This Sunday, hundreds will flock to the Lizard Lounge in celebration of another historic Dallas nightclub, the Red Jacket. Though its time on the Dallas nightlife scene was short, it was well-known for its hospitality, innovative approach and popularity among celebrities. Housed on the developing Greenville Avenue, the venue drew in hundreds every night with its ability to reinvent itself in music and aesthetics, taking inspiration from visual art and pop culture.
800,000 patrons would eventually experience the venue's unique environment before its closing after just seven years of business; many fans managed to keep in touch throughout the years in the aftermath, and a smaller reunion was was held in 2008. 2014 marks the venue's second official reunion -- a true testament, perhaps, to the longevity of Dallas nightlife.
The Red Jacket was founded in 1996 by John Kenyon, a dedicated clubs and bar owner well acquainted with Dallas nightlife. His previous projects were a collection of bars and nightclubs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, including a bar and music venue, Main Street Saloon and Fat Dawgs, in Lubbock, and the Fast & Cool Club on Greenville. Only lasting five years, Fast & Cool emerged from Kenyon's own reactions to disco culture. "I decided to do it a little different," he explained to the Observer in an email. "No dress codes, no rude doormen and national concerts produced once a month or so." A huge hit among Dallas clubgoers, Fast & Cool went on to feature acts like the Ramones and Joe Ely before closing in 1990.
Six years later, Kenyon and Fast & Cool partner Robert Alvarez were moving forward with an entirely new dance club. "We sat on the floor of John's old apartment that he called 'The Rabbit Hutch' and designed the Red Jacket," Alvarez explains. "Before I knew it we were breaking ground on the construction." Kenyon eventually turned to visual artist and songwriter Terry Allen to design the club's interior after seeing a painting Allen did of the legendary Stubbs Bar-B Que in Lubbock. "Terry captured the specialness of [Lubbock]," Kenyon says. "So, I asked Terry to come to Dallas and re-recreate the soul bar I used to sneak into while in high school, the Red Jacket on Maple Avenue." It was the only nightclub commission Allen would ever agree to. Later, he received praise from the Fort Worth Star Telegram for the "atmospheric evocations" and "retro fantasies" for his efforts.
Once open, the Red Jacket was as interesting and complex as its visitors. Many musicians -- including Prince, a young Erykah Badu, David Bryne and Paul Oakenfold -- made appearances on the Jacket's stage, further cementing the venue as more than just a dance club. The venue's later accomplishments as a music venue included pioneering the city's first swing night and a well-orchestrated '80s retro night (termed the "Red Square Retro") in conjunction with KDGE The Edge.
Over time, the club became a haven for many EDM, funk and disco acts, often dedicating several nights a week to showcasing new and popular music from the genres. "There wasn't a genre of music that wasn't represented at one point during our eight-year tenor," says Nicole Barnes, the club's final general manager, from 2000 to 2003. "So many people entered those doors through the different events and nights we promoted. We touched all demographics."
Anyone from Quentin Tarantino to Prince Albert of Monaco could be expected to stop by, and often did -- partly due to the club's rapid-fire reinventions of itself. Its collaborators often drew inspiration from themes like old 1960s action mysteries, psychedelia, and 80s pop music, and could feature anything from walls covered in blue velvet to lime-green go-go cages. Every night brought about "[new] music concepts, decorations, and staff uniforms," Alvarez remembers. "[That's] what made the Jacket so special. From the bartenders, barbacks, doormen, DJs, go-go dancers -- the Jacket was a well-oiled machine, where all the staff members knew their role. [Everyone] was integral to the operation of the club."
The same sense of teamwork is evident among the reunion's coordinators: although some volunteers are Red Jacket fans, most are its former staff. Over a decade later, the Jacket's biggest fans still keep in touch and speak fondly about their work at the beloved club. "What we had never felt like work," Alvarez notes. "We were just hosts for a bad-ass party." He expects the numbers for this reunion to "completely dwarf" the attendance of the first, a claim bolstered by expectations of over 900 Red Jacket fans at the reunion party this weekend.
"It's really a family reunion of sorts, and I wouldn't miss it," says Barnes. "It's just as important to me as my blood family. We all experienced something together that will never be duplicated in Dallas again."
Kenyon describes the reunion as nothing short of amazing. "I'm thrilled to know that some of the many friendships people created [at the Red Jacket] still endure," he enthuses. "Being there, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. The Jacket was a special place."
THE RED JACKET REUNION PARTY takes place at 9 p.m., Sunday, June 15 at the Lizard Lounge, 2424 Swiss Ave., 214-826-4769 or thelizardlounge.com, $5/10.
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