At Austin’s The Continental Club, the “Honky Tonk Doctor” Is

Inside The Continental Club, it’s easy to forget that Austin, Texas, is America’s fastest growing city. Once you pass through the red doors into the shadowy heart of the 66-year-old music venue and dive bar, the throngs of tourists and glittery new chain boutiques of South Congress Avenue recede. Here, the patrons wear pearl snaps and battered Stetsons and a Lone Star with a whiskey chaser costs less than an oat milk matcha latte down the street. The ancient cigarette machine dispensing Newports, Salems and Kent Old Golds provides just enough ambient light by which to count your change, if not enough to read the inscriptions on the dozens of faded band photos plastering the crimson walls. The linoleum flooring in front of the stage is worn to bare concrete by generations of drinkers and dancers, but the platform’s red velvet backdrop hints at The Continental’s early years as a plush supper club and burlesque venue. Since then, the biggest names in country, blues, bluegrass, rockabilly, rock and punk have taken the stage, including Buck Owens, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Rosie Flores, Billy F Gibbons and Social Distortion.

Just past the stage is a cramped back room dominated by a red felt pool table and a small banquette. Abutting the back door is a wall plastered with hundreds of stickers that serve as an homage to the bands that have passed through as well as to the venue’s home state (“You May All Go To Hell, And I Will Go To Texas”). It’s in this inner sanctum that Dianne Scott has spent the past 29 of her nearly 71 years.

Scott is The Continental Club’s self-described social director and grand enforcer, but most people know her as the bouncer. Working from a purple swivel chair at a two-top adorned with a cordless phone, several coasters and a pad of Post-its, Scott does double duty as gatekeeper and public relations for the longstanding venue. A former bartender, talent buyer and booking agent from Willsboro, New York, Scott moved to Austin in 1987 to further her connections in the music industry. With her black Continental Club T-shirt and braided pigtails, Scott looks younger than her years, but her personal anecdotes are the stuff of rock ’n’ roll memoirs. Pete Yorn once offered her a job as tour manager after being refused entry; Robert Plant, who used to live in the neighborhood, knows her by name; Pamela Des Barres isn’t just her writing coach and mentor, but one of her best friends.

On a recent Monday night between sound checks, Scott shared her secret to being a septuagenarian bouncer, why she’s known as the Honky Tonk Doctor, and how The Continental Club has managed to maintain its status—and soul—in an ever-changing urban landscape.

Before you came to The Continental Club, you worked for the late, legendary pitmaster and club owner C.B. “Stubb” Stubblefield. Were you booking bands for him?
Oh, hell no, I was Stubb’s bitch. When you worked for Stubb, you did what Stubb said, and I knew food and beverage inside out. We were very close friends, but we fought like cats and dogs when we worked together. I once told him how he could more efficiently stock beer so he could fit more into the cooler, and his response was, “This ain’t Ray’s Bar-B-Q, this ain’t Donna’s Bar-B-Q, this ain’t Dianne’s Bar-B-Q. This is Stubb’s Bar-B-Q, and as long as it is, we’re gonna do things Stubb’s way.” But he was responsible for my moving here—he knew all of the blues musicians I loved, and it was like, “Oh, man. I have to go work [with] him because I want to [move] my booking agency to Austin.”

So how did you end up at The Continental Club?
Well, it was kind of an accident. When I was booking bands, most of them played here, or The Hole in the Wall. I knew Steve [Wertheimer, the owner,] pretty well and I’d always admired his work ethic and ethics in general, especially as a club owner. It was New Year’s Eve, 1992, and his general manager, now his wife, called me and asked if I planned to visit the club that night. I said yes, and she asked if I wanted to earn some money. Then she started crying and said they didn’t have anyone to work the front door. I said OK, and when Steve paid me at the end of the night, I told him, “Well, I’m never doing that again!”

Well, I’d been complaining to Steve for years that my bands were losing money because so many people were sneaking in through the club’s back door. He said, “Well, you go work back there, then!”

