Thursday afternoon, news broke through Facebook that Crown and Harp, a 20-year-old Lower Greenville bar and music venue, will close early next month. Concerts and DJ nights will be carried out as planned through May 7.
"The building has been sold as far as I know," says Jermy Johnson, who has been running sound at the venue. "May 7th is the last day."
Owner Neil Connell has not replied to the Observer's request for comment.
Crown and Harp's end was foretold about a decade ago as the neighborhood's focus slowly began shifting from dive bars and live music to retail and fine dining, but even after other nearby establishments like Billiard Bar and the Sugar Shack shuttered, the two-story venue seemed to hang in there.
At first, Crown and Harp benefited from absorbing some of their clientele. Recently it has been a lone soldier in an area fewer and fewer are thinking of to go party or catch a band.
“The spillover of folks past the Zubar days aided in giving it extended life against the takeover of the block, but the arrival of the Trader Joe's should have served as the harbinger of change that all should have heeded,” says Brian Knowles, who deejayed many nights there, but showed up even more regularly just to hang out.
“The neighborhood has changed – people walk around with Popsicles,” says Darin Robinson of Punk Rock Karaoke and the Mumbles, referring to the clientele of nearby Steel City Pops. “Not that there's anything wrong with that; it just says a lot about the demographic compared to a music club.”
Lily Taylor, who put on hundreds of events at Crown and Harp in 2016 and parted with the venue a few months ago, offers a different perspective on why it closed.
“Over the year, audiences got thinner and thinner,” she says. “Management got worse and worse. Crown and Harp is closing because not enough people cared about it, top to bottom. I am incredibly grateful to the core staff and for all of the amazing people I met working there.”
The bar venue got its start in 1997, when Connell and partners opened the Cavern at 1914 Greenville Ave. Fourteen years later in 2011, Connell – by then the sole owner – rebranded the bar and music venue as the Crown and Harp. Some subtle changes were made to the interior at that time, but it still had the feel of a homey, dingy pub, and many people continued to call it by its original name.
“I never stopped calling it Cavern, like Starplex,” Robinson says. “It was and always will be the Cavern. The place was on constant wobble, like a vase on the edge of a table, but it always just stayed there. When it was packed it was like playing in a van full of drunk people driven by a person on trucker speed. The upstairs was like a secret club forever.”
The upstairs was the longtime home of the Cool Out DJ night, as well as many other DJ nights of various styles. It wasn’t a one-vibe kind of venue. Hip-hop nights were a huge draw. The next night might offer a meeting of the Vinyl Preservation Society, or the soulful crooning of Ricki Derek, who played there for years.
The stage downstairs was tiny compared with other venues, and that was part of its charm.
“That place was a rough gem indeed,” says Brandon Butters, drummer for the West Windows. “It was the kind of place where the stage felt so small I would have my doubts about its integrity while setting up my kit, but always by the end of the night and the end of a set you would come to appreciate the intimate distance between you and the crowd and the bar.”
Stephen O'Sicky of Caterpillars agrees the intimacy was a major selling point.
“The Crown and Harp was seriously one of my favorite places,” he says. “It was ... a small enough venue that you can ‘sell out’ quick. And most of the people who worked there were super nice. My favorite thing about that place was the big window behind my drums. I used to just stare, wave and scream/talk/sing at people right in the middle of our set, just try to get the people out there involved.”
The Crown and Harp gave many well-known Dallas musicians their start. Wanz Dover deejayed, performed in rock bands and had his first-ever DJ residency there 14 years ago, when it was still the Cavern.
It's where Jeffrey Brown got his talent buying company, King Camel Productions, off the ground.
“It was a true safe haven for all us music weirdos to come together and celebrate life,” Brown says. “It's where I met a ton of bands I still book and am close friends with.”
The people who booked the Crown and Harp made names for themselves while working there, too.
"My time at the Crown and Harp was short, but so sweet,” says Charlsie Grace, who now works at the Granada Theater as a talent buyer. “It had been about a year since I left Life in Deep Ellum and If didn't know where I wanted to land.”
After a lunch with Connell, she went on to book over 100 shows in 2013.
“The Crown and Harp was such a small place, so everyone coming to a show was like family,” she says. “My successors, Moody Fuqua and Lily Taylor, did a great job taking the venue even further. I am really going to miss having such a unique and independent venue in Dallas."
Fuqua, who now books Club Dada, has been credited for ushering the venue into a golden period.
“It seemed to have a rebirth and to explode when Moody took over,” Robinson says. “He took it to an entirely different zone. He's good like that. It was a place you just always expected to be here, but the writing was on the wall.”
It is unknown at this time what will come of the space after May 7.
“It’s very upsetting,” O’Sicky says. “I just hope whoever buys it does something good with it, like, keep it a venue.”
Jeffrey Brown is sad to see the Crown and Harp go, but he's emphatic about what should be done in response.
“We now need to focus on supporting those smaller venues, new or old, that we have here locally, especially Deep Ellum,” he says. “These are the places where talent is discovered. Nobody's first gig is at the Bomb Factory.”