Saturday, June 25, 2005

An American-Statesman Report

Taco Land owner shot to death

San Antonio venue was haven for up-and-coming bands from Austin and elsewhere.

By Michael Corcoran
Saturday, June 25, 2005

Ram Ayala, always wearing sunglasses in his dark nightclub, was a legend among not only Austin and San Antonio musicians, but also indie rock touring acts such as Yo La Tengo and L7, who made sure to stop in at his gloriously seedy biker bar whenever they passed through San Antonio.

Philadelphia's Dead Milkmen even recorded a song about their unscheduled 1986 appearance at the 150-capacity cinder block venue: "I wish my band would always play; Tacoland, I want to stay."

Ramiro Albert Ayala, 72, was fatally shot in the torso at Taco Land at 103 W. Grayson St. at 1:21 a.m. Friday, according to the San Antonio Police Department. Police said two people fled with money taken from the cash register after shooting two others at the bar — a 41-year-old woman shot in the abdomen and a 53-year-old man shot in the side.

Both were taken to University Hospital and are in critical condition, according to police, and no suspects had been arrested as of Friday evening.

"Simple words cannot properly express the sadness and disgust I'm feeling," former Hickoids singer Jeff Smith wrote in an e-mail early Friday morning that launched an Internet wildfire of similar reactions. Smith, who lives in San Antonio, described the injured victims as the club's bouncer and bartender.

"I never even saw a fight at Taco Land," said Eric Makowski, whose early '90s band the Showoffs regularly played at the club, which opened as a taco stand in 1965 but hasn't served food in decades. "The place looked pretty scary, but everyone was so nice."

The crowd was a reflection of the club's owner, who greeted everyone with a gruff expletive, yet was known for his generosity toward up-and-coming bands.

"One time we were sitting around talking about how broke and hungry we were, and a couple bags of tacos and burritos magically appeared at our table," recalled Makowski, currently a member of Bloody Tears.

Ayala liked to send bands home with a case of beer at the end of the night, especially if nobody showed up to see them. But he was more notorious for an unmarked bottle of hooch he carried around. The bottle was filled with liquor left over by customers who had brought their own to the beer and wine joint. Bikers would often prove their mettle by taking swigs from the bottle that mixed several types of liquor.

"If Ram liked the band, he'd make them each drink a shot of that stuff," Makowski said. "It tasted awful, but it felt like a honor."

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