The Vampire Lounge, Back in Business, Hopes Not to Suck

Also: Rhett Miller returns to Dallas to champion a good cause

Between this weekend's expected big opening for Twilight in movie theaters and the first-season finale of HBO's phenomenal True Blood set to take place on Sunday night, yeah, vampires are pretty hot right now.

So much so that, maybe, the Vampire Lounge, one of Dallas' newest live music venues, located on Harry Hines Boulevard, not too far from the intersection of Interstate 35E and LBJ Freeway, should be sucking the life force out of the vampire craze right about now—or, at the very least, that the venue would've had quite the crowd at its Halloween bash a couple weeks back.

Only not so much, actually. On either count.

Last Friday night, only a handful of people were in attendance as touring act Seasons After, of Wichita, Kansas, and local openers Revengeance and Megadeth tribute act Sweating Bullets took to the new metal bar's stage. And, while the numbers of Halloween night were, of course, a little bit better, they weren't too great either, admits co-owner Jimi Fritz. But Fritz, a local metal musician himself, who plays guitar in the band Creeper, doesn't seem worried about his month-old venue's staying power.

"We're gonna last," he says, confident and matter-of-factly. "We're gonna be here for a while."

It's tough to believe him, though, when the music sounds generic (if well-practiced) and the crowds are thin.

But, then again, Fritz and fellow co-owner Matt Story do have something of a track record on their side. For a year and a half, from late 1998 to early 2000, metalheads might remember, the original Vampire Lounge had a successful run until the opening of a Target at Skillman Street and Northwest Highway forced its doors to close.

For metal musicians like Fritz, who, at the time, was performing in area act Double Cross, the venue was something of a home base. So when he inherited some money, he approached Story, who still owned the rights to the Vampire Lounge name, about reopening the place in a new spot.

"We'd been talking about opening a club together," Fritz says. "And we looked and we looked and we looked until we found this place. I feel like, personally, I've been in the metals scene for so long, and it's been so good to me, that maybe this was something I could do to give back to it. I had the money to do it, so I just poured all of my money into it and we just built it."

And there have been some successful shows in the venue's rebirth, Fritz says. The private soft-opening in June was a big hit with old Vampire Lounge regulars. Other shows have drawn as many as 160 people to the fairly large ware-house-like space.

Today, the re-...um...vamped Vampire Lounge looks less like True Blood's gothed-out biker bar-meets-dance club, Fangtasia, and more Batman & Robin-era Gotham, repackaged for the basement of a sleazy fraternity house. There are black lights everywhere, and, fittingly, plenty of black light paint sparkling about the place, highlighting the coffin-shaped table at the center of the venue and decorating the DJ/sound booth to help it appear as if it's situated atop a gothic church. And, of course, there are crosses and cobwebs everywhere, all to add the pretty obvious theme of the space. But while décor straddles the line between the tacky and the appropriate, there are two major advantages on the Vampire Lounge's side: the massive stage at the back of the room and the L-O-U-D sound system it boasts.

"It's a metal bar," Fritz laughs from behind the bar on Friday night. "Of course we needed a big stage."

Like the Curtain Club's stage, it's high and wide and ready-made for rock star posturing. But unlike the Curtain Club's, the location's a bit of a detractor of the Vampire Lounge. Fritz knows this, but also acknowledges that a room of this size—from the naked eye, the space looks like it could hold upwards of 400 people—just wasn't available elsewhere.

Like any new venue owner, Fritz's dreams at this point are big—almost naively so. But, he seems to get that it's something of a risk too: Dallas' metal scene isn't what it was 10 years ago when the original Vampire Lounge opened.

"It seemed like the metal scene was about to die," Fritz says. "I don't want that to happen, so this is me doing my part."

And if, like with Firewater, which is located just down the road on Harry Hines, the Vampire Lounge is able to overcome its location issues, Fritz's part could be a nice start toward reviving the scene.

Consider the Vampire Lounge a last-minute reprieve for the nail in the local metal scene coffin.

A quick note: Old 97's frontman Rhett Miller is back in town this week, also doing his part to give back. On Friday night at the Granada, Miller and Drams frontman Brent Best will perform as part of the second annual CF Concert Series at the theater, which aims to raise money in the fight against cystic fibrosis.

Last week, speaking from his home in upstate New York, Miller, on a rare break from near-constant touring of late with both the 97's and as a solo act, took some time to reminisce about performing at last year's event.

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