the Satellite Bar. For the city’s homegrown bands, playing the 250-capacity indoor room could make up-and-coming artists feel like rock stars.

“They had one of the best soundsystems for DIY bands in Houston and being up on a real stage, with all the lights and everything, made you feel like a quote-unquote ‘real musician’,” said Jazzmin Readeaux, lead singer for the local punk band Lagrimas.

In the end, a variety of factors led Quiroz to close Satellite Bar for good. The property’s landlord was demanding a 40-percent rent hike, and several break-ins left management struggling to replace costly equipment — most recently $12,000 worth of copper that had been stripped from the building’s air conditioning system. After barely eking an existence through the COVID-19 pandemic, the cost of keeping Satellite Bar alive simply became too great.

“I never made a lot of money out of Satellite but anyone who knew me knew it wasn’t about that. As long as it was self-sustaining and my employees got paid, it was enough for me,” Quiroz said. “But with everything going on, it just didn’t feel like the right space anymore….as much as I loved it, I didn’t want it to become something I hated, because I spent so much time loving it. ”

Castillo said they have “no intention of necessarily calling it quits completely, but we’re definitely going to have to take a step back and see what’s the next move.” On Monday, though, he was mostly just grateful for the time he already had.

“People always say ‘you don’t know what you have til its gone,’ but with Satellite I knew what we had all along and I would see it every single time that we had a show,” Castillo said. “And now that it’s gone, obviously, it sucks, but I’m just really glad that I was super present during the great times and always took a moment to look around and appreciate what we had.”

The closing of Satellite Bar comes almost four years after the shuttering of another locally legendary hot spot for punk, indie and underground music, Fitzgerald’s, in the Heights.

More details to come.

sam.kelly@chron.com




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