By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Indeed: There was a time, in late 2008, when Dada seemed primed to regain the status it once held as one of the premier midsized venues in town.
"The first year was fucking amazing," Baker says. "We lived like rock stars. It was fun."
The first major coup of this new regime was a big one: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Booked to the space by Austin-based booking agency C3 Productions as a one-off, one-time-only acoustic performance from the jangly indie rock outfit, the show served as an indicator that this new ownership maybe knew what it was doing.
On August 1, 2008, on the night of the show, things looked promising. The line into the club crawled impressively down Elm Street.
But among those who showed? The fire marshal.
"They were freaking out, I think, because they'd never seen a crowd like that before," Baker says of the fire marshal's arrival.
Sure enough, along with the benefits of a blockbuster show, so too came the venue's first problems. The club was issued a ticket for having shut off its fire alarm. Also, the fire marshal expressed concern over the venue's capacity—specifically, it asked the club to renew its certificate of occupancy with the city. No way, the fire marshal told Baker and Tapia, could the club hold the entire crowd awaiting the show's start.
To Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's credit, instead of leaving a slew of fans disappointed, it decided to perform two sets that night. So, crisis averted. Although, not really: The fire marshal's concerns over the alarm system and certificate of occupancy revealed new, unforeseen costs in running Dada.
"When I did the budget, I didn't take that into consideration," Baker says. "And I didn't have a contingency plan."
Soon enough, Baker fell into her old friend Warr's habits.
"We tried to get loans from anyone," Baker says. "And when we couldn't get any money, either I put in money from my personal account or Ben borrowed money from friends and family."
Even as impressive shows continued popping up on Dada's calendar—Memphis alt-country outfit Lucero, indie rock blog-darlings Tapes 'n' Tapes, Welsh dance-punk outfit Los Campesinos!—similar hidden costs kept getting in the way of Dada profiting.
"When I came in, from June to August, looking at that year's sales from February to May, I doubled the sales," Tapia says. "I fucking doubled them! And from November to January, we were on the verge of tripling those sales. We were profitable, but because of coming in and having to pay back taxes, and the maintenance of the building, and the severe scouring of the place, we weren't."
Things were going well, though. They were. Really.
"I thought we could create a buzz," Tapia says. "And it did. But only in a verbal sense. Not in a supportive sense. All of a sudden, Club Dada was the place to play again. But the only actual support we got was the support the club had been getting for the previous eight years."
Translation: The same crowds as ever. Except during the big shows.
Then things started going really badly. The big shows started backing out. According to Tapia, a Pete Yorn date was canceled because of routing issues. And Lucero, for reasons Tapia doesn't understand, chose to play Fort Worth on its return trip to the region.
Eager for a change in fortune, Tapia began brainstorming a way out of the club's rut.
"There's two types of people in the world," Tapia says. "There are proactive people, and there are reactive people. I would consider myself proactive. That's my nature: 'I'm getting anxious. Let's fucking go! And this town fucking needs it. It needs it!'"
What Dada needed, Tapia thought, was a complete overhaul and remodel. His plans were grand. He wanted to reshape the room entirely and turn it into a more "cabaret-style" outfit. The bar would move from the middle of the main performance room to the far left. The stage, forever nestled in the far right, front corner of the space, would then be moved to the middle of the right wall, where performances could be watched from every vantage point. He also hoped to reshape the "green room," turning the space into the region's top acoustic-only venue, a room he'd call The Listening Room at Club Dada. Lastly, he wanted to revamp the vast patio space in the rear.
Once completed, Tapia believed Dada would've boasted three top-notch stages, and finally, his dreams of turning the club into "an A-plus venue" would be complete.
To make it happen, he borrowed $40,000 from friends and family. Among the people he approached: His old pal Josh Florence.
"There were a couple times, if not a few times, when it was getting kind of hairy over there and Ben asked me if I wanted to get involved," Florence says. But his answer never changed. "I was pulling for him over there. But passion only gets you so far. That's why I didn't get involved. It seemed to be too short a shot for success."
Still, some contributed to the cause—enough so that Tapia believed he could start renovating. The Listening Room was his first step, and it cost $20,000.