Club Dada will celebrate the fifth “birthiversary” of its second chapter this weekend with a showcase of local talent. The Deep Ellum club first opened 30 years ago. Since the reopening, Dada, along with its neighbor, Trees, has played a crucial role in the resurgence we are seeing in the neighborhood today. Joshua Florence — one of Dada’s owners along with Phil Coward, Tim Daniels and Bryan Austin — looks back at the last five years and hints at what we can expect in the future.
One thing you may not know about Florence is that he appeared on a season of the MTV reality show Road Rules back in the early days of reality television, before the Kardashians or even the Osbournes. Back then it wasn’t fake; it was a sociology experiment. “I was 21 years old and I was a ding-dong,” Florence says. “You can quote me on that.”
He remembers spending months auditioning for the show, unable to comprehend what he was signing up for, and never thinking it would happen. Looking back on all that footage of himself as a young man doesn't thrill him, but a three-month paid vacation all over Mexico and in Costa Rica had its perks. “It was an absolutely fantastic experience,” Florence admits.
Florence went to Dada, Trees, Galaxy Club, Orbit Room and Gypsy Team Room 20 years ago when he was a kid. “I respect Dada as the institution it is and we’re trying to help maintain it,” he says. “The history of the neighborhood and its venues and the people who used to put on the shows back in the day who still come around — I take a lot of pride in that. All of that is personally important to me and we’re thrilled to be the next generation of that.”
Deep Ellum was a much different place when Dada reopened five years ago. “It was like after a forest burns down,” Florence says. “You could kind of see the little saplings start to spring up.” On Elm Street, Anvil Pub had just opened, July Alley was still open, Trees had reopened a year earlier, and Three Links was then known as La Grange. It wasn’t hard to find a place to park in those days.
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“When we first reopened Dada we didn’t necessarily realize we were opening a mid-cap venue that was going to be for touring bands,” Florence says. He was already an owner at City Tavern and figured they would just run a bar and book local bands. The learning curve of booking touring acts was a surprise and Florence is now happy to have strong relationships with local promoters. They were also surprised by how many toilets, sinks and paper towel holders they had to replace. “We probably go through 10 toilets a year in each bathroom,” Florence says.
Their very first show was one of their most memorable, a memorial concert for Frankie Campagna from Spector 45. “We’ve never had more people in that place,” says Florence. Inspectors luckily cleared them that very same day and there was paint still drying on the walls that night. “That was a very gut-wrenching, emotional night. But it also really showed how many people were involved with and loved Deep Ellum and the music community. It was really an impressive thing to see.”
Looking back, he has enjoyed being one of the venues to host Spillover Music Festival, particularly when the Orwells filled up the venue and much of the back patio one afternoon. “They melted faces,” Florence says. He bought all of their merchandise and still listens to them regularly. He is also happy anytime the Coathangers are at Dada.
Courtney Barnett’s show over the summer in the backyard was another standout. “Honestly, one of my favorite places to see a show in Dallas is in the backyard of Dada,” Florence says. During the first year, Toro y Moi played in front of a massive audience in the backyard under a super moon. Lucero and Charli XCX also played packed shows as they were starting to blow up. Sturgill Simpson may have played the wildest shows they’ve had. Originally scheduled to play in the backyard, Simpson agreed to play two shows indoors when it started raining. The crazed audiences densely packed the room and cleaning up all the trash in between shows was no small feat.
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Florence also remembers all the changes the area has gone through over the past few years. There was no Elm Street in front of Dada at one point; it was torn up concrete and dirt. He remembers 500 people standing outside in what looked like a war zone, waiting to see Polyphonic Spree. For a while he had a hard time imagining the reconstruction of the road and sidewalks ever being completed.
They took it as a good sign when people started having trouble finding parking spaces a few years ago, but it wasn’t smooth sailing from the beginning. Deep Ellum is booming now, but it has been a progression building for years. Back when there was only a fraction of the foot traffic there is now, it could be difficult for a venue that significantly relies on walk-up sales. “We invested on the idea that the neighborhood was on an uptick,” Florence says. “But there were some really rough times. We had to pay rent late more times than we’d like to admit. We just kept our heads above water and kept holding on.”
But now Florence is happy to say that they’ve made it to the other side, with business really picking up over the last couple years. In the fall of 2014, Florence and his partners were even able to turn the unused half of the building into one of the neighborhood’s most distinctive bars, Off the Record. Going into this New Year, the gang is preparing to open yet another venue in Deep Ellum in the near future. But Florence isn’t ready to get into those details just yet. One step at a time, you might say.
Dada 5 Year Birthiversary with The Rich Girls, Cliffs of Insanity, Son of Stan (DJ Set) and Classic Cult will perform at 8 p.m. Friday at Club Dada, 2720 Elm St., $5.