The Houston and Austin nightlife industries are mourning the loss of one of their own. Alex Akers, general manager of the Houston outpost of dance club Barbarella and a familiar face in Austin's nightlife scene, passed away suddenly last week.
Akers was the frontman of the Houston location of the popular dance club, known as the best place to groove in Midtown and one of the rare nightlife spots where patrons can simply be themselves.
“We are a dance dive bar and we’re a dance club for those who don’t like dance clubs," Barbarella co-founder Harvey Graham tells CultureMap from Las Vegas, where one of his other clubs is located. "Most dance clubs are all about bottle service and superficial, and we’re like a chef-owned restaurant — we’re owned by DJs, and our first concern is our love of music. It’s finding good DJs and playing good music, and everything else comes after that.”
While Akers spent the better part of the last decade in Houston, he was previously a fixture of Austin's Red River district. He worked his way up the ranks at the entertainment group's first club, Swan Dive, before moving to the Austin location of Barbarella.
In 2013, Akers helped start the sister location of Barbarella in Houston, where he was a partner in the venture.
“We really liked people like Alex who are super friendly and good with people," Graham says. "He worked really hard and when we decided to expand to Houston, he said he had some money and would like to become a partner in it. We liked to reward people from within and who liked the concept. So we brought him on board and he helped me start it up.”
Akers is remembered for being a genuinely kind soul in an often unforgiving business.
"I haven’t had a better experience working anywhere else, which is why I’ve been there for seven years," Barbarella resident DJ and Houston musician Brandon Duhon says. "He also loved his mom a lot and she would sometimes come and hang out at the club — I thought it was really sweet that he was in the venue doing all this business, but in the midst of all that, they would still spend time together."
He was also known for taking care of others, including feeding the homeless population around the venue and offering them odd jobs to put money in their pockets.
“He was always nice, honest, generous, and considerate," Duhon says. "That is a rarity with people, but it’s even more of a rarity with people who are running nightlife businesses.”
“He had boyish enthusiasm, a young soul, carefree, always so much fun to be around," Graham adds. “He was the face of the club. To the Barbarella family, it’s a huge loss and it’s going to be super weird doing it without him.”
Akers' love of music will be at the forefront of a series of pop-up music nights dedicated to him this weekend. The outdoor shows, taking place at Houston bar Raven Tower through Saturday, October 24, will raise money for Akers' family.
And, in true Barbarella fashion, each show will have a theme familiar to regulars: Thursday, '90s Night; Friday, New Noise; and Saturday, '80s Night. And, on Friday, October 23, Barbarella staff, friends, and loved ones will raise a toast and share memories.
“I’d like people to come out and celebrate Alex’s life," says Jagi Katial, owner of Raven Tower and White Oak Music Hall. "If you knew or didn’t know Alex, if you went to Barbs or didn’t, just come out and enjoy one of those nights.”