In a city that values luxury and exclusivity, the Barley House offered neither. Casual as its motto--"Where beer is a way of life"--the Barley House existed for 12 years as a regular hang for musicians and music lovers, poised on a once-bleak stretch of Henderson Avenue now bustling with such VIP clubs as Sense and Candle Room. On March 27, the bar celebrates its final day in that location before relocating to the old Green Elephant spot near the SMU campus. It's not tragic. Hell, it's not necessarily sad. But it is important, and here's why.
For a particular group of local musicians, the Barley House is the one Dallas scene that matters. Nothing against Deep Ellum, which hosts the bulk of live music venues--but rather, the Barley House is the place you go after a show in Deep Ellum, and it's like slipping into something more comfortable after a night on the town. If you hang out enough (and I'm glad to say I have), what you will find is a community of folks, prone to drink and pontification, who share a love of music and a willingness to celebrate that until the lights come up cruelly at 2 a.m.
A list of Barley regulars reads like a greatest-hits roster of Dallas musicians--Peter Schmidt, Brent Best from Slobberbone, Carter Albrecht from the Sparrows and Sorta, John Dufilho of the Deathray Davies (and any other member of those last four bands)--and on any given night, you are as likely to see them onstage as in the audience. It is no accident that when musicians like Doug Burr and Danny Balis wanted to bring together singer-songwriters for an evening of acoustic collaboration (which they called the "East Dallas Acoustic All-Stars"), they chose the Barley House. It is neutral territory. It is a meeting ground. It is, well, home.
"I don't know how it happened," says Richard Winfield, co-owner of the Barley House. "Somehow between the people who work here, the owners and the bands that were booked, it was just a good connection."
Winfield is being somewhat modest. A man who will argue till closing time about the superiority of The Who to The Beatles, Winfield simply imbues the place with a love of music. The place has long had one of the best jukeboxes in town, where locals like the pAper chAse and LCC sit alongside the Velvet Underground and the Pixies. He books good bands. He often employs musicians as bartenders. And with cheap drink specials and a long-standing no-cover policy, the Barley caters to the scrapping musician who must sometimes decide between a few pints and paying rent on time.
News of the move broke last fall after owners failed to negotiate their lease in the increasingly tony neighborhood. The building will be taken over by Tristan Simon, the entrepreneur who has converted the area into an upscale playground for yuppies with disposable income. (Simon owns Cuba Libre, Sense, Candle Room, Fireside Pies and Hibiscus.) As reported by Mark Stuertz in this paper, Simon plans to convert the Barley into a Southern American tavern called The Porch, serving barbecue, oysters and po' boys, to be opened sometime in August.
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"I have to admire his vision," Winfield says. "He's putting his money where his mouth is."
But some longtime customers worry that a move so deep into SMU territory will mean the Barley's peculiar balance of East Dallas weirdos and frat boys will suddenly skew Greek.
"We're not looking to change our demographic," Winfield says. He promises "Margaritaville" will never be heard on the jukebox. Besides, the new place on Yale Boulevard is quite familiar--with the same forest green walls and dark wood, the same posters and Christmas lights and green booths. Only now, they have the space to host events like the old Barley Palooza. And now, the toilets work.
"I felt bad 'cause I told Richard I was gonna miss this place," one customer says. "But I saw the new place, and I realized it was gonna be 10 times better." This weekend, the Barley House celebrates its closing with several shows: on Thursday, the Mumbles; on Friday, Sorta; on Saturday, the Sparrows (playing their last show ever); and on Friday, an event called the "Barley Tabernacle Choir," in which several local musicians will perform cover songs of late-'60s and '70s hits. The new Barley House opens April 1, which also happens to be the bar's 12th anniversary.