Editor’s Note

Knock, Knock: Houston’s There

A visit to Last Concert Cafe reveals a hidden haunt magically unchanged by time.

By Catherine Matusow October 24, 2016 Published in the November 2016 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Knock twice. Any native Houstonian worth his salt knows that when you visit the Last Concert Café, you can’t just walk inside. Standing before the red door, you knock twice, and someone who works at the circa-1949 establishment—or maybe a patron—will eventually let you in.

I didn’t know that the first time I visited. Of course, I didn’t know a lot of things: I was a teenager, taking part in a Houstonian rite of passage. My friends and I thought we were being sneaky by coming in for dinner, then staying on to mingle with the bar crowd and check out the band. Looking back, I don’t think we were fooling anybody.

It’s astonishing that, crammed into somebody’s grandmother’s old Cadillac, we even found the place, tucked into a white building on Nance Street in what remains a confusing, industrial, somewhat sketchy downtown warehouse district. In fact, after all this time and many a visit—the café was a particular favorite during college—I still couldn’t quite explain how to get there.

It had been a few years since my last visit when a girlfriend and I made our way over one recent Friday night to see a 20-year-reunion show for local Latin rock band The Basics, using this amazing service my teenage self would have considered a miracle: Uber.

When we walked inside, I was struck by how little the café had changed. The same bartender was there, serving the same drinks. The same guy who sold colorful beads was also present, snoozing in his straw hat. And on the sandy patio next to the outdoor stage, that same guy in flip-flops—you know the one—was accounted for, too, busting his crazy Phish moves, although he mostly danced alone. It was, after all, 2016, and everyone else held their phones aloft, recording the show.

The evening was like a visit to a museum, but way more fun. And it was so, so Houston: generations of Latin rock fans in cowboy hats and boots mingling with the hippies, everyone united in their desire to have a good old time. Toward the end of the night, we all finally put down our phones, boogying to a song called “Pandulce.”

Like the Last Concert, Houston is, in many ways, a weird and wonderful place waiting just beyond a locked door, ready to reveal itself to anyone who knows the code. But we don’t jealously guard that code. We share our secrets freely. Anyone can be an insider here, old-timer or new arrival. You just have to be willing to explore the in-between places to find the good stuff.

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