All-American is a series that looks at beloved, longstanding North Texas eateries and examines their histories while exploring how the food has changed — for the good or bad — over the years.
She first climbed the steps six years ago. She and husband Teddy Davey had been performers in Las Vegas, where he’d been named Entertainer of the Year, headlining shows and performing on Royal Caribbean cruise lines, and they’d since moved to Dallas to settle down. When they landed here once again —Teddy is a University of North Texas grad who has performed with the Dallas Theater Center and got his professional jumpstart at the Undermain Theatre — there was a neighborhood bar that he was dying to show off to his wife.
“Are you ready to see the greatest thing in Dallas?” he asked her. Lorena Davey took the stairs up the Balcony Club, an 18-step set that’s hosted musicians and martini-soaked lovers for 29 years, and opened the door.
“I just started crying,” she says, remembering the glow of the art deco.
At Balcony Club, there’s no mistaking the energy: This is a place where you drink simply and dance sweetly. There are no clever bar entrées, and a menu doesn’t truly exist; you devour history and music. Above the door, a dual-paneled sign reads “applause” and “on air” like on the old variety shows, and scalloped sconces illuminate the walls. Elbows on the bar, all you’ll need to do is speak: Tell the bartender what you like, and he’ll drop it in front of you. The beers are all from Lakewood Brewing Company, and when you tell the bartender you like your martini dirty, what's set before you is as beautifully filthy as they come.
Whether you’re interested in Art Deco, jazz, blues or any band that has “trio” in the name, you’ll find the Balcony Club remarkable. Next August, it will be 30 years old. Still, the feeling that’s unmistakable is the warming vibration of history that you can sense in everything around you. It's saddled up against the Landmark Theater, now a an official landmark, and a window from the Balcony Club’s party room allows you to gaze into the theater’s protected, original murals.
The Landmark opened in 1947. The first movie projected in the movie palace was Love Finds Andy Hardy starring Mickey Rooney.
“Dallas doesn’t necessarily honor old Dallas,” Lorena Davey says. “We’re trying to keep that. ... We know how special this is.”
In honor of the Balcony Club's history, the Daveys haven’t changed much. The place feels like the heart of a relic. The Benny Goodman-era swing and photography on the walls will make you feel like the front door is a hole from a Stephen King novel. In front of the liquor bottles, musicians jaunt through, carrying cases in the shapes of their instruments without words like it's the music version of Field of Dreams. Music simmers at all hours; the Daveys let loose about 15 bands a week. Manhattans are delivered ice cold. Couples who've been married for decades hold each other on the dance floor. The drinks may be strong, but there's no tomfoolery — this is a club for people who appreciate simple cocktails, good music and a grown-folks atmosphere.
“It’s a great neighborhood bar, and instead of food, we serve music,” says owner Theodore "Teddy” Davey. “It’s like dealing with 15 executive chefs. Everyone brings their own tastes into the club.”
As you’d imagine with a neighborhood bar that feels very Rocketeer-esque, martinis are worthy of the applause sign. The chocolate martini is a hit. When the music plays, all you’ll need to do is turn in your chair. There are no ceiling-reaching amps, and the seashell lights don’t change their tone.
Patrons at the Balcony Club span all ages, races and backgrounds, and you never know who you'll see. Keith Anderson, a saxophonist who’s played with Prince and Kanye West, has taken the stage. Actress and singer Liz Mikel (Friday Night Lights, Get On Up) has stopped in, too.
“You never know who you’re going to bump shoulders with at the Balcony Club,” Lorena Davey says. At a bar like this, you’re just as likely to run into the ghost of someone grand.
Balcony Club, 1825 Abrams Road
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.