Looking for a night out with sizzling music and throw-down dancing at its finest? East Austin’s rollicking good time of a dive bar, The Skylark Lounge, beckons. Don’t hesitate. Take to the dance floor and shake it at Skylark, sooner rather than later.
The Skylark Lounge preserves the culture and diversity of East Austin, regularly booking phenomenal R&B, soul, funk, and jazz acts. This sultry bar delivers Austin’s stalwart musical talent with Ms. Lavelle White, Soul Man Sam, and Margaret Wright, as well as talented crowd pleasers like Brian Scartocci, The Soul Supporters, Ms. Mack and the Daddies, and Rochelle and the Sidewinders.
While Austin is home to many wonderful music venues, Skylark holds its own as an authentic, lively space to boogie. I wouldn’t lie to you.
Honoring East Austin’s Culture
The Skylark Lounge feels like a bar that’s been around forever, and it kind of has. Operating for 32 years as Airport Bar & Grill, a primarily African American bar, and then briefly as Bernadette’s, a lesbian bar, the building housing Skylark Lounge has been a fixture in the East Austin landscape for decades. Owner Johnny LaTouf grew up visiting and learning about the neighborhood, from the African American woman who raised him.
Though LaTouf had owned businesses in East Austin for many years, bar ownership was never part of his vision. That is, not until the fateful day in 2013 when the owner of Bernadette’s offered to sell him the space.
LaTouf’s vision became clear: he would only move forward if he could run it his way—an inclusive space welcoming one and all, regardless of race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Neighborhood regulars are still a vital part of the scene at Skylark, and the scene keeps growing to include many fans of Austin’s live music.
The bar is dimly lit with vintage lamps casting exquisite shadows on the walls and large murals by local artists. The stage is intimate, the dance floor small and frequently packed. The expansive back patio contrasts well with the cozy interior. In case you need fresh air or to chat with your friends, the patio is the perfect spot for a break.
Skylark almost always has food offerings, at least on the weekends. Lately, it has been barbecue—the ribs are my favorite.
In the Groove at The Skylark Lounge
Walking into The Skylark Lounge, one feels a sense of the bar’s history. I sometimes get goosebumps when I see the now-familiar reddish light, murals on the walls, and stage that holds both history and promise.
When LaTouf took over the bar, he began booking musicians from Austin’s storied musical heyday, when blues was the order of the day and legends regularly played on stages around town. Venerable pianist and Austin Music Awards Hall of Fame great, Margaret Wright, was the first artist LaTouf booked for residency, a move that spoke volumes about his commitment to the neighborhood and its past.
Creating a bar he loved, in a rapidly changing neighborhood whose history he is part of, has always dictated the way LaTouf and his wife Mary run the lounge. Show up today and odds are good that LaTouf, or one of his family members, will greet you. The Skylark Lounge is first and always a neighborhood bar. “Patrons are only a stranger here once,” LaTouf insists.
Ms. Mack concurs, “This place is full of characters AND character, each more lovely than the next.”
Throw on Your Dancing Duds and Go
Skylark’s stellar lineup of lively, soulful bands includes a roster of talent intended to keep your blood pumping and your heart light. Soul Man Sam, well known among Austin musicians for his decades of performances, hosts a rotating guest list on Soul Sundays. His musical revue serves as a bridge from Austin’s soul scene past to now. You never know what incredible talent will join Soul Man Sam’s formidable presence.
While Skylark’s talent always impresses, here are a few shows I personally recommend:
- Oscar Ornelas often plays at Skylark, wailing on the keyboard and blowing his heart out on his saxophone.
- The Soul Supporters regularly graces the stage with melodious harmonies and smooth moves. This group will make you feel all sorts of something.
- Ms. Mack can peel the paint off the wall with her powerhouse singing, while her band, the Daddies, infuse each song with a rhythm you can’t deny. Check out the band’s “Friday Night Live” monthly shows.
The latest buzz is Brian Scartocci, a retro-soul musician known for making lifelong fans with one show. Local artist Olivia Rains says it best:
“First impression of Brian Scartocci at the swanky and divey venue, Skylark, is what I imagine James Marshall must have felt when he discovered gold. Skylark surrounds you with friendly staff, good vibes, and genuine energy, with its glowing, candlelit booths. Brian seems to glide across as he sings to the onlookers seated in them. I never want to leave when I’m there, so much soul and all gold!”
The Skylark Lounge has become a force in Austin’s R&B, blues, soul, and jazz scene. The venue is still slaying this game and the secret’s out. In 2017, Yelp appointed Skylark the #1 live music venue in the United States.
What are you waiting for? The night is young and the music is destined to make your body move. Arrive early to snag a seat, though you won’t be sitting for long.
2039 Airport Blvd. – Website
@theAustinot wants to know:
Which bands have you enjoyed at The Skylark Lounge?
The original version of this article was published Aug. 23, 2017.