For UTPA student Sandra Rojas, going out to 17th Street in downtown McAllen used to be a regular habit. She would meet with friends and have a couple of drinks, but that changed last year. Rather than going downtown, Rojas found other places to party.
Rojas feels she isn’t alone in thinking that the Downtown Scene, which she said was created to emulate Austin’s 6th Street, has become a thing of the past.
Austin’s 6th Street is a large strip of downtown that is famously known for its nightlife. The area is also known for having a variety of bars and clubs within a small distance, making it easy for patrons to walk from bar to bar.
“It was a new thing and it was kind of like Austin,” the mass communication major said of the McAllen area, which came about in 2009. “They were trying to look like Austin and it didn’t turn out very well.”
Daniel Duran, co-owner of alternative lifestyle club The Recovery Room, agrees that the downtown McAllen area was created with the idea of 6th Street in mind.
“I think a lot of (17th Street’s fall) was they promised you so many things when you first got there,” the UTPA alumnus said. “And then after a couple of years they started charging parking fees and homeowner’s association fees for the bars, and that wasn’t really laid out to them before they started.”
Duran, who graduated in 1989 with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, added that violence in McAllen’s downtown area steered some clubgoers toward the Nolana scene, nearly three miles north of Downtown, where they may have felt safer.
Valley Central reported that a stabbing took place downtown in the early morning hours July 21, 2013. McAllen police at the scene called for an investigation. Just a few months later in November, another stabbing was reported but this time the incident took place inside a club. The second stabbing occurred at 1:45 a.m. at Club Vault, one of 17th Street’s larger nightclubs, according to The Monitor. The driver was able to later drive himself to McAllen Medical Center for treatment and his injuries were not fatal.
Rojas explained that he thinks these cases are part of what has caused patrons to go other places.
“All of the violence, like the stabbing a few times, it geared people away from there and people were scared,” the McAllen native said. “And I think that’s the reason there is a lot more security and cops and people don’t want to go.”
Duran added that this violence was one of the things that made him wary of opening a business downtown. The club he co-owns with a partner, The Recovery Room, is situated in the heart of the Nolana club scene, just across the street from Gamehaus Gastropub. He said the idea came from a lifelong dream of opening a bar for nurses to go to after a long work shift, hence the name. Duran also wanted his patrons to feel safe.
Liza Salinas, who owned two clubs downtown, explained why she sold them late last year.
“I just didn’t feel like my guests or employees were safe (downtown),” Salinas said. “There were stabbings and that pushed a lot of business away.”
Salinas moved her business ventures to Nolana, opening Park Avenue just next to Eddies, a pool hall that has
Like Salinas, Rojas said that many of the customers from Nolana bars had moved the party downtown but quickly returned.
“I think they are going back to Nolana,” Rojas explained. “(The Nolana) area has picked up a lot. There used to be a lot of people there, then they moved (downtown) and then came back. I think the whole thing was to focus on one area having all the clubs.”
The McAllen club scene has seen its share of alternative lifestyle clubs, and gay clubs. In the ‘80s and ‘90s there was 10th Avenue, the premier gay club. Bars like Trade Bar and PBD’s were popular hangouts for the LGBT community in the 2000s, but according to Duran, these clubs are largely on the north side of town, typically north of Nolana. He feels the violence seen on 17th Street has kept these types of clubs away from the area.
“I worked 18 years in the emergency room so I saw a lot of the violence coming out of 17th street,” said Duran, who was a nurse for 38 years. “So I was very reluctant (to take my business) downtown…being a gay bar and being afraid of the gay bashing, or not being able to get the customers you want because people are afraid to go downtown.”
Rojas also explained that the mix of clubs on Nolana has contributed to its success.
“Nolana just has a bigger variety,” the 24-year-old said. “There was a gay club downtown, but I think the violence kind of…I don’t think that place is open anymore.”
Positioned just south of Business 83, 17th Street is considered the south side of town, or “Old McAllen.” For patrons traveling from the north side of town, this meant passing the McAllen Police station on the corner of Pecan and Bicentennial Avenue on their way home.
Duran explained that this may have been one of the culprits in the demise of 17th Street.
“A lot of the people from the north side of town don’t even want to go to the south side anymore only because they are afraid of the police and having to drive back home,” the club owner said. “So a lot of the people on the north side prefer to come to the north side so it’s easier to get back home.”
Traveling from north to south also meant greater risk of having an accident, especially after a night of drinking.
According to the Texas Department of Transportation, there were nearly 800 alcohol-related accidents in Hidalgo County in 2013 alone. Of these, 16 were fatal. More specifically, 141 of the nearly 800 alcohol-related crashes took place in McAllen. Duran feels that these numbers affect the places that McAllen clubgoers choose, adding to the appeal of the Nolana scene.
The Nolana club scene is stretched between 23rd Street and Colonel Rowe Boulevard. Some notable bars and clubs in the area include Gamehaus Gastropub, which opened in the fall of last year and DeLoreans, an ‘80s-themed bar.
Also found on the “strip” is Duran’s The Recovery Room, which offers a nightclub atmosphere for the LGBT community and its supporters. When it opened last December, Duran was worried about how business would run.
“Being my first venture out with a bar I had to lean on my partner, who had owned bars in the past, for advice,” Duran recalled. “But with all the other bars in the area, we had a concept but we didn’t know how to attract the followers.”
Although the Nolana club scene has seen a boost in business in recent months, according to Rojas, she said that the creation of Downtown once had negative effects on her family’s bar on Nolana, The Yacht Club. This club, according to Rojas, offers Tejano nights and country music nights while offering a nightclub atmosphere.
“We are kind of working on promoting more to bring more crowd in, because all of the crowd pretty much took off to downtown,” Rojas said. “All of the clubs on Nolana, their sales went down.”
While some clubs remain relevant in the downtown area, like Suerte and The Flying Walrus, the money being made has greatly diminished, according to Rojas.
“It’s just not the same down there,” the McAllen native said. “The clubs have totally changed, the crowd has changed. I think that there are a lot of minors (and) a lot of illegal activity going on.”
Rojas said that her family’s business has seen growth in the recent months and she hopes sales will continue to increase. As for downtown, she believes it will completely die out and eventually be nothing.
Duran noted that the future of the Nolana club scene looks bright. With new places opening up, he said that it will be even bigger in the next five years.
“This area is continuing to grow,” he said. “Even now we are seeing people that will walk from other bars over here (to The Recovery Room).”