“If you really want to see what Deep Ellum is about, The Prophet Bar is the best place to do it.” That’s the advice you’ll get from Russell David Hobbs about visiting one of the most popular neighborhoods in Dallas. He may be a little biased, though: He founded the place 30 years ago, and as the bar prepares to celebrate its third decade, he's still at the helm. But a whole lot else has changed in that span of time.
When Hobbs moved to an empty warehouse in Deep Ellum back in 1984, he was really just looking for an escape from the starched, mainstream vibes of Dallas. Hobbs had a dream to clear the way for artists to be able to showcase their crafts without jeopardizing the quality or the richness of their talents. And with the help of friends Jeff Liles and Mark Lee, he did just that when he opened the Theatre Gallery. A year later, Hobbs opened up The Prophet Bar across the street and, years later, opened The Door in the old Gypsy Tea Room location.
Like many of us, Hobbs had absolutely no idea what he wanted to do in college. So, logically, he went underground. “Honestly, I was going to college at [University of] North Texas in Denton and I was studying business," he recalls. "I just didn’t really see myself in a shiny shirt, wearing a tie, going to work at the top of a tall, shiny building. So, I rented a warehouse in Deep Ellum in ’84, just to get away from it all."
Hobbs cites his many artist friends as his motivation to create an artistic space where their work could be displayed and promoted. But it wasn’t long before he began booking shows, because at the time, as he puts it, “There was no original, live music scene in Dallas. All there was, was cover bands playing bars.”
As Liles remembers it, Hobbs’ intentions came from a desire to cultivate and encourage art in one of Dallas’ forgotten neighborhoods. He recalls Hobbs went to the library, did some research on Deep Ellum and discovered this rich past, filled with live-music and art. “It was completely sub-cultural and he just wanted to reconnect with that,” Liles says. “That was the spirit of the Theatre Gallery. It was this completely illegal, completely underground thing.”
And underground it was. According to Liles, the Theatre Gallery didn’t have licenses for anything. Rather, it was a place where music and art enthusiasts could escape, pay a $5 or $10 cover for endless beer and listen to some good music.“It existed under the radar for about a year, a year-and-a-half before we ever had a telephone. We didn’t have any licenses; I mean the whole place was nailed together with plywood that Russell had leftover from a construction job," Liles says. “It was in the same spirit as those underground bars and live music venues in the Depression.”
But roughly a year after getting started, the Dallas Observer caught wind of their shindigs and began to publicize the happenings. Shortly thereafter, the venue owner began receiving unannounced visits from the Dallas Police. It was then that Hobbs decided to get legit, rent a space across the street [where Uncle Uber’s is today] and open up The Prophet Bar; both Hobbs and Liles even lived above the venue to get it up and running.
During one of these early nights, Liles recalls a visit from Jim Heath, later known as The Reverend Horton Heat. Heath came by, feeling bummed about being kicked out of his former band. But with encouragement from both Liles and Hobbs, Heath began playing every Monday night at The Prophet Bar. To Hobbs, this was a prime example of what his purpose was as a venue owner in Deep Ellum. “The thing is, a venue really is the mediator between the artist and the people. That’s the job,” he says.
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From there, things only went up. The Prophet Bar drew in big names like the Old 97’s and Jane’s Addiction. And in 1998, Hobbs expanded his venue ownership to include The Door in the old Gypsy Tea Room space. But by 2007, the Prophet Bar was moved to its current location at 2548 Elm St. — mainly because the size of its shows became too much for the original site to handle.
Hobbs has kept true to his eclectic nature though, incorporating artists from every genre and creed at his venues. "Deep Ellum started off as a really laid-back, no neon, real showcasing art, organic experience in the ’80’s,” he adds. “And really, The Prophet Bar and The Door, we still operate within those lines.”
Now, 30 years after going above ground, Hobbs and The Prophet Bar are ready to commemorate those years past. This weekend the bar will host a two-day event celebrating the Deep Ellum community, artistry and the perseverance of a venue-owner who took a chance on a run down, abandoned part of the city. And hey, in case you want a chance to relive the '80s, Soul Asylum, the Meat Puppets and Ten Hands (among others) are playing.
Hobbs sees no reason to change course any time soon, either.”We’re just going to keep trying to showcasing real art, as much as we can, for a good price. We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing — pumping out 30 to 50 bands every week.”