By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Stop me if you've heard this before: Things are changing down in Deep Ellum.
Oh, you have heard that? Well, bear with me anyway.
Because as we inch closer to the proposed September opening dates of the new train stations that will connect Deep Ellum and Exposition Park to the rest of the Green Line, that change we've all been talking about for so long? It's suddenly looming. In fact, some of it has already happened.
Earlier this week Club Dada, the oldest remaining bastion of the good ol', remember-when Deep Ellum days, held the grand opening for its new side venue, The Listening Room at Club Dada. The just-opened performance space within the venue's old green room—whose shows will be booked by local musician/producer Salim Nourallah—opened on Wednesday night with the first of the all-acoustic affairs club co-owner Ben Tapia hopes to continue hosting in the coming years of his venue's newly re-upped lease.
"Times change," Tapia says with a shrug. "We're gonna have to change, too, in order to generate revenue."
Which means, yes, there are other, bigger changes afoot at Dada. Such as over in the main room, which for years has served as a shrine for all things local music, what with the framed photos of musicians hanging above the bar and the fliers lacquered into the tables of the side booths. All that? Well, all those things will be staying actually, preserved and hung on various wall spaces. But the rest of it? The bar in the middle of the room, the booths, the stage stuck in the front right corner of the room? Bon voyage.
Starting in May, June or July—basically, whenever the city is done with plumbing work out on the street in front of the venue and gives Tapia the go-ahead on his plans—Tapia and his co-owners will be embarking on a two-month overhaul of the storied space. The bar will be ripped out of the center. The stage will be ripped out of the corner. And the booths will be ripped out of the wall. In the booths' place, a new bar will be erected, and across the room, a new stage will be built in the middle of that far wall. Whereas Dada's current space is unusually intricate, thanks to the awkward placement of the bar, the updated layout (which, with it, includes plans for new bathrooms, a new sound booth and a new sound and lighting system) will be a much more open space.
But given Deep Ellum's reverence for its musical past, it seems, oh, a little drastic, no? Dada seems to have been doing pretty well recently, right?
It has been, Tapia confirms. So, uh, isn't there some saying about not fixing things that aren't broken? I'm pretty sure there is...
"Well," Tapia says, this time with a more serious look in his eyes, "in my opinion, it is broken. We have a good space, but a lot of it is consumed by a huge, U-shaped bar in the middle of the room. In my opinion, the one side of the bar doesn't get the exposure that the other gets.
"Right now, the state of the room is the best it can be, as it stands. [But] in the state that Club Dada is now, I honestly believe that we're not going to move any further."
Now brace yourself, because here's where it gets a little scary.
"Once the remodel is done," Tapia says, "it's going to be a nice enough venue to approach corporate America. I can't sell this room in the state that it's in to corporate companies."
Here's Tapia's pretty lofty plan: By day, the new Club Dada hopes to play host to company retreats and meetings; by night, it hopes to become a better music venue than the one it is right now. A change of pace for a neighborhood that has, historically, prided itself on a pretty DIY mindset? Absolutely.
But Tapia, again, says the updates are necessary.
"Some people have different visions than others," he says, acknowledging the obvious concerns. "But once this room is done, it's going to be more enticing for local bands, and better local bands." And for other local booking agencies too, he adds: "It'll be more conducive to them, for sure."
It all sounds pretty great. But it's tough not to be a little skeptical.
For now, we'll have to take Tapia's word that the space won't become a sterile, corporate kowtower, and that Dada, post-facelift, will retain its charm.
"It's gonna be nice," Tapia promises. "But it's gonna have a fucking edge to it. Anybody that's skeptical, once they walk in the room, all that's going to be gone."
And with Tapia saying that the already-finished Listening Room will remain open as construction begins in the main room, we'll be able to keep an ear open for progress—maybe sometimes literally.
We'll see how it works out. But one thing is for sure: All those Deep Ellum changes we've been chatting about for years now? They're here. And we're going to have to get used to them.