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Best Of 2001

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Best Of :: People & Places

He's Got the Hook

By purely stereotypical standards, Carl Savering looks like a repo man: shaved head, burly stature, belt buckle, work boots. That's his day job (or late-night job, depending on the assignment). But he's also co-founder and artistic director of Theatre Quorum, one of Dallas' small but ambitious and accomplished theater troupes. You might imagine successful stage actors automatically possess a willowy, high-cheekboned, Olivieresque appearance, but working onstage with his own and various theaters around town for the last 15 years, Savering has managed to command audiences and resemble a sneaky tough who tracks you throughout the day, waits till you're indoors, and then hooks your car to his truck in a matter of seconds and speeds off.

"My repo friends are as perplexed by my theater work as my theater friends are perplexed by my repo work," he says with a smile.

He followed a buddy to Dallas in 1984 after both were released from the Army. Savering didn't come from a particularly artistic background, but he was always interested in writing plays and acting. He says he was "compelled to [performing] and terrified by it" when he took a few classes at Brookhaven College and started taking small theater gigs, like playing a spear carrier in a Hip Pocket Theatre show. He'd already begun a series of jobs to sustain himself: repossessing furniture, then earning his private investigator's license and going undercover looking for drugs in warehouses as well as tailing cheating spouses.

As for why he never pursued that most clichéd of actors' survival professions, Savering says, "I'm too misanthropic to wait tables, and I think I'd go crazy stuck in an office cubicle for eight hours."

His raw, learning-on-the-job approach to stage work eventually revealed a natural inclination for live performance. He launched Theatre Quorum more than three years ago and found a host venue in the Mesquite Arts Center, attracting some of the city's finest actors to work with him. Meanwhile, he settled on full-time auto repossession as his primary income, and last year went so far as to buy his own truck and start CS Services. He works mostly for small car dealers who do their own financing and drives all over Dallas mornings and evenings hunting down folks who have defaulted on their loans. He averages 10 to 12 cars a week; 40 repos mean a good month for him. Matt, his Australian cattle dog, sits passenger side during most tasks.

The gig is about 90 percent waiting and 10 percent action, but the adrenaline of nabbing a cheapskate works for him. "I enjoy leaving crooks stranded at 7-Eleven," he says. "It's flexible. It pays well for the hours I put into it."

Auto repossession features its own vagaries, some of them dangerous. Savering has poked rottweilers out of back windows with a stick. People sleeping in the backseat (some of them mean drunks) have been discovered once he returns to the lot. Women have offered him sex not to tow their cars; men have dangled drugs in front of him. And, of course, there's the small fact that Texans are willing to defend their property with deadly force.

"There's an adage in this business that says, 'If someone comes out waving a gun in your face, they won't shoot you,'" he notes. "And that's true. When someone wants to fire, they're not going to give you warning."

Savering discovered this on--ironically enough--April Fool's Day 1996. It was 5:30 a.m. in Lancaster, and he was silently attaching a car to the back of his truck. As he pulled out of the yard, the glass shattered in his back window. There was a warm wetness on the side of his throat. He sped away, and the event was over before he realized that someone had fired eight rounds from a .22-caliber rifle at him. One shot had grazed the side of his head and pierced the cartilage in his ear. He found the bullet in his truck bed and keeps it at home.

Despite the constant risk, Savering intends to continue his business. Besides the money and the flexibility, the solitude complements his art nicely. "It's great for me, as a stage director," he says. "While I'm driving around in the middle of the night, or parked down the street waiting, I can direct a show in my head. I'll stew about what needs to be fixed, what can be improved."

Best Beer Joint
Ship's Lounge

No ferns, no frills, no food (unless you count chips and peanuts) and no TV sports at this 50-year-old establishment, which is what a real, honest-to-goodness beer joint is supposed to be. Open from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 2 a.m. Sunday, Ship's offers $2 domestic beer and can serve from a couple of dozen brands. The stools along the bar are filled with patrons ranging in age from 21 to 71. There's a pool table and one of the best jukeboxes in Dallas, offering everything from Don Williams to Ray Charles. If they ever decide to open a Beer Joint Hall of Fame, this one's got to be in it.

1613 Greenville Ave., Dallas, 75206
MAP
214-823-0418
Best Tejano Club

You'd think, judging by the fact that pretty much every car south of Mockingbird Lane sports at least one sticker on its bumper/windshield advertising the driver's Tejano radio station of choice, this city runs on the upbeat of a conjunto soundtrack. You're probably right. The Arbitron ratings might not reflect that yet--maybe they would if Arbitron actually reported in all the areas that matter, not just North Dallas--but it's true nonetheless. Perhaps the best place to see and hear for yourself is Tejano West, the McDLT among local Tejano venues, where the cerveza is cold and the dance floor is hot. Feel free to explore others, but we guarantee your boots will scoot back to Tejano West.

Best Dance Club
Lizard Lounge

Lizard Lounge is the closest thing Dallas has to Studio 54, and depending on how uptight you are, that's either a good or bad thing. OK, so it's not that close to Studio 54, but it does have everything you want in a dance club: good music (provided by, among others, Edgeclub host DJ Merritt), good-looking men and women (clad in materials usually reserved for the interiors of cars) and the good chance that you'll see at least one person with a lot less clothing than he or she walked in with. The last part isn't exactly crucial for a dance club to be entertaining, but it sure doesn't hurt. Madonna tried to buy it at one point; how much more of an endorsement do you need?

