By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Is it just us, or does Deep Ellum seem a tad unsettled lately? OK, "unsettled" is the neighborhood's natural state. Got that. Still, we don't think we're the only ones noticing a shifting vibe.
Over the past year, two long-standing dining anchors have rolled out of the neighborhood. East Wind Vietnamese Restaurant and MoMo's departed after 15 years, the latter reopening as Portobello under new ownership.
Now Sambuca Jazz Café is heading out after 13 years in the 'hood and is preparing to reopen in the former Salve! location at McKinney Avenue and Pearl Street in March. "Deep Ellum has evolved into more of a nightclub scene, and it has moved away from restaurants," says Holly Forsythe, who owns five Sambuca locations with her brother Kim. "There are very few restaurants staying behind." But don't tell that to Deep Ellum Association Executive Director Sean Wisdom. The departure of the longtime restaurants is not the result of any general trend, he says, but is caused by business circumstances unique to each escapee. As proof, he cites Local and Standard 2706, two critically acclaimed restaurants that opened during the past year. "We like to think that as far as hot, really original cuisine, Deep Ellum is still a great place to come for that." (Right. Try the new pepper-spray flautas. They're really hot.)
But it's hard to get around the fact that a certain dining demographic--also known as grown-ups--is showing the kind of wariness of Deep Ellum that a Cub Scout pack might exhibit when mulling a visit to Neverland.
Forsythe says Sambuca is leaving to reconfigure its dining-jazz venue. Yet it's telling they chose not to do it in a Deep Ellum building they own and are instead moving into an uptown rental. Thanks to those changes, Deep Ellum's loss may also be a loss to Dallas' hard-core jazz fans, who by last count numbered in the dozens. Sambuca's owners plan to change the live music mix from an in-your-face jazz format to an eclectic pop-blues-new age hum. "We're like a side order of live music now," she says. Deep Ellum may be following suit.