By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Blah blah blah, Deep Ellum's back, blah blah blah blah blah.
Listen: We know you've heard it before. We know we've said it before. No apologies, though. Because—look out—we're about to say it again.
And maybe this time it'll register.
Consider this: Just over a year ago, back in July 2009, there was but a single music venue open on Elm Street. Trees was long-shuttered. The Bone had just closed. La Grange was but a twinkle in its would-be owners' eyes. Club Dada, aside from Frank Campagna's Kettle Art gallery and the then-just-opened Asian bistro Lemongrass, stood as the lone, open-for-business establishment on the block.
Fast forward everything a year and things couldn't be more different. Trees is back and booming, bringing back to Deep Ellum the suburban hard rock crowds that had avoided the neighborhood for years. Soon after, La Grange opened and quickly established itself as an upscale music venue worth bragging about. The Bone, seemingly out of nowhere, reopened its doors, too.
Down the block in either direction, the changes afoot on Elm Street have seemingly upped the effort antes from a couple other Deep Ellum venues as well. The Lounge on Elm Street, floundering monetarily, changed ownership and became The Nightmare, a venue that still books on the outskirts of the local music mainstream but is now run with far more efficiency than before. Across Good-Latimer, The Door and the Prophet Bar continue to age gracefully with the neighborhood, growing more comfortable in their roles; this past weekend's packed Bowling for Soup show in the double-venue's Big Room, like so many pop-punk offerings at this establishment, further proved that room's vitality. And, way down along the deepest part of Elm, even Sons of Hermann Hall continues showing off its worth; earlier this week, it hosted touring indie favorites Titus Andronicus in its old-time setting.
Furthermore, on the block where Club Dada once stood (nearly) alone, Trees, La Grange, The Bone, Lemongrass and Kettle Art are now joined by three other new open-for-business entities: the reopened dining hotspot The Green Room, the new-to-the-fray restaurant-meets-dance-club Boiler Room and Deep Ellum's own upscale dive, The Black Swan.
And yet Club Dada, the one thing the neighborhood clung to during its down time, remains shuttered. Not for long, though.
Last week, City Tavern owner Josh Florence, who has turned a neighborhood pub stuck in the middle of downtown's ultra-lounge clutter into a thriving live-music destination, announced plans to reopen the storied Dada—and, even more impressive, he aims to do so as early as late October.
Like Trees' reopening before it, though, calm any immediate expectations. In other words: Don't expect the same old Club Dada.
"I actually bought a sledgehammer today," Florence said with a laugh last Thursday night, while sharing the news of his new venture.
Indeed: Changes are afoot. Earlier this week, workers entered the space with the goal of knocking out the bar stuck in the middle of the main room, as well as the men's bathroom immediately behind it. The bar and men's room, upon the completion of construction, will move to the venue's east wall, opening up the floor space in front of the main room's stage. Other plans include a complete overhaul of the spacious back patio, and the installation of a kitchen in the space the last regime updated into an adjacent acoustic performance area known as "The Listening Room." The last items on the to-do list include a fresh coat of paint, an upgraded sound system and updated furnishings.
The similar efforts put into the new Trees and La Grange, Florence says, were a motivating factor on those fronts.
"To stay current," Florence says, "you've got to update it."
Talks of change, almost inherently, tend to instill fear into the hearts of the nostalgic. But Florence has a point. The new Trees with its House of Blues-caliber sound system and La Grange with its Texas chic decor have significantly upped Deep Ellum's game. And maybe that's the biggest lesson to be learned in this neighborhood—and, specifically, in this small block's absurd one-year turnaround. See, the crowds are willing to come back—if, it seems, the offerings are worth their time.
That's a point often lost in the discussion of the neighborhood's resurgence. Crowds that celebrate the neighborhood's 1980s re-invention from a former blues haven turned dilapidated auto parts and warehouse district into a rock 'n' roll destination seem to forget in their good ol' days discussions that Deep Ellum isn't just one thing. It's many things, and, more pertinently, an evolving thing. They forget that crowds change, too. They get older, and new ones arrive in their place. This is just the natural cycle of the neighborhood—what it's always done—since long before even Blind Lemon Jefferson stalked those streets.
Still, these nostalgic points register. And you can't blame Florence for the fact that their concerns give him pause.
"I'd be lying if I told you that I don't feel a little pressure in taking over such an institution," he says. "We want to handle it with care. I've already resigned to the fact that we're gonna get torn up one way or the other. Not everyone is gonna be happy. We just hope the majority are."
Recent jaunts down Elm Street show, though, that people are happy. And not just the bar owners and patrons. The street musicians have returned to the neighborhood. The street vendors are back, too. Meanwhile, conversations with the owners of the 7-Eleven on the corner of Elm and Good-Latimer show a couple blown away with their recent upticks in sales. Adding another live music venue, let alone one with an immediate name brand, certainly can't hurt matters, can it?
Hardly. Not when things are still evolving as they are. Not when needs still must be met.
"We want to sit down with the other business owners and try to build the whole neighborhood back up," Florence says. "There's a pioneering spirit down there right now. There's a definite sense of community. And we feel like we can help fill a void."
Florence, who, somewhat amusingly, was a cast member on MTV's Road Rules: Latin America in the '90s, certainly has a point. If Deep Ellum is lacking in its current state, it's in the department that Florence, at City Tavern, has specialized in—music that appeals to the college rock crowds. At Dada he can continue to appeal to that demographic, but on a significantly larger scale. Add in the many musicians of the area thriving on a national level at the moment—Sarah Jaffe and The Orbans, for instance, have each earned National Public Radio's "Song of the Day" honors this summer—who awkwardly sit between selling out Trees and the Granada Theater and drawing crowds too big to fit at The Double Wide or La Grange, and, well, the opportunities he's facing music-wise seem rather plentiful.
"That's exciting," he says.
But certainly, it's not the only exciting thing. Not at all. See, there's plenty to be excited about in this new Deep Ellum. But surely you already knew that.
Because, well, Deep Ellum's back. Has been for a while now.
Blah blah blah.