Five years ago, Allen Falkner, managing partner at The Nines, came across a Craigslist ad offering roughly $800 worth of Deep Ellum club history in the form of video cassette tapes. The VHS tapes were from the archives of Video Bar, a club that provided an inclusive and eclectic soundtrack and visuals for clubgoers through MTV music videos and video art in the 1980s. The club also helped play a role in rekindling the now-bustling neighborhood’s nightlife.
“The guy selling [the tapes] didn’t necessarily want to sell them to ‘the wrong people,’" Falkner says. “When people contacted him, he wanted to make sure they were actually going to do something with the tapes. Not, you know, let them sit and rot or something.”
The seller’s request for a buyer who would appreciate the tapes’ history was not unwarranted. And Falkner’s idea to reignite the Deep Ellum VJ nights of decades past is likely welcomed news to many who frequented Deep Ellum in the 1980s and ‘90s.
Video Bar was one-of-a-kind spot with close ties to another club that was the first of its kind in Dallas. When it opened its doors on Elm Street in 1986, founder of Dallas Video Fest and then-co-proprietor Bart Weiss wanted to continue the legacy of the recently closed, slightly more divey On The Air club that ran VJ nights on Lower Greenville Avenue.
“It was extremely analogue … mixing from video to video was a very rough thing,” Weiss says. “The screen would glitch for a second between videos and the audio quality was not very good. But it was an amazing thing to be able to [screen] these music videos.”
Weiss, who also worked at OTA, says it was the first real club in Dallas to emphasize music videos, and many folks would start and end their nights there. 1950s TVs decorated the casual-at-best club, and lines wrapped around the building on weekends with a VJ screening experimental videos every night.
The February 1985 issue of Texas Monthly described OTA as “our town’s original video bar [that] seemed very far out when it first opened. Today, even with video everywhere, this concise and funky sign of the eighties still
seems very far out.”
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But just as OTA became one of the most successful clubs in town and the Dallas Observer decided to run a cover story on it, OTA came to an abrupt end on April 1, 1985.
“At that very moment, we were on the cover of the Observer as the Nightclub Hall of Fame. They had to change the story to 'Hall of Fame Club Closes,'” Weiss says.
Weiss teamed up with one of the club’s former bartenders to create Video Bar the following year. This reincarnation had almost every regular from OTA walk through its doors.
Weiss became the program director of Video Bar and handpicked the content that would revitalize the video scene. He hustled to get the most popular, experimental and downright weird content from record companies throughout Dallas.
“It was a unique, live thing,” Weiss says.
Eddy Walton, who bartended at OTA before becoming a VJ at Video Bar, says he and a couple of other full-time VJs had their work cut out for them in making the popular music nights happen.
“We would mostly get 3/4-inch copies from the labels and dub them to beta and VHS 1/2-inch. So they were second- or third-generation copies,” Walton says. He also says some visual mixtapes could have up to 100 edits.
“For [songs that were] more obscure and didn’t have music videos, we would play the record, and we would have two inputs of cable TV and we would mix live images,” Weiss says. “So we’d take anything and just cut along with the music.”
But the glitches, hiccups and imperfections in the tapes’ editing are what make them charming. These days, however, video nights are a little easier, thanks to better-suited software.
“It wasn’t as beautiful as traditional club deejaying, but it really was a kind of fascinating and wonderful thing,” Weiss says.
Video Bar closed its doors in the mid-1990s, and with it went the tradition of music video nights.
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After finding the tapes, Falkner, who regularly visited Video Bar, contacted Seán McManuss, an old friend who provided financial support for the tapes, and the wide collection of VHS, Beta and 3/4-inch tapes made its way to local DJ Joe Virus for digitizing.
“Joe had a team of people helping him … just digitizing tape after tape after tape,” Falkner says. Digitizing that many videos took about three years, and the result is The Nines’ new VJ nights, appropriately titled “On The Air,” an homage to the original Dallas VJ club.
“On The Air” kicked off June 5 and is free to attend. Videos are screened on two projectors across from the nightclub’s bar. Falkner says he’s running the event every other Monday for now. He originally slated it as a monthly event, but its popularity is setting it up to be something bigger.
“It’s not quite karaoke. It’s not quite a sing-along. But it’s like, ‘Wow I remember this video,’" Falkner says.