Bounced

He has been such an icon for so long he is known only by a nickname given to him some 36 years ago when he was a student at North Texas State University. Back then, they called him "Armpit," because he apparently looked like "one hairy armpit," he recalls now. Then it became "Redbeard," until at last it was shortened to "Beard." One could hardly imagine calling him anything else: With his slick-shaved pate and thicket of whiskers, which has grayed considerably over the years, John Brewer deserves no other moniker. Some have tried over the years to brand him with names far worse--comes with the job, as bouncer for Club Dada--but none ever stuck, because as tough as he looked, there lurked only a teddy bear beneath the fuzz and sunglasses at night.

"My mom always told me if you want to beat a bully, walk away," Beard says. "I can have more impact on a piece of shit by walking away. I have this mystique and image, but nobody's ever seen me hit anybody. Look at Fonzie. He never hit anybody, but he snapped his finger and everybody jumped."

Beard never liked being called a bouncer; his business card identifies its owner as a "social control director." Maybe that is why he has been around for as long as most folks can remember--18 and a half years, to be precise, which is a lifetime in this short-attention-span town. He has been as much a part of the Deep Ellum scenery as concrete, neon and the occasional shooting.

But that all changed December 21, when Club Dada was seized by the state of Texas for nonpayment of taxes and closed indefinitely. Beard found out like everyone else--the club's employees, the bands scheduled to play that night and that week and the patrons for whom the place had been a home-away-from-home for decades--that Club Dada had been shuttered, his personal effects now in the hands of government officials. He went to work and found the place plastered with official red-and-black notices stating that the state comptroller, to whom owner Steven Shin owes almost $18,000 in mixed beverage taxes and another $816 in sales tax, had taken control of Dada. And just like that, a job Beard had held for 18 years vanished, without so much as a "Merry Christmas" or a "Sorry, pal" or a "Fuck off"--though, perhaps, the latter would come soon enough.

Dada's demise came the same week as Trees was being chopped down in bankruptcy court; much has been written about the death of the two clubs in these pages in recent weeks, so you will be spared that here. But the closing of Dada leaves not only an enormous live-music chasm on Elm Street but also several people without jobs--chief among them a man who was down there long before Deep Ellum was overrun by skinheads, then the tourists from Plano, then the loitering thugs who finally chased away what little remained of the faithful.

"The first time I met Beard, about 10 years ago, I found him to be a gruff, dangerous-looking bouncer," says Danny Balis, bassist for the band Sorta, which often played Club Dada. "He still kicks me in the nuts, and I happily return the favor, only now I know him to be a sweet, generous person and a wonderful father to his daughter. Deep Ellum will never be the same again, especially without Beard standing in front of Dada in those stupid camo pants and a big-ass flashlight talking it up with Dallas' finest or staring at the asses of a group of coeds walking down Elm, most of them a third his age. My kind of guy."

Almost every day since Dada's closing, Beard has called with some news. He has talked to state employees to find out how much Shin owes. He has talked to people in landlord Don Cass' office to find out how much Shin owes in back rent. (The amount, according to those familiar with the lease, is around $40,000.) On a few occasions, he has even called to say he has bumped into Shin, who, Beard claims, has never apologized for failing to notify employees of the venue's impending demise--or for failing to pay employees well before December 21. (Shin has never commented for any of the Dallas Observer stories on Dada.)

In fact, Beard says Shin even neglected to report him as an employee for more than a year, failing to pay his employment taxes since October 2004. These days, Beard spends his time trying not only to get a new job--he's been working part-time at Tarantino's in Deep Ellum--but also prove he had his old one.

"I am pissed off but not hurt," Beard says of the entire ordeal. "It's shitty the bastard can't even call me back, but I guess he's just a snake...But let me tell you something. For me, negatives don't exist. People like Sam Paulos [co-owner of Club Clearview and the Curtain Club] and Pete Tarantino worrying about me, that means more than what Steven did to me. I've been in Deep Ellum more the last few weeks, walking around, than I have in 18 years. This kid Henry came up to me and said, 'I just read the Observer,' and he grabbed me and started crying. I went, 'Wow.' All the nice words people have said to me make up for the crap this guy said to me. It's all karma. I am an old hippie. Hell, I just gotta keep hoping something good will happen."

Beard worked at Dada almost every day since being hired in 1988 by founders and former owners Tom Henvey, Doak Boettiger and David Borders. He took a little time off in June 2005, only because he was hospitalized and kept on a morphine drip: He had an ingrown hair in his beard that became infected, which ordinarily would have been no big deal. But Beard is diabetic, and he nearly kicked.

"My friends said it sure would have been ironic: Beard dies because of his beard," he says. "But I got out June 15 and went to work that night. That's how devoted I am. I just would have liked a phone call saying it's over."

Now, that is beside the point. But he knew the end was coming; everyone down there did. Used to be his hands would turn green from all that money--one night when the New Bohemians played way back when, he figures he collected some $5,700. Now, he and everyone else who worked there, not to mention the state and the landlord, are owed a small fortune. He knew it had to end. Just not like this.

"I've wondered why I haven't gotten sad," he says. "Maybe I knew it was inevitable, and I've been focused on moving on. A lot of people asked me over the years why I haven't quit. I have relationships with the bands and customers, and nobody can say I didn't stay till the ship sank."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky