SAT., FEB. 7, 2004
Usually when a beloved Austin institution moves and sets up shop in new and shinier digs, there issues a chorus of complaints about how it’s not as cool as the old place, or that the supposed institution has sold out. It’s the truth as often as not. Old Austin is characterized by its freakiness and funk. Newer places tend toward a more generic, less cluttered, culturally homogenized appearance that appeals to the largest possible demographic. Old Austin, to the uninitiated, is a little intimidating. Take Ruta Maya Coffee House for instance. The original Fourth Street location was a barely converted, un-air-conditioned warehouse filled with aging, mismatched furniture and an even more mismatched clientele. The porch was nearly always filled with dreadlocked, pierced, tattooed, alternative types smoking cigarettes and giving the skunk eye to starched-collar yuppies who dropped by for a pick-me-up after visiting ritzier places like Sullivan’s and Cedar Street. Inside was an equally intimidating gauntlet of noise, steam, smoke, and eclectic music whose terminus was a well-graffitied, two-stalled unisex bathroom with no lock on the outer door. Good times. Ruta Maya’s new location at Penn Field (actually, not so new anymore, having been there now for nearly two years) has same-sex bathrooms, air conditioning, a huge stage, and a great sound system. In short, other than the same-sex bathrooms, it’s a vast improvement over the old Ruta Maya. Why? Because it still possesses all of the elements of the old location, but in a larger, more accommodating space. Drawbacks? It’s more isolated for one thing. The only foot traffic these days is the occasional Exposé titty dancer who strolls up the hill for a cup of joe. Otherwise, it’s a drive-to destination, albeit one with ample parking and a pretty wicked view of St. Ed’s and downtown Austin from the back patio. Most importantly, Ruta Maya still buys its coffee from an organic farming cooperative in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, which helps improve the living condition of the cooperative’s participants and the region in general by promoting sustainable agriculture. If you’re going to feed your addiction, why not help feed people with it as well? This Saturday, Ruta Maya is host to Rock and Roll at Ruta Maya, a benefit for the Mayan Communities Fund which provides health care and social services to people in southern Mexico and Guatemala. For $3 you can enjoy six hours of glorious rock & roll from six Austin acts: Primordial Undermind, Beecher, the Band With No Name, Dum Dum & the Smarties, Madamimadam, and the Amazing CJ. That’s an attractively priced 50 cents per band, so you should have plenty of jack left over for some Mayan homegrown. If you’re not a coffee achiever, relax. Ruta Maya has plenty of other libations, both alcoholic and non, to get you through the night.