There is no more controversial piece of property (except for those Trinity River plains) in Dallas right now than the historic Lakewood Theater. Beloved by residents for its iconic tower and theatre seats that were apparently worth dumpster-diving for, this Dallas icon appears to be teetering on the edge of trouble. Since at least 2014, owner Craig Kinney has been searching for a buyer for the decades-old theatre.
Among the contenders was originally Alamo Drafthouse, which could have spelled real trouble for The Balcony Club, Lakewood Theater's nearly equally historic next door neighbor. Earlier this year, Kinney told the Dallas Morning News that if a big tenant like Alamo were to come along and demand that The Balcony Club close, the lease would terminate with 60-days notice and the Club would be forced to shutter.
A last-minute lease signing saved The Balcony Club from closing in January, but owner Teddy Davey says that Kinney — his landlord — is as committed to the 27-year-old club as ever.
And at least for now, that seems to be true. "The only thing I know about Lakewood Theater is that they’re doing an abestos abatement,” says Davey. “The landlord has informed us that they only need one day to do what they need to do in The Balcony Club. We’re open for business, and couldn’t be in a better place.”
The Balcony Club is on a year-to-year lease, which means that Davey can really only focus on the present. "All I can focus on is the term of my lease. I really don’t have any control over anything else," he says. "They don't tell me, and I don't ask."
But for fans of The Balcony Club and the musicians who play at the club — known around North Texas as the best in the city for good jazz music, show tunes and lounge standards — the loss would be devastating.
In 2013, The Balcony Club shuttered for only a few days as Davey, former Las Vegas lounge singer and well-traveled performer, took ownership of the historic location. “North Texas is blessed to have this incredible number of world-class jazz players right here. We see students and professors come out to play,” says Davey, referring to the talent pool afforded by the University of North Texas and Booker T. Washington School For The Performing Arts. “People want to create music and live their lives here. They don’t want to run off anywhere.”
The Club’s affiliation with Booker T. Washington guarantees young and talented musicians a home, a place they can always play their music. In that also comes The Balcony Club’s ridiculously diverse slate of musicians of all genres. On Monday nights, you can step into the club for a singer-songwriter showcase hosted by Dallas powerhouse vocalist Liz Mikel. On Tuesdays, Lance Lopez hosts a free-for-all blues jam, and Wednesdays the club is home to Dallas’ most “heavy-hitting” jazz musicians.
“One of our biggest goals has been to make people aware that they can come express themselves and make their art and play their music here,” says Davey. “Every time we do that, our family just gets bigger and bigger.”
Davey is also seeing more and more people take a liking to the club’s decidedly lounge-y aesthetic. “More and more people are discovering this great thing called lounge entertainment,” he says. “You think that it’s this cheesy thing you’ve seen over the years, and nah, it’s none of that. This is a solid art form in and of itself, and people are discovering that.”
Whether or not they'll be able to do that for the next 10, or even five, years seems impossible to predict. The Balcony Club may be as endangered as it has ever been, despite its growth as a venue, or it may be perfectly safe. But Davey insists that Kinney is on board with keeping The Balcony Club around for a "really long time."
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"There’s a lot of uncertainty out there, but between myself and the landlord, we’re talking about keeping this thing going as long as we can," he says. "If there was anything definitive, you’d hear me screaming so loud you wouldn’t have to use a phone."
And while the turmoil around Lakewood Theater and its historic tower continues, Davey and his crew at The Balcony Club just plan to keep on doing their thing. Which is really their only choice: Until Kinney finds an approved buyer for the theater next door, The Balcony Club's future is still very much up in the air.
“In the face of all this change that’s happening around us, finally The Balcony Club gets to be the consistent one,” Davey says. “That’s a reversal of the news of late, but we’re here, we’re strong, and we want everyone to come in and enjoy themselves seven nights a week.”