Struggling through months of shuttered doors and the serious threat of permanent closure, Texas' independent music venues are finding hope in an unlikely place: the United States Congress.

Two proposed bills, the Save Our Stages Act and RESTART Act, are designed to help music venues stay afloat until the pandemic subsides. Both acts, if passed, will be important steps to save many music spaces that have already spent five months with no shows, no revenues, and no sign of things getting better.

For many venues across the country, it's simply too late, with several, including Barracuda, Plush, and Scratchouse, closing down for good. A recent study conducted by the University of Houston's Hobby School of Public Affairs concluded that 90 percent of Austin music venues will close permanently by Halloween without aid.

Economic impact
According to a 2019 study by the Texas Music Office, the state's music industry provides 209,000 permanent jobs, $6.5 billion in earnings, $23.4 billion in annual economic activity, and generates $390 million in annual tax revenues annually.

The average monthly overhead for a live music venue is $40,000 and many insiders are predicting that large scale shows won't return until 2021, if not longer.

“I don’t think that would be unique to Austin," says San Antonio-based entertainment lawyer and former band manager Blayne Tucker about the UH study. "I think Austin will be hit particularly hard, but I think those en masse closures would extend throughout Texas and nationwide as well. The situation is dire and it’s literally a matter of extinction versus survival.”

A silent and invisible killer, COVID-19 is not only ravaging the population across the country, but it's slowly decimating many industries that rely on large gatherings of people, and especially those businesses that center on live music. The good news is there is hope for hundreds of Texas establishments thanks to advocacy efforts in Washington that are picking up steam.

Local grassroots efforts
Leading the charge is the National Independent Venue Association, a grassroots, DIY organization of 2,200 independent music venues that started soon after the pandemic forced temporary closures. Tucker, who owns San Antonio-area venues such as Limelight, The Mix, Floore's Country Store, and 502 Bar, is co-captain of the Texas chapter of NIVA alongside Austen Bailey, talent buyer for famed Red River haunt Mohawk.

Other notable Texas members include Austin's Cedar Street Courtyard, The Parish, and Antone'sHouston's Heights Theater, White Oak Music Hall, and Warehouse Live; Sam's Burger Joint, Paper Tiger, and Cowboys Dance Hall in San Antonio; and Trees, the Kessler Theater, and Prophet Bar in Dallas.

"Many of these venues have been around for decades," Bailey tells CultureMap. "We made it through the depression of 2008-2009, but we are now faced with an unprecedented existential threat."

Donors allowed NIVA to gain a foothold in Washington, D.C. and the organization found a sympathetic ear on Capitol Hill, especially when politicians discovered the potential for long-lasting economic damage, largely due to the connected nature of music venues across the U.S., which act as breeding grounds for local bands, stops for national touring acts as well as serve as non-music event spaces. NIVA got behind the RESTART Act and Save Our Stages Act, both of which are winding their way through the legislative process.

The RESTART Act is non-industry specific, open to any small business that can show a 25 percent decrease in revenue between 2019 and 2020. Those that qualify are eligible for a forgivable loan up to 90 percent, equivalent to 45 percent of the gross receipts from 2019.

The Save Our Stages Act defines the criteria of what makes a music venue, such as having a sound engineer or talent booker on staff. The funds allocated to the qualified participants would be paid in the form of grants to cover 45 percent of a venue’s 2019 gross receipts with a budget of $10 billion. The relief package would exclude owners of venues in multiple states and publicly traded companies.

"We've been mandated by the government to be closed for the greater good of the public," says Edwin Cabaniss, owner of the Heights Theater in Houston and Kessler Theater in Dallas. "We're simply looking for just compensation. We have no means to draw any revenues to speak of if we want to maintain a safe environment until we either find some solution to [COVID-19] like a vaccine or we operate at a 25 to 30 percent capacity range. It's really difficult to make ends meet when you do that."

Heading to the Hill
Interestingly, the bills have rare bipartisan support with a vote on both expected in the coming days or weeks. Congress is due to go on summer recess this weekend, but odds are legislators will stay in D.C. until they negotiate an agreement on COVID relief measures. One unlikely ally for the cause is Republican Texas senator John Cornyn, who is co-sponsoring the Save Our Stages Act with Democrat Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar under the auspices of helping small business. Sen. Cornyn's voting record points to being an ally of musicians, lending his support to artists in the realm of digital rights.

