A Lake Highlands couple is continuing to lead the revitalization of Deep Ellum, just as — back in 2011 — Barry Annino (president of the Deep Ellum Foundation and the Deep Ellum Public Improvement District) predicted.
That was just after Clint and Whitney Barlow reopened Deep Ellum’s Trees.
From my 2011 story:
Clint wanted to retain the name Trees. After all, it was the name of Dallas’ most legendary music venue, where Kurt Cobain once punched a security guard — the place from whose stage the music of Radiohead once flooded the crowded streets of Deep Ellum. No other name would do.
“I probably wouldn’t have gone through with it at all if I couldn’t have the name,” he says.
He also wanted to preserve the old design and feel of the venue. He explains that the early owners, including millionaire Brian Davis (son of Cullen Davis, a wealthy oil man who was convicted and later acquitted of murder) had created a unique space that included exposed support beams that resembled tree trunks and walls of brick and plywood marked with autographed drumheads. The door behind the stage was often left open, allowing music to waft over Deep Ellum.
“We don’t ever want to take away from the original feel. We want people to remember it as it was, but with a better sound system,” Barlow says. “Seriously,” he repeats later. “I am confident that we have, hands-down, the best sounding room.”
He understands things can’t go back to the way they were. But that’s not really the goal. He’s not competing with the past …more
Sticking to a similar pure-yet-progressive path, the Barlows just reopened another 90s concert venue, The Bomb Factory, to much fanfare and nostalgia (exhibits 1-6 of said fanfare: D, Observer, CBS, Culture Map, Observer, Observer, and I wish I could share Robert Wilonsky’s Saturday morning discussion on The Ticket Radio about Kessler Theater, The Bomb Factory and the 90s music community; the Dallas Morning News’ Wilonsky was the Observer’s music reporter in the 90s, he interviewed Rhett Miller of the Old ’97s, and it was an altogether fun trip. If anyone can find a podcast of the show, email me a link).
The Toadies show a few days ago was like a high school reunion, no less than 50 among my peers and contemporaries have said.
I missed it because I am a sad loser now who stays home, writing, most Friday and Saturday nights, but in the 90s, I was a card-(read: fake ID) carrying member of the Deep Ellum music community. I had buddies in bands called Baboon (who opened for the Toadies in the 90s and again at last week’s show) and Static (whose Marcus Striplin leads Pleasant Grove). Deep Ellum was grungy then; the clubs smelled like sweat, clove cigarettes and vomit. To describe the bathrooms would be to deviate from the Advocate’s unwritten rules of appropriateness.
Clint Barlow, a hard-rocking musician, fell in love with Trees and Deep Ellum in 1991. He became known as a talented talent-booker and, on the side, toured as a drummer for Vanilla Ice. His life involved less and less Deep Ellum because he was thriving and it was, decidedly, not.
But one night several years ago, after dinner Downtown, Clint and his lovely and bar-and-hospitality savvy wife Whitney — now living in Lake Highlands, mostly behaving like adults — strolled down Elm Street and stopped outside Trees.
The property owner happened to be there — said he could give them a really good deal if they wanted the place. He let them in; the place was a wreck.
“It was a disaster. Five years worth of water damage. You could see sky through the ceiling. There were roaches on the floor,” Whitney says. “I said, ‘This is awesome’. I think Clint thought I would say, ‘No way,’ but there was just a great vibe.”
Both Trees and The Bomb Factory remain true to their original styles — the facades are similar, the fundamentals appear the same as in the 90s, at a glance. But upon closer inspection, both venues offer heretofore unimagined contemporary upscale amenities, as well as air conditioning and not-disgusting restrooms.
My husband attended the Toadies show at The Bomb Factory and reports the following: you can tell a lot of money has been put into renovations, the bars are sprawling and remodeled with this nice-looking tile, there are suites upstairs, bottle service — they carry Cristal — and for the bands they offer a gym, a laundry room, all kinds of nice amenities to help attract good talent. Andrew (Baboon’s frontman, also a Lake Highlands guy) looks the exact same as he did 15 years ago! And the bathrooms , they are so nice. That is Whitney’s doing, Clint told me … they made a killing these first few nights. They had 25 bartenders on. The lines were around the block. Also, I don’t recommend dealing with the parking situation, which is bad. I took Uber.
Many of the investments are part of an attempt to snag the best possible acts, Clint has told us. “I have played a ton of shows, so I have an idea of what bands and audiences want in a venue.”
I said, upon hearing my husband’s description, “It sounds like classic Deep Ellum, but for grown ups,” and he goes, “Yeah, and for grown ups who now have money.”