By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Imagine a line stretching down the block from Trees, one filled with patrons just dying to enter the storied Deep Ellum venue.
Or, well, don't. Because, really, there's no need to imagine it at all: Last Friday night, that scenario was real. It was palpable. It existed. Yes, in godforsaken, decrepit, has-been and never-will-again-be Deep Ellum. Never mind the fact that the line existed for a free Vanilla Ice show at a venue owned by the Dallas-born once-was' drummer. Doesn't matter, you see, because the point remains the same: Deep Ellum is back.
If nothing else, The New York Times sure thinks it is. Said as much two weeks ago now in its Sunday Travel section—while glossing over much of the neighborhood's black and Jewish pasts, as well as its deep blues roots and late-'80s punk-rock heyday, but, hey, whatever. The words were still there, in bolded headline form: "Dallas Gets Its Groove Back."
A little overblown? Most definitely. But, hey, if the Gray Lady says it, it must be true. Right?
Well...no, actually. Let's face it: The New York Times probably jumped the gun on this one, portraying Deep Ellum as some sort of hotbed that it really hasn't yet become.
The key word there? Yet.
Here's the thing: As Lower Greenville continues to crumble to the same issues that crippled Deep Ellum in the late '90s and early '00s, Deep Ellum is, by all measuring sticks, raging down the comeback trail—and winning back its vendors, if not the masses. The crowd numbers aren't quite there yet, but the infrastructure sure is. And the rest? Well, its arrival just seems inevitable if not exactly imminent.
Maybe this is how that NYT header should've read: "Dallas Is Really Close To Reclaiming Its Old Groove."
Not as catchy, no. But it sure works.
In fact, let's count the ways in which it does: Guess how many open-for-business music venues there are in Deep Ellum right now.
Seriously, go ahead. Pick a number.
There are a whopping 18 music venues operating in Deep Ellum at the moment. Dead serious. Eight-freakin'-teen. Count 'em up, starting all the way at the easternmost tip and heading west: The Double-Wide, Sons of Hermann Hall, AllGood Café, Sankofa (the Commerce Street eatery boasts a stage in its back room that serves as the Definition DJs collective's home-away-from-across-the-street-studio), Viper Lounge (a new Elm Street dance and DJ club being modeled after Aura Lounge in Uptown), The Lounge on Elm Street (which is now under new management and may soon have a new name), The Liquid Lounge, Curtain Club, Reno's Chop Shop Saloon, The Bone, Trees, Black Swan Saloon (the new bar across from Trees in the old Thin Room space, which has already hosted shows from Spector 45 and others), La Grange, Dallas Comedy House (which later this summer will host a reunion performance from Baboon), Adair's Saloon, Tucker's Blues (the blues bar that exists in place of the old Red Blood Club, and which recently started hosting hip-hop shows), The Prophet Bar and The Door.
That's 18 venues, all right—and over the course of just a 0.8-mile stretch, no less. It's also seven more venues than existed this time last year.
So what's changed? More than anything else, last August's reopening of Trees and late December's opening of La Grange, which together have provided the Elm Street corridor as powerful a musical one-two punch as any other neighborhood in North Texas can claim.
It's a serious combination, too.
As it approaches its one-year anniversary, the new-look Trees is coming into its own in a big way. Recently, the venue's been seen varying up its oft-criticized hard-rock-centric schedule, booking performances from the likes of electronic acts like Glitch Mob and Rusko. And it's earning serious props all around for its top-of-the-line sound system: When much-adored Sacramento-based hard-rock act The Deftones was in need of a location for its national CD release show, the band specifically handpicked Trees to host the event—even though it had played the metroplex earlier that week as part of KDGE-102.1 FM The Edge's Edgefest 20 event at Pizza Hut Park, and subsequently left the region to play another radio show in Houston the very next day, meaning the band had to come back to Dallas just for the show.
"And that night went flawlessly," says Trees owner Clint Barlow. "A lot more booking agents are starting to look my way now. And I see attendance starting to pick up. Everything is picking up."
Meanwhile, across the street at La Grange, as the Americana venue approaches its five-month anniversary, owners have already undergone plans to expand the room, taking up the lease for the empty building next door (which, for a brief moment, held the Chicago-style deli Crickets). Come mid-June, when the expansion is complete, La Grange will boast a standard bar room in addition to its performance room, a kitchen and even the home base for a flavored shaved ice franchise. Oh, and the venue will be doubling its back patio size in the process.
"We just really needed more space," owner Stephanie Schumacher says. "Just for all the overflow. It gives us a place where people can hang out in an extra bar area if they only came for one of the bands." And, Schumacher adds, there could be even more room for bands, too, what with the expansion of the patio: "It gives us the option to do an outdoor stage," she says.
But the big surprise, really, is how easily it's all come to pass: Barlow says he hasn't put a single penny into Trees since its opening; Schumacher, meanwhile, proudly boasts that La Grange managed to post a profit in just its third month of existence, which is a near miracle for any new bar or music venue.
Credit good timing and a little bit of luck for both venues' successes.
"[Deep Ellum] just seemed ready to come back," Barlow says. "But I wouldn't have thought it would have happened this quickly."
And, really, these early successes are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Adds Barlow: "There's still a lot of people who don't even know that we reopened."
Or there's the opposite case: Just down the road at The Bone, there are just as many people who are oblivious to the fact that anything's even changed at all over the past year.
"We had a guy come in here the other day and he didn't even realize we'd been closed," says Amy Baker, general manager at The Bone, which, after closing last summer, was recently reopened by Elbow Room owner Ed Sigmond.
But, point is, he came. And, as Barlow, Schumacher and others believe, they'll continue to come. Which is why, Baker says, Sigmond reopened The Bone in the first place.
"Ed just thinks Deep Ellum is due to come back," Baker says. "I think it's overdue to come back. I think people just miss Deep Ellum."