“Texas is home to a number of historic and world-class small entertainment venues, many of which remain shuttered after being the first businesses to close,” said Sen. Cornyn in a statement provided to CultureMap. “The culture around Texas dance halls and live music has shaped generations, and this legislation would give them the resources to reopen their doors and continue educating and inspiring Texans beyond the coronavirus pandemic.”

Those tired of watching their favorite artists perform via live stream or those who simply want to support their favorite local venue can lend their support to the Save Our Stages Act by reaching out to representatives via user-friendly system at the NIVA website. After completing the digital letter, the site provides phone numbers to the offices of local representatives should constituents wish to voice their concern for the future of music in Texas.

"The best thing anyone can do is letting your representative at every level of government — local, state, and federal — know that you support the independent music industry and want to see it survive past this pandemic," Tucker said.

Austin's famed music venue Mohawk is in danger of closing due to COVID-related closures.

The Mohawk venue outside sign Red River
Mohawk Austin/Facebook
Austin's famed music venue Mohawk is in danger of closing due to COVID-related closures.
Photo by Ashlyn Allison

Austin Filipino restaurant makes waves with hot new Houston locale

sing for your supper

One of Austin's favorite restaurant is flipping into one of Houston’s hottest neighborhoods. Be More Pacific - Filipino Kitchen and Bar, an Austin-based hot spot that just opened its first Houston location in the Heights (and experienced hour-plus waits during last weekend’s friends and family preview).

Located at 506 Yale St., the restaurant has begun its public soft opening this week with dinner service on Tuesday,March 3, and lunch beginning Thursday, March 5. Brunch starts Sunday, March 8.

Lifelong friends Giovan Cuchapin and Mark Pascual started Be More Pacific as a food truck in 2011. They opened their first brick and mortar in Austin in 2017, earning a Best New Restaurant award in the 2018 CultureMap Austin Tastemaker Awards. For the Houston location, they added Houston hospitality veteran Roveen Abante (Lincoln Bar, Pour Behavior, Understory Bar in Capitol Tower).

Cuchapin tells CultureMap that the restaurant has thrived by blending traditional Filipino flavors with a welcoming atmosphere and a sophisticated beverage program that includes cocktails and Filipino beers.

“We try to create a nice ambiance,” Cuchapin says. “One of the comments we get from Filipino families in Austin is that they love the food and they thank us for creating a spot they can bring their own friends to.”

Towards that end, the Houston location has lots of touches designed to make diners feel welcome. A window provides a view into the kitchen. Neon signs with catchy slogans provide Instagram moments, and artwork contains puns that reference Filipino dishes. The restaurant also offers two karaoke rooms that are available for private parties.

Cuchapin cites a number of dishes as Be More Pacific signatures, including sisig, adobo chicken, and kare kare, a stew with creamy peanut sauce that gets a Texan twist with smoked brisket. Lumpia, the Filipino-style egg rolls, comes in three varieties: Shanghai (pork and shrimp), veggie, or Gio’s, a crab rangoon riff that comes with a spicy mayo dipping sauce.

“Our version of adobo is the best I’ve had,” Pascaul told CultureMap last year. “Our Filipino barbecue and our sisig [stand out]. I don’t think anyone in Houston does sisig as good as we do.”

Brunch adds items such as ube pancakes and eggs Benedicts that feature housemade spam or corned beef. All of the restaurant’s sauces are made in-house, too.

On Tuesdays, the restaurant will feature its kamayan feasts. Available for groups of six or more, the restaurant covers a table in banana leaves then puts down a meal of 10 to 12 dishes. Think of it as a tasting menu without all the jokes about going to Whataburger afterwards.

Be More Pacific has arrived in Houston.

Be More Pacific spread 2
Photo by Ashlyn Allison
Be More Pacific has arrived in Houston.
Photo by Logan Crable

Aaron Franklin and Tyson Cole to open acclaimed Austin smokehouse in Houston

Growth spurt

One of Austin's highest profile restaurants will open a Houston location in 2021. James Beard Award winners Tyson Cole (Uchi) and Aaron Franklin (Franklin Barbecue) are bringing Loro, their Asian smokehouse concept, to Houston neighborhood The Heights, the duo announced.

