Dallas City Council member Mitchell Rasansky is probably the last person you want having any say in the future of Deep Ellum. He's ancient. He's cranky. And it's a safe bet that, other than at a wedding, he's never heard a live band in his 95 years on this earth.
"I think the chicken is out of the henhouse on this one," he said during last week's city council meeting about police calls in Deep Ellum. "People are afraid to go down there."
Well, that may be true of Rasansky's constituents in Northwest Dallas, but for many others Deep Ellum remains the lone cultural hot spot for local music, art shows, historic buildings and, most of all, bars without SMU pricks and $30,000 millionaires. So last Wednesday when the city council decided on specific-use permit (SUPs) applications from some of the area's most beloved bars and clubs, many people expected the worst, especially after a stern and exasperated Rasansky began the proceedings by threatening to close just about every place in town. Instead, the city council, including the old man himself, acquitted themselves nicely.
In fact, after acting like Deep Ellum was the second coming of Fallujah for most of the afternoon, the city council voted only to shut down a pair of bars which, it seemed from reports of violence and drugs given to the council by police officers, may have been making life hard on everyone else. Other establishments such as the Amsterdam Bar, the Double Wide and Club Dada got a new lease on life, even if they had to beg for it.
"Honestly, we take everything the city council says with a grain of salt," said Amanda Newman, co-owner of Club Dada. "Overall, we found the process surprisingly pleasant."
Newman and other business owners realized they could have been denied their SUPs on the flimsiest of reasons. Last month, the city closed down the Monkey Bar, a popular Exposition Park joint that catered to one of the only truly diverse crowds in all of Dallas nightlife, after a handful of area residents complained about the noise. The building, which was known as the XPO Lounge years ago, has been a bar for years. Even though far more people spoke out in favor of the Monkey, the city council seemed more sensitive to the concerns of the dissenters.
So, naturally, the gaggle of hipsters, musicians and other wearers of tight pants made their way to City Hall last week fearing that the city council wanted to reshape Deep Ellum into something safe, sanitized and far less fun. "I never understood why people move next to an airport and then complain about the noise of the planes," said one Expo Park resident. "We don't want to be Addison; we want to be Dallas."
The city council seemed to take that to heart. Places such as the Double Wide and Club Dada, two bars that regularly book the best bands in town, each got three-year SUPs. On the other hand, the city council voted unanimously to shut down Club One after hearing police reports of numerous robberies, stabbings, a shooting and, in one odd case, a catfight where one woman used the heel of her spiked shoe as a weapon. Barbara Martinez, who owns Club One with her family, said the police reports were unfairly associated with her business.
"They did not originate in the club," Martinez said of the crimes. "We're just average, everyday people." Club One will remain open until January, when the Martinez family will go back for a second hearing.
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The city council also voted to shut down Club Uropa, which had problems with crime and, more important, good taste, hosting classy events such as lingerie nights.
"We're also tickled to death that Club Uropa is no more," Newman said.
So for one day, at least, the city council didn't use its power to turn Deep Ellum into another suburban strip mall. Councilwoman Angela Hunt, who, along with her colleague, Elba Garcia, seem like the only council members who've ever enjoyed a good night on the town, said that her colleagues have a vision of Deep Ellum as distinct and vibrant, if just a little safer than it is today.
"If the council were interested in shutting down all of the businesses—and making it into another West Village—we would have seen the council turn down all the SUPs," Hunt said. "I didn't get the impression on Wednesday there is any interest in razing Deep Ellum and turning it into Starbucksville."