Thursday, December 10, 2009

Back from the Dead… The Resurrection of Forgotten Haunts

Here is my latest article, for the December issue of Lit Monthly. It was rather verbose and had to be considerably trimmed to fit onto two pages in the mag, so here it is in its unedited glory...

Back from the Dead… The Resurrection of Forgotten Haunts by Greg Holman

With the last U.S. census showing over 7,200 drinking establishments in Dallas city limits alone, it’s easy to see why so many bars come and go, especially with the volatile economics of the times. And alas, some of the clubs that leave us are inevitably ones that have been patronized by us. So when one of the old haunts arises from the dead, changes ownership, or gets a face-lift, it’s certainly noteworthy.

Recently there’s been a resurgence in once popular imbiberies having life’s breath restored to them. With the recent financial downturn, and a movement towards drinking at home or better yet, at a friend’s home (rather than spending $4.00 a piece for longnecks), this bar business slump means that old night clubs are often available at bargain prices, allowing for at least modest remodeling budgets and upgrades, in most cases. These renovations have not been limited to any particular part of town and are happening everywhere from Oak Cliff - The old Kessler Theatre is being renovated into a “Caravan of Dreams”-type live music venue, to Lake Dallas, where the Flying Pig Roadhouse has moved to new digs at 5008 S. Stemmons Freeway.

Here are a few “back from the dead“ spots to keep in mind, next time you’re vexed about where to see some live music, relive an old memory, or just get your drink on.

Trees – 2709 Elm St. Dallas, TX 75226 (214) 651-0773Once the cornerstone of Deep Ellum’s live music scene, Trees’ stage has been honored with performances by such artists as Marilyn Manson, Nirvana, Stiff Little Fingers, Stray Cats, The Buzzcocks, Toots and the Maytals, Motorhead, Cindy Lauper, Iggy Pop, Soundgarden, Steve Vai, The Go-Go’s, Pearl Jam, and Green Day, just to name a few! But times have not been kind to Deep Ellum. Many of the most popular clubs in the area eventually succumbed to a drop in patronage, due to a rash of late night violence, and more recently, the financial woes of the time. But earlier this year, Clint Barlow, former drummer for Vanilla Ice and more recently the booking agent and manager of Firewater, bought the club and ponied up $750,000 for a serious remodel which included upgrades to the bathrooms (‘cause if the ladies ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy) and an ass-kickin’ sound sytem. A boon to the struggling, but slowly reviving Deep Ellum scene, the re-opening of Trees is a sight for these sore old eyes. Drop by and give them some love.

Sharky's – 7402 Greenville Ave. Suite #320 Dallas, TX 75231 (214) 361-5436Old pool halls never die! A while back some friends took the place over and did an extensive remodel, unfortunately, the cost of the rennovations was more than the new owners could handle, and after 27 years of continuous operation (the longest run of any bar on Greenvillle) Sharky's closed their doors. It's always been the kind of place "where everybody knows your name" and we have made some very good friends there. I've been going to Sharky's since 1986 and they've been one of the premiere dart bars in the Metroplex for decades. Last year some other friends and former patrons of "The Tank" (as we affectionately call it), Hiedi and Shane, puchased the place took on the momentous task of bringing the old girl up to code (daunting at best). They have done a great job just getting it back open and are putting in a full kitchen to boot! They expect to have the chef driven bar food menu available in early June. They currently have six dartboards, four pool tables, and several video games. They still pour a good strong drink and have 7-8 tap beers. Shane has been a drummer for various groups in and around Dallas for years, and is bringing in local original bands on the weekends. They're also trying some karaoke on Wednesday nights. Come by and see the "new" old place and have a beer and re-partonize a long-time staple of upper Greenville. "Norm!"