“Since opening Uchi here in 2012, we have loved being a part of this Houston community,” Cole said in a statement. “We are incredibly excited to bring Loro to the Heights! It’s a fantastic neighborhood with so much history."

Originally opened in Austin in 2018, Loro serves a range of dishes that blend the creative talents of its founders. For example, smoked beef brisket gets paired with a chili gastrique and Thai herbs, and smoked pork sausage comes with a Thai-style papaya salad. Those dishes can be matched with a full range boozy slushes, batch cocktails, wine, beer, and sake.

Loro will occupy a former sanctuary at 1001 West 11th St. Like Uchi, Austin's Michael Hsu Office of Architecture will be responsible for transforming the RE:VIVE Development property into a restaurant. Like the original location, the 5,500-square-foot space's design will takes its inspiration from classic Texas dance halls and feature both indoor and outdoor seating.

"I'm super excited about Loro in Houston," Franklin added. "More time with some of the best people in one of the best food cities in the country? Yes, please."

The next couple of years will be a busy time for Hai Hospitality, the parent company of Loro and Uchi. Loro will open a Dallas location in late summer 2020. Uchiko, Uchi's more casual sibling, will open in Houston in 2021.

Aaron Franklin and Tyson Cole are bringing Loro to Houston.

Tyson Cole and Aaron Franklin/ Loro
Photo by Logan Crable
Aaron Franklin and Tyson Cole are bringing Loro to Houston.
Photo courtesy of Dolce Neve

Austin's best gelato shop targets Houston for new outpost

Dolce Neve Expands

Sometimes a pop-up is just a one-off opportunity for a fun collaboration between like-minded chefs who don’t typically get to work together, but other times it serves as a preview for a new concept.

Dolce Neve's pop-up at Houston's Fluff Bake Bar on Sunday was the latter. The Austin-based gelato shop has signed a lease to open a Houston location in the same Heights shopping center that’s home to Thai restaurant Foreign Correspondents, cocktail bar Canard, and coffee and doughnut shop Morningstar, co-owner Marco Silvestrini tells CultureMap.

Set to open in early 2017, Dolce Neve’s Houston outpost will replicate the design and feel of an Italian home. More importantly, the location will feature Dolce Neve’s rotating selection of seasonal gelatos made with traditional Italian techniques that utilize local ingredients whenever possible.

On Sunday, they included traditional flavors like pistachio and hazelnut, as well as a more savory variation made with goat cheese and wild blueberry. That variety led CultureMap Austin to name Dolce Neve one of the city’s best ice cream shops in 2015.

“Our good friend David Buehrer, owner of Morningstar, Blacksmith, and Greenway, is one of our regular customers and was always asking when we would open a shop in Houston,” Silvestrini says. “The opportunity presented itself in the same shopping center as Morningstar so we couldn’t pass this opportunity to have David as a neighbor and be part of the Houston community.”

Buehrer confirms that he’s a passionate Dolce Neve fan. In particular, he tells CultureMap he appreciates the shop’s commitment to sourcing high-quality ingredients and using careful preparations that match the obsession he brings to the coffee he serves.

“I travel for coffee competitions. I’ve been to a lot of other cities. I eat ice cream or gelato everywhere I go,” Buehrer says. “To find something like Dolce Neve so close [to Houston], I thought, this is the best gelato I’ve ever had ... We literally would find reasons to go to Austin just to get gelato.”

Courtesy of Schaum Shieh Architects

A couple of Austin's favorite companies expand to new Texas market

Austin Invasion

Two of Austin's most beloved brands are expanding their presence in the Lone Star State. JuiceLand and Black Swan Yoga will set up shop in a new retail development in the hip Heights neighborhood of Houston.

"We couldn't be more excited to invite all of our friends and fans in the Houston area to enjoy this fresh new gathering place for wellness," JuiceLand founder Matt Shook said in a press release.

This is JuiceLand's first Texas location outside of Austin. Known for organic juices and superfood smoothies, JuiceLand currently operates 14 locations in the Capital City and one in Brooklyn.

