Listen to Austin 360 Radio

In the clubs: Ghost Room

Diverse acts, hauntingly good sound and an ectoplasmic audience member make new venue one of the best in town

Patrick Caldwell
Pink Nasty, fronted by singer Sara Beck, performs at the Ghost Room on Saturday. The former home of a Nabisco warehouse and the Ginger Man is now a 350-capacity club.

On a burning, muggy early morning in July, Heidi Johnson, the associate manager of Warehouse District music venue the Ghost Room, was stepping out for the night. It was about 3 a.m. As she walked out the door, a mysterious yellow ball lofted into the air right in front of her eyes before dropping to the floor.

She couldn't explain where it came from or who might have thrown it. Of course, that's just one more odd, unexplained phenomenon for the appropriately named club.

'I'm not one to believe in ghosts, but I've definitely had some really eerie things happen to me in this building. Everyone who's worked here has at some point gotten freaked out by the things that happen in here,' says Johnson. ‘I'm sure people don't believe my stories, but I've had things happen to me four or five times. I've had my hair stand on end from coming here.'

It's only natural that tales of poltergeists would plague the Ghost Room. Ghost stories, after all, tend to crop up in historic places, and the Ghost Room has a long, winding, charming story. It began in 1913 as a Nabisco warehouse, was for a time the lesbian bar the Hollywood, and for 15 years served as the beloved watering hole the Ginger Man, which vacated the space and moved into a new location on Lavaca Street last year. Plans to demolish the building to make way for a condominium development stalled out shortly afterward — one of precious few reasons to actually be thankful for today's economic doldrums — and the Ginger Man's owners decided to kick-start a new local music venue in the space.

The 350-capacity building's interior was gutted, its bar seats were removed, and a hefty, concrete-filled stage was added in the rear. An upstairs office was added, despite the area's status as ground zero for hauntings. The Ghost Room opened its doors on Sept. 3, and its superlative sound, dim ambience, place off the beaten path of Red River Street and cozy vibe quickly made it an up-and-coming venue to watch. The room subsequently picked up the 2010 Austin Music Award for best new venue.

'After all these years of being so many different things, it kind of seems like this is its natural calling. Because it just sounds amazing in here,' says Johnson, who's been with the club since it opened and, like the rest of the venue's management team, also previously worked for the Ginger Man. 'It's been a year and it's been a really slow start, but we all still have our energy and all really want it to be successful.'

Johnson works under general manager Josie Fluri, who once managed and booked successful Orlando club the Social. The venue, open five nights a week with live music at least three nights, has focused on a diverse array of shows from top-notch local talent, ranging from funk masters Hard Proof Afrobeat to skilled indie rockers Oh No Oh My to singer-songwriter Wendy Colonna and expert pop professionals Quiet Company. And an increasing number of touring artists are in its future, says Johnson.

'We've directed the focus more on getting road shows in here and being taken more seriously as a venue, rather than just a bar that's opened up and has shows,' says Johnson. ‘We're really concentrating on getting the best shows that we possibly can.'

Aiding in that goal will be soundboard specialist Chris Payeur, who recently joined the venue and for years worked the sound at the Parish, another top-notch room.

As for the ghost ... well, he or she is harmless, Johnson says, and has a place of honor in a perch just by the front door.

'We have a lamp and a chair set up that no one can get to so the ghost has a place to chill,' says Johnson. 'That's where we say the ghost lives now.'

___

Ghost Room

Address: 304 W. Fourth St.

Website:theghostroom.com

Booker: Manager Josie Fluri and assistant manager Heidi Johnson field the booking for the venue; both have experience as local musicians (Fluri plays in New Roman Times).

Bathrooms: Small and few in number but clean and well-kept.

Upcoming shows: Tonight: Austin Collins (10 p.m.) and Will Johnson (11 p.m.); Friday: the Duquaines (10 p.m.), RTB2 (11 p.m.) and Leatherbag (midnight); Saturday: Luna Matto (10 p.m.), Smile Smile (11 p.m.) and David Ramirez (midnight); August 26: John Lefler of Dashboard Confessional; September 10: Erin Ivey, Miranda Dodson, Matt the Electrician and Danny Malone; September 18: the White Ghost Shivers with Wino Vino

Parking: It's Warehouse District 101, so be prepared to part with $5-$10 if you want to park in one of the many nearby lots. Otherwise, you can always hunt for metered parking or try to grab a space curbside in the nearby Original West Austin neighborhood and hoof it.

Cover: $5 for nearly all shows.