Venue Spotlight: The Mohawk

We here at the Deli Austin are extraordinarily proud to present the first in our series of features profiling Austin venues. Our writer Resalin Rago brings us installment one, focused on the Red River hotspot the Mohawk, which you may call a hipster hangout at your own peril. Photos by Frances Lin.

A wooden sign hanging above the bar at the Mohawk reads “All are Welcome.” The motto, explained owner James Moody, is directed at artists. “Austin, having so much talent coming through, didn’t need to take that extra step. There were things in Austin that weren’t being done and we wanted to fill in gaps," Moody said. “When we started, the interactive scene wasn’t there. No one was using social networking on websites and there were no Green Rooms for artists to chill and relax before the show. ”

Bored at his desk job, Moody left the health care industry to open a club, soon christened The Mohawk, on Red River. The investors decided to build next to Club De Ville, hoping to piggyback off the elder’s success. Club De Ville had established itself (nine years prior to Mohawk’s opening night) as a strong rival against Stubbs, one block down the street. While the trifecta now compete against each other for bookings, they are reviving the downtown entertainment district that had grown quiet.

On a late summer afternoon, Mohawk co-managers Adrian Ace San Miguel and Renee Stokes tell me stories about the club between puffs of a shared Camel cigarette. The Camel sales rep loves the club so its patrons and employees have no problem sating their nicotine craving. They finish smoking and take me on a tour of the property.

We climb narrow wooden stairs off to the right of the indoor stage. Before coming into the Green Room, I pause to read Neil Young lyrics painted in Old English font:

My, my, hey, hey,
Rock & Roll is here to stay.
It’s better to burn out than to fade away.
My, my, hey, hey.

Public access to the Green Room Lounge is determined by the generosity of the headlining band, which is why it’s “open most of the time.” (This pertains to the venue as well since its doors open only if a band is playing on one of its two stages). A green light over 10th St. summons revelers into a room with walls the color of mowed grass. During late afternoons, however, the wooden floors don’t groan under footsteps or shake from the amps blasting below. The vintage Seeburg Stereo 160 jukebox is left alone. At these moments, the music is gone, and with it, the debauchery, lewdness, and unexpected rollicking antics of artists and Austinites cashing in on cheap prices and free cigarettes. All is quiet.

But here is where Too Short left with female co-eds and tequila bottle in hand. Here is where Michael Stipe (REM) supposedly puked his guts out.

“[Stipe] needed to go to the bathroom,” Moody said. “He was on the roof deck and it was jam packed with people so I asked an employee, an ex-Marine, to help Stipe. Not knowing that Stipe is a frail, nervous guy—grabs him and says ‘Come with me dude.’ He puts [him] in a headlock and starts yelling: ‘He’s gonna puke! He’s gonna puke!’ The crowd cleared out and Stipe got to the bathroom. For the longest time, the rumor was that Michael Stipe puked in the Green Room at the Mohawk.”

Mohawk ladies

Stokes and San Miguel point out the new canopy, all of the re-claimed wood and metal, and new soundsystem. “What I like about working here is that rather than take home a paycheck, the owners re-invest back into the club,” San Miguel said. “I worked at Emo’s for five years and they still have the same shitty, broken toilet.”

While Moody is not the sole owner (Mike Terraza is another), he is responsible for crafting and maintaining Mohawk’s personality through design, social networking, and booking (Transmission Entertainment). Mohawk dabbles in different music genres as evidenced by its eclectic lineup. However, its taste prefers underground and emerging bands over the mainstream. The crowd that warms the white swivel stools in the lounge on a regular basis didn’t buy tickets to Cracker a month ago. They choose skinny jeans over pleated khakis. They are clever enough to appreciate the clashing interior decor motifs—the stuffed animals heads hanging over a retro couch, yellow-gold frames gilding portraits of woodsmen with coiffed facial hair. They read blogs, or have one. They listened to Bon Iver before he made it on the Where the Wild Things soundtrack and they probably stood in line at the Alamo Drafthouse to see the film opening night. Of course their taste in music is above average. They are, after all, hipsters.

It’s a stereotype Moody opposes.

“We were a hipster location at first but that faded,” Moody said. "Our scene is based on events. We don’t have hipsters, but Austin music heads.”

Mohawk may not be a hipster scene, but it’s hip to be seen there.

–Resalin Rago