Friday, January 25, 2013
Local musicians helm “female-friendly dive bar” in Deep Ellum
It'll be a special occasion music venue that puts more focus on the chill vibe.
DEEP ELLUM Danny Balis and Jess Barr were reluctant to say anything — as in, one single word — about their proposed Deep Ellum bar after City Plan Commission documents detailing The Twilight Lounge hit the city’s website last weekend. They wanted to stay mum they got the specific use permit that allows them to serve alcohol and keep the doors open till 2 in the morning at 2640 Elm Street. The CPC signed off on it yesterday; next stop, the city council, where it will likely wind up on the consent agenda.
So, finally, the musicians are willing to reveal details about their would-be dive bar on Elm Street, which they hope to have open by no later than May. Says Balis, a member of The King Bucks and Calhoun and producer of The Hardline on The Ticket, it will be the culmination of a three-year effort to open a bar with Barr, guitarist in Slobberbone.
“You spend a lot of time in these places, and you spend even more time playing them,” says Balis. “There are a lot of places I like but not one place I love 100 percent, so I wanted to take all the ideas from all the bars I love from all over the country and build my ideal situation — that small-town neighborhood bar, dark but safe-feeling.” Which means …? “The bathrooms work, and there’s a good selection of wine — a female-friendly dive bar.”
He talks about old-school padded bars and leather booths and a jukebox stocked with ’50s bebop and ’60s R&B and even a few early ’90s Deep Ellum bands, and ticks off a laundry list of local spots after which he’s modeling The Twilight Lounge. Some are alive and well: Ships Lounge on Lowest Greenville, Tradewinds Social Club in Oak Cliff, Club Schmitz on Denton Drive. Othere are late greats, among them the old Winedale Tavern on Lowest Greenville, the original Barley House on Henderson, and Naomi’s in Deep Ellum, which served as a classroom for the likes of Old 97 Rhett Miller and Eleven Hundred Springs’ Matt Hillyer when Ronnie Dawson or Tex Edwards jammed into the corner stage.
The Twilite Lounge may have live music. But not often.
“Just a nice neighborhood bar feel,” Barr says when asked what they’re going for. “Something that reflects our musical tastes, a non-pretentious place where you can get a good drink and listen to some good music. Nothing groundbreaking. Playing in Slobberbone, I spent most of my youth in dive bars. It’s taking all the things you like and putting them all together: a nice cold beer and a good jukebox and having people around you if you wanna be social or you can sit in the corner if you wanna be alone.”
Barr had been looking to open a joint in Denton a few years back when Balis mentioned he’d had a similar idea in Dallas. And rather quickly, they say, the twosome found a building on Ross Avenue. They then spent the next year negotiating with the building’s owner … and getting nowhere.
“Deep Ellum wasn’t our first choice,” Balis says. “But Jess and I spent a lot of time down there doing our due diligence on weekday nights. And there’s some great [stuff] down there. Sure, you’ll do well on weekends, but you’ll make money with your regulars. And you gotta pay for parking. I hate that. But when we found the space, we knew.”
The building, next to the Anvil Pub, is owned by Scott Rohrman, who recently snatched up several Deep Ellum properties — including the remnants of what used to be Club Clearview. He’s also serving as one of the partners in Balis and Barr’s effort, known collectively as Twilite on Elm. Balis and Barr say that Richard Winfield will help with the build-out, which makes sense: The co-owner of the Barley House also helped get Bryan Street Tavern, City Tavern, the Katy Trail Ice House, and the Metropolitan up and running.
But if you’re expecting this to be another live-music venue, hang on: The Twilite will have some elevated seating that could be used as a stage. But it won’t happen all the time: “If it happens three times a month or just once a month, great,” says Barr. “We want the option of doing it.” But, adds Balis, “I never want to have to fill a calendar and worry about booking bands just to have live music. If Rhett Miller’s in town and wants to stop by, great. Or Shelley Carrol. Or Will Johnson or Sarah Jaffe.” Special occasions, in other words.
The door’s not even open yet, but Balis and Barr don’t expect this will be their sole offering. Because, as Balis puts it, “You can’t retire owning one bar.” That said: Barr and Balis both insist this won’t cut down on their day jobs. Balis will continue to produce the radio show and tour with his various bands, while Barr will continue playing with Slobberbone, which he hopes will record a new album once frontman Brent Best wraps his solo record.
“I am not looking at this as an exit strategy,” says Balis. “This is a passion for both of us. I’ve been fortunate to do what I want to do and not be beholden to some job I hated. I played music and had [awful] jobs to feed that, but then the Ticket came along, and I love it. This is something I’ve always wanted to do. I didn’t just have the idea three years ago. I started acting on it and seeing what it entailed and seeing if it was something I could do. We’re not doing this to get rich. We’re doing this because it’s something we want to do. And we want to provide a place our friends will want to hang out at. It’s for everyone else as much as us.”
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