Team Behind Barracuda to Open ‘Chess Club’ at Former Plush Venue: ‘A Sweet Open, About as Sweet as It Comes’ During South by Southwest – Music

The exterior of the Chess Club, still in progress, Monday. (Photo by John Anderson)

For those looking closely at the expanding south-by-southwest schedule, you may have noticed a new name – Chess Club – at 617 Red River.

Chess Club is a new bar from the team formerly behind Barracuda, featuring Jason McNeely and Brian Tweedy of the Vegas Hotel, plus Flesh Lights vocalist/guitarist Max Vandever and Cliff White. Just around the corner, the standard Barracuda in Red River closed in 2020 due to pandemic-related financial difficulties. Chess Club debuts as the official venue for SXSW, hosting daily acts like Faux Real and Laura Lee & the Jettes.

Tweedy only hesitantly confirms the news to the the Chronicle, as he considers the festival to date from a soft opening before the team established a more concrete vision for the space. It loosely foresees a dance club concept, combining bands and DJs. The team oversaw renovations to Plush’s former home for months.

“It’s a soft opening, about as soft as it gets,” Tweedy says. “We’re so excited about Chess Club, but we’re just having it for the festival, and after that we’ll reopen. Then I can talk more about what we’re going to do.

“We’re just trying to put things together to be South By official. It’s like we made it Fun Fun Fun [Fest] parties at Barracuda before Barracuda is ready, same thing.

The small space previously had a 105-seat capacity as Plush, an underground DJ center on the Red River for 20 years. Plush closed in May 2020, when chief executive Ryan Cunningham posted, “The combination of ever-increasing prices and new regulations has just been too much.” The building is owned by the Sconci family, which has operated Pat’s Sheet Metal on the corner of East Seventh and Red River since 1967.

Prior to Plush, the small space previously housed LGBTQ Nineties bar Blue Flamingo, which opened in 1992 to host punk bands like the Chumps, Bikers and Spoon. Tweedy was one of many underage music fans at the all-ages spot.

“I used to go to Blue Flamingo when I was 17 and 18, so it’s really cool to be back there – I love it,” he says. “When I was a kid it was one of the only places young bands could play. Really good bands could play at Emo’s or Liberty sometimes, but usually if you were underage you played at VFW venues or at private homes, except for this place.You had to bring your own sound system.

“Now that it’s our place, it’s a lot smaller than what I remember when I was a kid.”

Tweedy and McNeely – alongside Amy Mullins and Shannon LeBoeuf of the Yellow Jacket Social Club and Johnny Yaklin of the 13th Floor – are also launching a new concept in the former Spider House Cafe space at 2908 Fruth.

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