This guest blog article is by Edgar Barguiarena.
Every Marine does it. You’re down to your last deployment and you wonder what you’re going to do with your time and money.
“Most guys talk about opening a bar of some sort when they get out, ” said Jason White, one of the owners of Brass House.
“I had spent 12 months in Afghanistan and didn’t get killed, so why not?”
Jason and Gene, a Marine with 20 years of service under his belt, were an unlikely duo. Gene is a jovial Bulgarian, light-hearted and always optimistic. Jason is from East Texas, with big dreams and a tireless work ethic to accomplish them.
The two had had the conversations many times before, but as their last tour in Afghanistan was finally coming to end, it was time to act. “I visited Austin about ten years ago and enjoyed the nightlife as well as the live music scene, ” mentioned Jason. But he had never lived here, and Gene had never even visited. As talks progressed and they both realized they were serious about making something happen, they began to go over locations. “Austin just seemed like the right fit.” Jason had done his research and Austin’s booming economy and vibrant nightlife scene created the perfect mix.
They knew they wanted to open a Jazz and Blues club, but the question was where. Jason spent much of his R&R doing research online, but real estate websites didn’t come up with any promising leads. So one fateful day, he made his way to Craigslist just to see what type of commercial listings he could find there.
Opening the Brass House
It was the perfect location, it had the right layout for a live music venue, and it was situated near high end hotels and restaurants. “We were fourth in line. Three other groups were being considered before we even had a chance, ” but Jason didn’t let that deter him. He got creative and ended up writing a long, passionate email talking up his Texas roots and military background. The email worked.
Just over a month later, as his second deployment in Afghanistan finally came to a close and less than 24 hours after arriving in the U.S., he was on a plane to Austin with Gene following the day after. They fell in love with the location, but they only had a few days to make an assessment before having to head back to San Diego. The Marines weren’t done with them yet; they still had 6 months left on their contract. Fortunately, they were scheduled for 42 days of extended leave at the start of 2013.
If Jason or Gene had had any experience opening up a bar or restaurant in Austin, Brass House might have never come to be. Lack of experience played to their advantage because anyone who had done this before would’ve known better than to even attempt opening, given such a short time period. Jason remembers, “I was sleeping on couches, on the floor, in my vehicle. Any place would do after literally working all day and well into the night.”
The Community Comes Together
There is no official playbook on how to open up a live music venue and bar in Austin. Jason was making things up as he went. But the neighborhood immediately took to the idea of having a new jazz club open up in their area. “I don’t think we could have done it without the help of some of our neighbors and other people in the city, ” recounted Jason. He had plumbers, AC technicians and musicians all chip in free of charge to help him get started. He couldn’t believe people were so taken by the idea that they would offer their services for free.
Just as the place was nearing completion, extended leave was up and Jason had to go back to San Diego. He had a few friends help complete the finishing touches. On the weekend of February 16th, Jason flew back to Austin and held the Grand Opening of the Brass House. The place was packed with friends, family, and everyone who had chipped in to help put the Brass House together. The culmination of an idea that was seeded halfway across the world, in war-torn Afghanistan, finally came to be at a swanky joint at 2nd and San Jacinto in downtown Austin.
The Brass House: Live Jazz and Blues
I was curious as to why a couple of Marines at war would be interested in opening up a Jazz club in Texas. “When you have bullets whizzing by hitting their mark just a few feet away from you, you get an unbelievable adrenaline rush. So I used to listen to Jazz and the guys from the Rat Pack to bring me back down to reality, ” Jason told me. He loves music from that era: Sinatra, Dean Martin, Big Band Music. So he wanted to open up a place that would play in that style and would remind folks of that era, with its opulence and vintage feel.
He had his good friend Kimberly Booe, a freelance designer, come in and transform the place. “She ended up finding most of the brass pieces at second-hand stores all around Austin.”