By Jeremy Hallock
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By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
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You'll have to pardon Ben Tapia's giddiness. Club Dada still has something of a "new club smell" to him. Whenever he speaks of the venue (or his upcoming plans to help revamp it), a smile takes over his face.
He's excited, and it's not hard to see why.
Tapia, a longtime local musician who performs in local rock act Escort Service, has only been associated with Dada for a little more than a month now—the club brought him on to help out with its local music bookings in late May—but he's already earned something of a promotion. Now, Tapia's a co-owner of one of Deep Ellum's last remaining venues, replacing Amanda Newman, who, for the past two years, served the club in a similar role.
The change means a lot of things: To an extent, Tapia is also the club's new bar manager, business manager, booking agent and—sure—janitor. Last Thursday, before sets from Austin's Lee Simmons, Dallas' Salim Nourallah, San Francisco's Birds and Batteries, and Fort Worth's Telegraph Canyon, Tapia stood on his venue's stage, broom in hand, sweeping up a mess made earlier in the week.
"The first day I came in here, I hauled 20 fucking bags of trash out of this place, just in one session alone," he says with a hint of a nervous laugh. "It could have been cleaner."
Ah, but physically cleaning up Dada is just one of the tasks occupying Tapia's to-do list; he also has to clean up Dada's image.
Not that Dada has wholly fallen by the wayside; it hasn't. But faced with the strengthening nearby scenes in Denton and Fort Worth, as well as the dwindling scene of the Deep Ellum venues surrounding Dada, ensuring the future success of this club remains something of an uphill battle.
Tapia realizes as much. Like the rest of the business people around Deep Ellum, he has some simple goals in mind: generate revenue and hang on tooth-and-nail until the DART rail entering the neighborhood gets completed (which could happen as soon as later this year). The first step, Tapia says, is re-establishing the club's reputation and helping it become a destination venue for local music fans: "Basically, my goal here is to create an A-plus venue, a kickass place for live music."
Recent bookings of hipster favorites such as Evangelicals, Frog Eyes and Times New Viking show a promising future for the space. So do a few other shows on the upcoming docket: alt-country act Lucero, influential punk rock guitarist Richard Lloyd of the band Television, garage punk bad boy Jay Reatard. Each is a nice coup for Dada and a far cry from the more toned-down acts one would expect to play Tapia's former place of employment, the City Tavern.
"I'm very well aware that this is not the City Tavern," he says, smoking a cigarette on Dada's back patio. "The City Tavern is a live music venue, but it's also a neighborhood bar. [Dada] is a live music venue—that's our bread and butter, and that's all we've got here. I'm not counting on the City Tavern or its crowd coming over here to make this place a success. What I am planning on is promoting and booking this place successfully."
Other changes are in store for Dada too. Tapia has plans to add a Frank Campagna-painted mural to the venue's back patio; to re-paint the venue's front façade; to create a "Club Dada Wall of Fame" with pictures of historically significant artists who've played the club; and to turn the space currently being used as a green room into something of a local art gallery.
With so many amendments in store for Club Dada, Tapia's nervous excitement is understandable. He could be on the precipice of a new era for the club—or he could just be setting himself up for disappointment.
A month removed from her duties as co-owner of Club Dada, Amanda Newman says she has no hard feelings and no regrets about her time spent working at the club. But she does warn Tapia and her former partners, Valerie Baker and Bob Cummins, to make sure they lead the club with their heads and not their hearts, as she so often had.
"The one lasting lesson that I've learned is that there is nothing more devastating than to hear an incredible band...and look across the room and see only 10 people sharing that experience with you. It's depressing," she said last weekend, looking like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders since parting ways with Dada. "All I ever wanted to do was give an audience to something that's fantastic."
With his path laid out before him, Tapia's goal is no different. He just hopes to better energize the listening audience.
"All the bands that made this place and created it? They're no longer around," Tapia says. "Change is inevitable. But we're certainly gonna change for the better. If you think about Dada's history, it's been through a lot of changes—the doors were closed here not too long ago. The only thing that will be different now is the people involved. This place is what it is—and it's always been a great live music venue. That's what I want to get it back to.
"You know that old saying, 'If you build it, they will come?' Well, I'm building it. Keep an eye on our calendar: We're gonna have some cool shows coming up."