By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Against all odds, Deep Ellum is again showing signs of life. To see them, just take a drive down Elm Street.
The cars lining the street are among the first things to catch the eye. So, too, are the construction workers milling about, preparing the soon-to-be-opened businesses along the 2700 block of Elm. Then there are those that have already opened. Trees, long revered as a lynchpin of the "good ol' days of Ellum," is back in lights. And with it? The just-opened Chicago-style deli Crickets, located across the street. And next to the music venue, Vietnamese restaurant Lemongrass, which opened its doors in June.
And soon enough? Another bar is scheduled to open—right next to Crickets, in fact. And a few more bars, too, are in the works—or so talk around the neighborhood suggests. Meanwhile, The Green Room, once a legitimate destination dining spot that gave even the non-nightlife set a reason to venture into Deep Ellum during its heyday, will reopen in early February, assuming all goes to plan. And within weeks, just up the road, past another recently reopened live music space, The Lounge on Elm Street, a music venue called 2826 is set to open at Elm's intersection with Malcolm X Boulevard.
It's head-spinning, actually, to think of all the businesses that will soon call this long-dilapidated part of town home.
There are even crowds of people milling about. At night, even. They pop in and out of Trees and The Lounge, taking breathers from the shows within. They head into and out of Kettle Art gallery. Or they just wander, scoping out the neighborhood, reminiscing about what was and what might soon again be.
Perhaps more notable than the recently turned-on lights of these newly open hotspots are the flicked-off signs of those that once served as Elm Street's anchors.
Seafood restaurant Daddy Jack's, located on the corner of Elm and Crowdus streets? Closed just a couple days ago. The Bone, the long-running blues venue right across the street from that favorite? Closed this past month. And, since summer, the much-revered Club Dada, storied as a breeding ground for stars of the Deep Ellum scene such as The Old 97's and The New Bohemians, has been shuttered.
For years, as the other spaces along Elm Street remained dark, it was these three businesses that remained as the torch-bearers for the neighborhood. But, in spite of staying open during the neighborhood's bleak period, each of these establishments is now dark.
Perhaps none more depressingly so than Club Dada.
In some ways, this isn't a story about Club Dada at all. Indeed, that venue's problems are the same as those that have plagued live music spaces since the beginning of rock 'n' roll time—overambitious owners with too little experience, potentially venue-saving shows falling through at just the wrong time, drugs, paranoia. You name it, it's in Dada's tale.
A new story, this is not. But it sure is a classic—even those involved in the venue's most recent demise can agree on that much. Hell, former Club Dada owner Valerie Baker, the last person to invest money into the space before it quietly closed in late July, says she's planning on writing a book about her experiences.
"You know, stories and anecdotes," she says. "Every night was a different story. It'll be fact-based fiction."
Let's stick with the facts.
At its core, Club Dada's most recent demise is actually a story of not one, but two venues—not just Dada, but also City Tavern, located on Main Street, right in the thick of downtown Dallas.
Before Ben Tapia, a local musician who fronted the band Escort Service, took the reins at Club Dada, he worked as the head booking agent at City Tavern. Thanks to his efforts, things were going great at the venue—better than ever, says City Tavern owner Josh Florence.
"I really attribute a lot of what I know about booking to Ben," Florence says. And his involvement there came about quite naturally. Tapia was just another downtown resident who frequented the hangout and, when asked, was quick to offer his advice to Florence on how to handle live music bookings. "He was kind of a mentor to me, as far as the booking goes," Florence says. "I really didn't know a lot about the music scene in Dallas."
With Tapia's help, the bar was starting to show signs of life as a live music spot by early 2008. Florence had taken over the place from its former owners in 2006, and he was struggling to find an identity for it. Worse, he'd gone into his own pocket trying to keep the place open during his first two years.
But as City Tavern started to thrive, Dada was starting to flail.
Amanda Warr, then Amanda Newman, was struggling to keep the doors of the Deep Ellum club open. All the while, she was trying to keep her own life in order. In April 2006, Warr was approached by Dada's ownership collective—an outfit fronted by Bob Cummins, a musician in Beatles cover band Hard Night's Day, and consisting of a collection of his band's fans who had reopened the space that year to ensure the band's regular gigs at the venue would continue. They wanted Warr to helm the venue's booking when Hard Night's Day wasn't playing. Soon enough, that meant booking the room every night of the week—and, in turn, upending her life.