Blue Flamingo, A Cross-Dressing Punk Treasure
By Andrew Belonsky
As up-and-comers take the stage at SXSW, let's take a very quick look back at The Blue Flamingo, a transvestite punk bar that helped define Austin's 90s-era music scene.
Opened in 1992 as a run of the mill watering hole for the city's cross-dressing denizens, The Blue Flamingo soon expanded its repertoire to include music and for the next few years, with the exception of the month stretches when the TABC would revoke its always-tenuous liquor license, it was to The Blue Flamingo that punk-rock acts like The Chumps, The Dicks, and The Motards would flock. Not even considering the band's awesomely aggressive names, the alt-weekly Austin Chronicle called The Blue Flamingo "the stankiest, most low-down joint to ever qualify for a TABC liquor license."
The most notable name to come out of The Blue Flamingo was probably alt-rock band Spoon, who, in 1994 and after being rejected by SXSW, held an anti-SXSW show at Blue Flamingo. Matador Records co-founder Gerard Cosloy happened to be in attendance, liked what he heard and helped the boys release their first album, Telephono. The band has released six more albums since then, including 2010's excellent Transference. (As a musical side note, Spoon singer Britt Daniel recently released another outstanding album with the band Divine Fits.)
The Blue Flaming first closed in 1995 and after some fits and starts, including more long months languishing under TABC crackdowns, the owners renamed it The Blue Flame in 1998, hoping perhaps a facelift would keep the dream alive. But punk was on its way out as the 21st Century loomed and The Blue Flame soon went out.
While an "underground" bar called Plush occupies the space The Blue Flamingo once stood, on the corner of Red River and 7th streets the spirit of the punk-loving indigo bird still flies overhead, and its fans keep the beat alive here on the ground. Niche all-stars like The Chumps, Lower Class Brats and Dead End Cruisers participated in a two-night tribute show in 2010, and a smattering of nostalgia exists online, like at a Flickr page dedicated to The Blue Flamingo and of course on Facebook. The record label Twistworthy's blog, Texas Punk Treasure Chest, occasionally posts old tapes from the Blue Flamingo's heyday, and there's a respectable amount of Blue Flamingo footage online. We'll leave those YouTube gems for the true punk aficionados. Here, instead, are a snippet from a planned documentary about Austin's 90s rock scene, "A Curious Mix of People," and some appropriately choppy, disoriented and grainy footage from a punk rock drag race held at the always-raucous bar. It's unclear what year that was, but the opening line, one of the only that is intelligible, is, "My name is Charlie. I fell in love with a prostitute a little while back…" Pure gold!