In the beginning, there was nobody here but us turkeys.
In the spring of 1977, 6th Street was a neighborhood with an African-American/Hispanic/Lebanese heritage whose nighttime residents were primarily artists and winos. The JJJ Tavern had been dispensing drinks and philosophy at Esther’s present site since 1950.
Then, in the middle of 6th Street’s 500th block, Michael Shelton and Shannon Sedwick, who already operated Austin’s famed Liberty Lunch, leased an old, narrow bar at 515 (now Flamingo Cantina), throwing the first party on April Fool’s Day.
The next Friday night, it turned into an improvisational free-for-all of fun with singers, poets, dancers, mimes, musicians, and comics coming in off the street to create the unique comic environment where anything and everything could happen if it brought a smile. When Michael Shelton built a stage whose back opened onto 6th Street a few weeks later, the show started swimming as artist Doug Jaques began painting a 60-by-20-foot undersea mural along the entire east wall.
Led by Doug Dyer’s creative musical productions, Terry Galloway’s skits, William Dente’s virtuoso creation of Dame Della Diva, and an inspired energy, the first shows exploded every Friday night, with a rock & roll band that opened, followed by 2 to 3 hours of The Follies. We passed the hat with a religious-revival-like number, then folded up the chairs and danced to the band for another couple of hours. It was pure magic… and hasn’t lost a bit of it charm 24 years later.