On Feb. 22, The Curtain Club celebrated its 21st anniversary. The Deep Ellum mainstay filled up fast with many familiar faces hugging, drinking and sharing their best and wildest moments of the club’s history. The newly signed local giants, Big Story and Erstwhile, headlined the celebration, and the room was heavy with revelry. It was here that I found out this would be the club’s last year in business.
Twenty years ago on a less than ordinary Saturday night, my uncle David took me and a couple of friends to see Buck Jones’ farewell show at The Curtain Club. After I carefully studied the club’s weekly advertised calendar in my bedroom for months before, walking into that smoky room for the first time felt surreal.
I was 16, and my friends Aaron and James had just turned 17. We were three suburban teenagers avoiding the doldrums of Arlington nightlife, which normally consisted of skating in parking lots until the boards were confiscated, sneaking beer from my dad’s refrigerator or driving around endlessly waiting to hear whose house party hadn’t been busted yet.
On this particular night, I was about to be introduced to my new hangout for the next two decades, and a world of music and friends I’d have for even longer. Local band juggernauts Doosu and The Deathray Davies started their evening sets before Buck Jones played their last show to a packed house at the end of the night. I watched carefully as they slowly pulled the black velvet curtains on Buck Jones for the last time. I overheard people in the crowd saying it was the end of an era, but for me, it was just the beginning.
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Aaron, James and I had our own high school ambitions. Like most MTV-watching millennials of the '90s, we wanted to be rock stars. In ninth grade, before the “School of Rock” generation, we played loud music to piss people off. Somehow, we all taught ourselves how to play the pawn shop instruments we begged our parents for.
We started our first band in 1999 and called it Special Edword. We hacked out a few sets at house parties, public parks and, occasionally, an Arlington CD store named Lazer Trax. We never thought Special Edword would make it to The Curtain Club. Real bands played at The Curtain Club. Tripping Daisy and Radish played at The Curtain Club. Who the hell were we kidding?
Special Edword was persistent. We began making the 30-minute drive just about every Friday and Saturday to see whatever music the club had to offer. Through our tireless efforts, we began playing small Dallas shows at places like Across the Street Bar, Loose Change (now Serious Pizza) and The Sandbar (now Ruins). For those fledgling gigs, we would pass out a stack of 500 flyers every weekend on the patio of The Curtain Club, hoping to get our first crack at the room.
We went so often that the door girl eventually started comping us. Aaron and I did this every weekend for two years until we finally landed our first opening slot on Dec. 14, 2002, fulfilling what had been my New Year's resolution for three years running. Our following grew significantly in the next six months and five shows later, on June 30, 2003, we minted our own Curtain Club legacy by receiving our very own plaque the first night we headlined. This was one of the happiest moments of my adult life. Our picture hung nicely above the newly famous Dallas legends, Drowning PooI. We were some of the youngest people on the walls.
Owners Doug Simmons and Ed LaMonica told us they had never seen a band work flyers or promote as hard as we did. Now, exactly 16 years later on June 30, The Curtain Club will be closing the curtain permanently.
These days the same story repeats itself in Deep Ellum: A commercial real estate company buys up all the cool properties and accelerates the gentrification of the area to make room for more shopping and restaurants.
In the case of The Curtain Club, Asana Partners, based out of North Carolina, purchased the property over a year ago and will be turning the building into retail-ready real estate.
If you visit the company website, they proudly boast by displaying pictures of such cultural institutions as Urban Outfitters and Warby Parker. From what it looks like, Asana Partners believes revitalizing a neighborhood means bringing in proven corporate entities to do the job.
Over the past 21 years, the Curtain Club remained one of the only original surviving institutions of the old Deep Ellum. The club opened its doors on New Year's Eve of '97, just after receiving the necessary permits earlier that day. Hagfish and The American Fuze were the first bands to play the venue, and in March of the following year, readers of the Dallas Observer named the Curtain Club 1997's best music venue.
For most of the musicians who played there, and especially for those who became headliners, playing The Curtain Club stage always felt important. The club focused on booking all-local talent and was the kind of venue a band could cultivate and build a following from. Over the course of the club’s 21 years, MTV darlings Bowling for Soup, The Nixons, Tripping Daisy, Drowning Pool, Fair To Midland, Flickerstick, Jibe and Flyleaf all considered the room home at some point.
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Through 16 years, my three bands, Special Edword, The Orange and Aztec Milk Temple, were lucky enough to play the stage over 75 times, earn three different plaques and build an arsenal of friends and memories I will cherish for the rest of my life. The staff, stage and pay were always awesome too. It’s going to be strange walking down Crowdus and Main after June 30 without being able to pop into the Curtain Club to say hi to Sean, Eric, Paul, Chad, Kenneth and the rest of the staff.
As I get older, I find myself relating more to the stories I heard as a youngster about The Basement and the nights Pantera played or partied there before it closed down in 1995. In 2006, when New York’s world-famous C.B.G.B. closed down, it was slated to become a Bank of America, before rock fashion designer John Varvatos bought the property and turned it into a retail store. At least Varvatos kept the overall decor of the venue and still books bands there occasionally.
I hope the future tenants of former the Curtain Club property will pay some respect to what the venue was and what it has meant to so many. As the end approaches, owner Doug Simmons is happy to showcase some of the Curtain Club’s biggest bands to play their farewell concerts. The final weekend of June hosts a special lineup of bands including Royal Sons, Serosia, Stareview, Neverset, Edgewater, Marquis of Vaudeville, Darby and my band, The Orange. It is inevitable that all things change with time, but I was just hoping that The Curtain Club would stay open for just a little bit longer.
The Curtain Club is not the first nor the last rock club in Dallas to close its doors, but for many of us it’s a bittersweet ending for the room that shaped so many of our lives.