Black Swan Yoga is well-known in Austin for its community-minded approach to yoga. Houston owners Claire Asmann, Olivia Keller, and Roland Keller will partner with local businesses to provide free classes, as well as offer unlimited memberships for frequent yoga practitioners.

JuiceLand and Black Swan Yoga are slated to open in Houston in January 2016.

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Austin is the 9th best U.S. city for vegans and vegetarians, new study finds

eat your greens

Austin may be home to some of the best barbecue in the city (even if some disagree) — but the Texas capital also has a growing reputation in vegan and vegetarian fare.

More plant-based restaurants are opening their doors in 2023, expanding an already solid list of vegan eateries throughout the city. And with ACL right around the corner, it's important to know where the closest vegan eats are so you're not left scrambling to find a good meal in the heat.

With that said, Austin still has some room for improvement to keep vegans full and satisfied after ranking No. 9 in WalletHub's "Best Cities for Vegans & Vegetarians" report for 2023.

The study evaluated 100 cities based on grocery affordability; diversity of and accessibility to vegan and vegetarian restaurants, farmer's markets, and community gardens; and other lifestyle factors.

Austin specifically had a high affordability ranking with the fifth-lowest cost of groceries for vegetarians out of all 100 cities in the ranking. Laredo (No. 1), Corpus Christi (No. 2), San Antonio (No. 3), and Louisville, Kentucky (No. 4) were all ahead.

As for the highest percentage of restaurants serving vegetarian options, the two North Texas cities of Irving and Plano tied with three non-Texas cities: Henderson, Nevada, Gilbert, Arizona, and Mesa, Arizona. All these made No. 1.

However, that doesn't mean the shift to embrace vegan and vegetarian cuisine in Austin isn't notable enough. Earlier in 2023, a popular Brazilian steakhouse chain "beefed" up (or down) its menu with more plant-based options in an effort to expand its customer base. And in June, venerated vegan staple and former CultureMap Tastemakers winner Counter Culture reopened as a food trailer in the back patio of Tweedy’s Bar in Central Austin.

Austin was the only Texas city to make it into the top 10. The remaining nine contenders are mostly located in West Coast states typically expected to be seen in a report on plant-based eating: California, Oregon, and Washington. On the opposite coast are two additional cities that made the list: Orlando and Miami, Florida (No. 3 and No. 8, respectively). Phoenix, Arizona (No. 5), is the only non-coastal outlier.

The top 10 most vegetarian- and vegan-friendly cities in the U.S. are:

  • No. 1 – Portland, Oregon
  • No. 2 – Los Angeles, California
  • No. 3 – Orlando, Florida
  • No. 4 – San Diego, California
  • No. 5 – Phoenix, Arizona
  • No. 6 – San Francisco, California
  • No. 7 – Seattle, Washington
  • No. 8 – Miami, Florida
  • No. 9 – Austin, Texas
  • No. 10 – Oakland, California

Eight other Texas cities made it into the top 50: Irving (No. 18), Lubbock (No. 23), Houston (No. 24), Dallas (No. 25), Plano (No. 33), San Antonio (No. 38), Corpus Christi (No. 41), and Laredo (No. 48).

The full report can be found on wallethub.com.

Austin's Zilker Botanical Garden unveils rare succulent collection at upscale Parisian picnic

Succulent Surprises

Here's one of the beautiful experiences of living in this desert-adjacent city full of weirdos: Austinites deeply value being the first to see a prominent succulent collection. Move over, private pickleball clubs — the plant lovers are getting a taste of that sweet exclusivity.

Of course, as much as succulent gardeners covet rare plants, they love to share the excitement; so it is fitting that an inaugural benefit dinner will celebrate the first-ever public viewing of the Zilker Botanical Garden Succulent Collection on November 4. Funds raised will support the garden so more people can come in and look at all its many well-cared-for plants year-round.

The High Desert Dîner en Blanc ("Dinner in White") is set to be an annual event, adapting the Parisian idea of celebrating "good food and good friends" outside. The "elevated picnic" is all about "self-expression, playfulness, and community," according to the announcement. Along with dinner, attendees will enjoy an open bar, games, and tours of the collection.

