The Ritz was built in 1929 by J.J. Hegman, who owned several movie theaters in Austin, Texas. It was the first theater in Austin to be built specifically for the talkies. The theater opened on 6th Street on October 13, 1929. It showed primarily first-run westerns along with country music acts who performed before the movies. The theater closed in 1964.
A Tumultuous History
The theater remained shuttered until 1970, when it re-opened for three years as an adult theater. In October 1974, it was renovated and opened the doors as a music venue, offering an eclectic mix of programming from classical to rock and including live theater and movies. This was also short-lived, and the club closed in 1975. Several other groups moved in over the years. The Center Stage theater group took it over in 1977, closing off the balcony to make a second, separate theater. Again, the venue didn't last long and the late 1970s saw a serious decline in the theater's fortunes, including another stint into porn exhibition.
In 1981, it began running as a punk rock club. Shows such as Black Flag, which inaugurated the punk era on May 7, 1982, The Misfits, Hüsker Dü, The Circle Jerks, The Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat and others showed that there was an audience for hardcore and opened the doors for an influx of punk rock into the Austin music scene. The violence inherent to punk rock shows eventually cost the operators their liquor license, forcing another closure in late 1982.
Rebirth as a Beloved Music Venue
The managers also began reintroducing music, from Texas bands to heavy metal, and very cautiously brought back a little bit of punk rock. The most famous show played at The Ritz in the eighties was the Red Hot Chili Peppers November 23 show there in 1986. The building has consistently been a music venue, bar, and pool hall since that time.
On March 20, 2007, the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema announced that they would be relocating their downtown cinema, which was the original theater opened in 1997, to the Ritz. They began construction on April 1, 2007 to revive the Ritz as a movie theater. The official grand opening was held on November 2, 2007, the Ritz Theatre, served as the flagship theatre for the chain. In 2021, Alamo Drafthouse announced they were filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the company’s restructuring plans, they closed the Ritz Theatre.
In 2022 the building was bought by comedian, podcaster and commentator Joe Rogan. During the following year the building was renovated under the design of Austin Architect Richard Weiss to turn it into The Comedy Mothership, a standup comedy nightclub destination. Fulfilling a dream and vision Joe Rogan had of providing a comedy community here in Austin that will draw comics from all around the world.