2424 Swiss Ave., Dallas, 75204
MAP
214-826-4768
Best Lesbian (and Gay) Bar
Sue Ellen's

Call us naïve, but we were shocked to learn the predominantly female audience at Melissa Etheridge's recent Fort Worth concert booed when she pulled a fan onstage to share a tequila shot...because she chose a man. Being of the male persuasion ourselves, we've always felt welcome at most of the area's lesbian clubs. We've heard tales that gay places like the gargantuan Village Station and Moby Dick aren't nearly as hospitable to women. Hell, there have been nights when the Station wasn't nearly as welcoming to us as, say, its next-door neighbor, Sue Ellen's. Over the years, Sue's has admirably maintained its balancing act of charming opposites--friendly but sorta elegant, universal but very specific in its identity, streamlined but able to hold a spill-over crowd. You can walk in dressed up or dressed down and feel right at home. And the small dance floor prevails as a place for socializing, not exhibiting your gym bod or your rhythmic skills. Maybe it's just the Cowtown gals who get pissy when a guy occasionally steps into the spotlight.

3014 Throckmorton Rd., Dallas, 75219
MAP
214-559-0707
Best Place to Get Arrested on a Saturday Night

Some nights end badly. Some nights end with a public humiliation by the jackboot of the state in front of the teeming crowd of your peers, the assorted boozers and ecstasy-addled clubbers of Lower Greenville. After midnight you can witness the local cheese rousting belligerents on this corner, usually stuffing them into the white paddy wagon. The best part's the public frisk--always look for signs of amusement or disgust on the cop's face.

Best Alternative Club
Trees

The best alternative club this year is not the same one as last year, even though both are named Trees. Since that time, Trees has undergone a significant makeover, classing up the joint (oooh, a velvet curtain!) while making it more fan-friendly in the process. Meaning: You no longer have to crane your neck around the air conditioner if you want to watch a show from the balcony, and the same goes for downstairs, where the revamped bar doesn't obstruct anyone's view of the stage anymore. But the extensive remodeling, the new furniture and a fancy light system don't have much to do with the fact that Trees is still the best alternative club in town. The reason: music. Duh. Trees is the place where you can see and hear Mudhoney, the White Stripes, Murder City Devils, At the Drive-In, Luna, Mos Def, Mogwai, Mouse on Mars, Tortoise, Idlewild and so many more. And now you can do it all in a more comfortable environment. Don't fight it.

2709 Elm St., Dallas, 75226-1425
MAP
214-741-1122
Best Rock Bar
The Cavern

Not surprising that The Cavern is the best rock hangout in town, given that it's named after one of rock and roll's landmarks, the Liverpool bar where John, Paul, George and Ringo played before anyone cared who they were. But the name is almost irrelevant (at least its origin is), and so is the Fab Four décor; this isn't a theme park. The bar really is a cavern, though--dark and comfortable, exactly the kind of place where you can lose yourself for a few hours inside a tumbler full of bourbon. The jukebox is full of small treasures, and on Mondays, The Cavern spins old rock and punk classics. And nothing is more rock and roll than drinking on a Monday night.

1914 Greenville Ave., Dallas, 75206
MAP
214-828-1914
Best Sunday-night Crowd
The Cavern (upstairs lounge)

Ricki Derek doesn't look much like Sinatra, but he sounds kinda like him and, goodness, does he bring out a quirky crowd. Under his surreal crooning the bar becomes a haven for those who would rather be disemboweled by butter knives than go to the Beagle next door. There is no stereotype for the kind of person who enjoys Sinatra impersonators; they come from all walks of life, every social strata. In the dark confines of The Cavern you'll find drug-addled hipsters, aging swingers with tacky shirts and neighborhood types having a post-barbecue pint.

1914 Greenville Ave., Dallas, 75206
MAP
214-828-1914
Best Jazz Club

At most of the jazz clubs in town, with the exception of maybe the Balcony Club, the music there is nothing more than wallpaper, something to ignore, something that you won't remember five feet outside the door. At Sambuca, however, they never let you forget that the music is the reason you're there, and if you ignore it, it's not because they didn't do their best to open your eyes and ears. There aren't enough venues in town that care about jazz one way or the other, so Sambuca makes up for quantity with quality, doing it right every step of the way, from sound to talent to ambience to anything and everything else you might think of. Sambuca, at its best, provides a little bit of old Deep Ellum, a time when jazz and blues ran Commerce, Main and Elm, not developers. It's worth a visit for that reason alone.

Best Honky-tonk
Sons of Hermann Hall

Built in 1911, Sons continues to be the one legit honky-tonk island in a sea of bland imitators. It's one of the few venues that still books Texas and roots-country acts, and even though the Gypsy Tea Room offers many of the same performers (the Derailers, Tish Hinojosa, etc.), there is no match for Sons' atmosphere. From the long bar and jukebox downstairs to the dance floor, folding chairs and small stage upstairs, Sons is a respite of C&W joy for those of us who still love to swing, two-step and do the longneck bob.

3414 Elm St., Dallas, 75226
MAP
214-747-4422
Best Blues Club
Hole in the Wall

Blues music might not have been born in Dallas, but we definitely helped raise it. It's kind of hard to remember that time now, an era when Blind Lemon was a man (Blind Lemon Jefferson, the prince of country blues) and not a crappy bar. Leadbelly and Aaron "T-Bone" Walker lived here, played here, and if you don't know those names, get yourself to a bookstore and pick up a copy of Alan Govenar and Jay Brakefield's 1998 book, Deep Ellum and Central Track. Even if you don't know those names, well, we're sure Stevie Ray Vaughan will ring a bell. Yep, he's from here, too. You can still find the spirit, if not the talent, of those men at Hole in the Wall, which is just what the name implies. It's one-stop shopping for Dallas blues.

11654 Harry Hines Blvd., Dallas, 75229
MAP
972-247-2253
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He's Got the Hook: Carl Savering, actor and repo man

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