Trader Vic's – 5330 E. Mockingbird Ln. Dallas, TX 75206 (214) 823-0600
I fondly remember going to this Trader Vic’s with my parents for special occasions, back in the mid-‘70s and was rather dismayed when it closed in the Spring of 1989. For years this island haven of the Dallas jet-set and visiting celebrities (Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, and Elvis have all gotten sloshed here) sat, unused and forgotten, with its giant, monolithic, Easter Island-like tiki slowly decomposing by the front door. This image haunted me for years. In 1993 the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of Transcendental Meditation, bought the place, but didn’t feel that a tiki bar fit into his grand scheme for the faith based hotel, and the bar was sealed. It sat unused for decades. In 2006, the San Francisco based boutique hotel firm Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants Group Inc. purchased the building, and that’s when investors Jim Sibert (State Bar and Double Wide) and Angus Wynne (Wynne Entertainment) saw an opportunity to reopen the Dallas landmark and embarked on an epic remodel of the vintage tiki bar to the tune of two million dollars, which included a new kitchen. After the opening of the Palomar Hotel, Sibert and Wynne were bought out by Palomar Hospitality, who now runs the place. Most of the trappings are the original, vintage décor from 1967. Chef Michael Owens, formerly of Star Canyon, Morton’s of Chicago, and the Oceanaire, is now running the kitchen. Get a blast from the tiki past and hula on up to the bar for a pupu platter and a six-straw drink, or a Mai-Tai (Trader Vic’s invented them) and set your butt on a bar stool that Elvis’ pelvis may have graced.

Tradewinds – 2843 W. Davis St. Dallas, TX 75211 (214) 337-9075This is my local hangout. I can literally walk home from here (and have had to on occasion). Back in September, “winds” ownership changed hands and Phillip Jester, once a co-owner of Lee Harvey’s, and his partner Ken Arkwell have taken hold of the reigns. “I define a “dive” as really a neighborhood bar” said Jester of his new project, and he intends to keep it just that. They’ve put on a new coat of paint, added some cool vintage lighting, and a parachute-covered ceiling over the dance floor, and have incorporated a cozy conversation pit. Several new beer and liquor selections have been added as well, and they’re in consultation with a chef on a tasty menu. The Double D’s (David and Dorothy) do a fantastic job running karaoke every other Saturday (Phil is trying to get them in every Saturday) and the patronage is extremely diverse. The industry crowd has begun to discover Tradewinds and late night business is certainly picking up. Stop by for one of the daily happy hours or some karaoke and shoot some pool, throw some darts, or play a rousing game of shuffleboard. Phil, Ken, Shooter, and Melissa will be very happy to see you.

The following venues are a couple of once well-known Dallas clubs that have been newly renovated and have also had a name change in the process.

Bandera – 1924 Greenville Ave. Dallas, TX 75206 (214) 823-8496
Anyone remember Stout on Greenville? Well, that’s what this “red dirt” music club used to be. The new owners, Anthony West (a former rodeo star) and Jim Baugh, bought the defunct location last year and have put former Zymology manager, Ben Verdooren in charge. The two had always wanted to own a bar (like, who hasn’t) and thought that true Texas “red dirt” music (Eleven Hundred Springs, Cross Canadian Ragweed, J.J. Cale, etc.), “not country” would fill a gap in the Dallas music scene. They’ve kept the old stone bar from Stout, but have added a patio, a new stage, and lots of “woody” décor. They’ve also recently put in a coffee shop (which the area sorely needed), that’s open during the day. Don’t worry though, not too many cowboy hats in here so you’ll not be a goat among goat ropers.

Stone Elephant – 6750 Abrams Rd. Suite #105 Dallas, TX 75231 (214) 342-9200
Formerly known as Big Fat Mike’s pool hall, this location sat dormant for years until Timm Zbylut, former manager at Lee Harvey’s, and his partner Michael Kobelt decided to resuscitate the venue and man, did they do a number on it. It’s really been finished out nicely, with rough-hewn edge stone tables, a leather-clad conversation pit, an elevated stage, and a very nice kitchen. You can shoot some pool or play on one of the video games and they are now hosting live trivia on Thursdays. The chef (former of Charlie Palmer’s) hails from the northeast and wanted to bring classic deli sandwiches to Dallas, which so desperately needs a good artery-clogging meat-fest of a sandwich, like they serve at the Carnegie Deli in Manhattan. Bands play on the weekends and the menu is starting to come to fruition. There is also a nice patio that wraps two sides of the club. Check the place out and you’ll be amazed by the transformation.

Renovation and re-use of old spaces takes many different forms. Sometimes it’s just a coat of paint and a few new lights, other times it’s a total makeover, but however extensive the remodel is, these places were our haunts and carry our ghosts and memories, both good and bad, with them always. Revisiting the old hang-outs gives us at least a chance to remember, if not relive those unique and special times in our lives. Embrace your past and go visit one of these classic old bars that have given so much pleasure (and pain!) to so many.