Was it a subconscious decision to transition from booking agent to bouncer?
Oh, no. I was just doing it to help Steve and my bands, and it was fun. But somewhere during 1993, I realized I was tired of babysitting adults, which is what being a booking agent is. Of course, it was my fault—I’d babied them so much, they expected me to do whatever needed to be done. And it annoyed me, but at the same time, it was the best training exercise ever for being a bouncer. I learned how to do everything at the club, and the reason Steve hired me to work the back door is because I already knew who everyone was and who should be allowed in: bands, band friends, employees, VIPs. I went from babysitting adults to babysitting drunk adults, seven nights a week.

Do you have an M.O. for keeping interlopers out?
For years, I’ve been known as The Bitch at the Back Door, which is actually so fine with me; I used to have a sticker that said, “You say I’m a bitch like it’s a bad thing.” I’m totally OK with it because the people who know me understand that’s not who I am, but it’s who I present as out of necessity. The first thing you learn as a bouncer is that you don’t have to beat them up, but you have to make them think you could, if you wanted to. And I was really good at that. I also have a sixth sense about who to keep my eye on, to nip things before they became a problem. What I do is bark at people, then I smile or laugh if they comply and tell them, “I love quick learners.” You’ve always got to start with that vinegar and follow it with some honey.

Are the regulars protective of you?
Very. But I tell them, “This isn’t y’all’s problem, let me handle it.” We had to toss out a couple one time, and the girl of the duo started mouthing off to me, saying she was just going to go around to the front door. I told her it wouldn’t do her any good, so she kicked me in the shin with her steel-toe boot and took off. I was still able to chase her down.

 Is it cathartic, refusing entry to certain people?
Absolutely! That’s why you have to be very careful not to let the authority of the position go to your head. You can’t just be a bitch for the sake of being a bitch. Sometimes it happens, but I always want to make sure people are having a good time—just not too good of a time.

You’ve been sober since 1986. What prompted that decision?
I was suicidal, and I was 35 years old. I was a victim of sexual abuse from the time I was 7, and it was many separate instances with many different men. I’d been drinking since I was 15; I used to take baby food jars full of Jack Daniel’s to school and drink them in the bathroom during lunch. This was in 1968–69, and all my friends were shooting heroin on their lunch hours—at a  top 10 high school attended by the sons and daughters of majors, colonels and generals.

How have you been able to continue working in industries notorious for substance abuse?
When I got sober, I was afraid to even leave my house, because the temptation was too great. But after a while, it became a choice: Is it more important for me to drink, or more important for me to be where the music is? The music was more important than anything else.

Austin has such a reputation as a hard-partying city. Was that a struggle for you, even moving here as a newly sober person?
I was amazed by the depth and breadth of the recovery community here—groups besides AA, as well as social groups. Most employees here at the club are sober, just because they’ve been in the industry a long time, and a lot of the musicians don’t partake for the same reason. And thank God for Austin’s SIMS Foundation, which provides low-cost treatment for addiction and mental health services for those working in the music industry.

Is your experience being in recovery what led to your being known far and wide as the Honky Tonk Doctor?
I’m not sure why that started, but years ago, my friend Becky hung a sign on my computer that said, “The Honky Tonk Doctor Is In. .25 per session.” I think I reminded her of Lucy from Charlie Brown, because everyone—staff, customers, musicians—was always coming up to me and telling me their problems or asking for advice. She even gave me a little skull cup to hold the quarters.

What kind of advice were you dispensing?
A lot of questions about addiction, how to help friends or family who are struggling, but it’s not always heavy stuff. Sometimes, people just ask me funny things, or want to know where to get the best tacos. I’m taking a bit of a hiatus as the Doctor, but she comes out every now then, when someone needs her.

Yes, well, it’s been a long two years. Since you’re also a professional babysitter, it bears asking if you have children of your own.
No, but I’ve had many, many people assume I was a teacher or principal at some point, because of how I am here. I tell them, “Well, I was a bartender for 18 fucking years!”

How long do you plan to continue working here?
At least until I’m 80. I told Steve after that, he’ll probably need to install a lift, because I won’t be able to manage the stairs.

In 2019, you were given the Margaret Moser Women in Music Award at the Austin Music Awards. What would you like your legacy at The Continental Club to be?
A lot of people have said that Steve may be the owner, but I’m the face of the venue. I hope I’m remembered as someone who helped make this the world-renowned music club it is. Steve made a speech after I received the award, and said, “I told her to go back there and work the door. I didn’t know she wouldn’t leave!”

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