The new collection arrives courtesy of the late Bob Barth, scientist and co-founder of the Austin Cactus and Succulent Society. The social group assembles volunteers to help maintain the Botanical Garden's greenhouse, and some members will surely be in attendance at the dinner. University of Texas students may also remember Barth as their professor of Zoology (Entomology and Ornithology), and he was also a longtime member of the Travis Audubon Society.

Maintaining a 28-acre garden is not cheap — even with the help of volunteers — and Zilker Botanical Garden Conservancy has raised more than $300,000 in the past year. Those funds go toward preserving the Butler Window (a remnant of a historical Austin mansion that has become a popular photo spot), working on the succulent collection, and creating visitor programming.

It also maintains a roster of 26 member organizations including very specialized groups like the First Austin African Violet Society, and groups that are there to appreciate rather than grow the garden, like Plein Air Austin.

Barth's donation also included funds to hire a curator for the succulent collection, so it will continue thriving and evolving through 2025 and hopefully beyond.

The garden requests that dinner guests wear white to stay on-theme, and refrain from wearing heels to protect the ground. Tickets ($125 per person, $225 per couple) are available at zilkergarden.org. Guests must be 21 or older.

Country's largest hot springs pool complex plans for Dallas debut

Wellness wonderland

Austin has plenty of places to swim, but the spa culture is pretty niche. Those willing to take a drive for a luxurious weekend always have the Hill Country and Dallas as options, and soon there will be a new wellness spa-amusement park: WorldSprings, a nine-acre outdoor mineral springs experience, will debut in the latter city in spring 2024.

According to a release, it will be WorldSprings' first location in Texas and the largest experience of its kind in the country.

"With pools inspired by the most famous hot springs from around the world, guests can explore WorldSprings’ 45 outdoor soaking pools including cold-plunge pools, Finnish saunas, and a spa which will include wellness therapies as well as a cafe and bar," says the release.

Specific highlights of the experience will include:

  • The Family Pool, the Dead Sea Float Pool and South Pacific Region mineral pools for all ages
  • The Asiatic, European, and Americas region mineral pools for those 18 years old and up
  • More pools, with temperatures that range from warm to hot and from cool to ice cold
  • The Spa, with a menu of body treatments and massages
  • The Sanctuary, offering sound baths and yoga, breathwork, and guided meditation classes
  • Aqua classes, including Aqua Aerobics, Aqua Sculpt, Aqua Yoga and Aqua Float
  • Performance-enhancing treatments including cryotherapy, hyperbaric chambers, and compression therapy
  • WorldSprings Café, from which guests can order food and drinks poolside with their smartphones and pay with a wristband

WorldSprings Grandscape The ColonyThere'll be adults-only pools and family-friendly pools.Rendering courtesy of WorldSprings

The wellness offerings were created by WorldSprings' in-house functional medicine practitioner, Dr. Sara Gottfried, the release says.

Of course, there are not actual hot springs located beneath Grandscape. Each pool will be "meticulously crafted to mirror the mineral content of legendary springs from around the world," explains WorldSprings.

Memberships and three-hour passes will be available, "priced for all to enjoy as a weekly ritual for well-being," they say, although pricing has not yet been disclosed. A limited number of discounted Founding Memberships will be available starting early next year.

”Our ambition is that WorldSprings will democratize wellness by opening locations throughout the country,” says Rob Kramer, managing partner of WorldSprings' owner Off Road Capital, in the release.

The Dallas-area park follows locations in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, and a similar concept in La Verkin, Utah, near Zion National Park.

Anticipated opening date is March 2024.

WorldSprings GrandscapeA spa will offer massages and body treatments.Rendering courtesy of WorldSprings

WorldSprings Grandscape will be at 3240 Plano Pkwy., The Colony, joining the booming 433-acre center that includes not only shopping and dining but an escape room, immersive entertainment venue, amphitheater, and more.

"Bringing WorldSprings to this ideal location is a remarkable milestone,” says Justin Foley, general manager of the upcoming Grandscape location, in the release. “As general manager, I'm honored and excited to be a part of such an amazing community and to unveil an exclusive outdoor mineral springs experience – a first of its kind destination in Texas."