Deep El­lum Hues

Col­or­ful shades of old and new paint a vi­brant pic­ture of Dal­las’ his­toric epi­cen­ter of art and cul­ture


Ex­plor­ing Deep El­lum, from the neigh­bor­hood's early artis­tic roots to its thriv­ing so­cial scene to­day. BY JAIMIE SIEGLE

If Deep El­lum were a house, it’d be the fixer-up­per type: The kind that, you’d tell peo­ple, “has good bones”—but could be flipped, ren­o­vated and sold over the ask­ing price with a lit­tle bit of TLC.

While the lyrics of the le­gendary Amer­i­can folk song “Deep El­lum Blues”—" when you go down to Deep El­lum/to have a lit­tle fun"— per­formed by lo­cal blues icon Bill Neely and the Grate­ful Dead, among oth­ers—de­pict a gritty scene com­prised of vagabonds, gam­blers, mu­si­cians and char­ac­ters from the un­der­belly of the city’s pop­u­la­tion in gen­eral, long gone are Deep El­lum’s days in the shad­ows.

Once the an­chor of un­der­ground cul­ture in Dal­las, out­laws like Bon­nie and Clyde as well as blues mu­si­cians in­clud­ing Neely, Robert John­son and Blind Lemon Jef­fer­son were fix­tures of the neigh­bor­hood in the early 1900s. In the late 1930s and for years af­ter, the area be­came an in­dus­trial ware­house district, hous­ing the assem­bly of Ford Model T ve­hi­cles and WWII am­mu­ni­tion.

The con­struc­tion of the North Central Ex­press­way (also known as Highway US-75) was the nail in the cof­fin for the com­mu­nity, ef­fec­tively cut­ting off ac­cess into down­town and ren­der­ing Deep El­lum a ghost town—a far cry from the hot­bed of all the ac­tion it once was in its hey­day. In the nineties, Deep El­lum still strug­gled to re­main rel­e­vant, and was seen as an un­safe area to avoid.

For mu­sic fans, venues like Trees on Elm Street (yes, the one where Kurt Cobain gets into a fight with a bouncer dur­ing a Nir­vana show) and the Gypsy Tea Room per­pet­u­ated the tra­di­tion of arts and cul­ture set forth by Neely, John­son and Jef­fer­son. Trees closed its doors. Gypsy Tea Room closed, too.

It wasn’t un­til the last few years that the live mu­sic legacy was truly re­cov­ered, and then some. Trees re­opened. The own­ers then opened a much larger mu­sic venue a few blocks away (in that for­mer WWII am­mu­ni­tion ware­house) called the Bomb Fac­tory, to join the on­slaught of live mu­sic out­posts now thriv­ing in the area: Three Links, Club Dada, Adair’s Sa­loon, RBC, The Door, Twilite Lounge ... and the list goes on. Venues like The Free Man, Ar­moury D.E. and The Nines of­fer both a live stage and sus­te­nance, with dining op­tions rang­ing from brunch and happy hour to late night eats.

Now with 42 restau­rants (and count­ing), Deep El­lum is primed for a re­nais­sance. Just over half of down­town Dal­las res­i­dents say it’s their neigh­bor­hood of choice for “play” time and recre­ation, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent sur­vey pub­lished by Down­town Dal­las, Inc. At­trac­tions like brew­eries, pub­lic art and events like the Deep El­lum Arts Fes­ti­val have spurred growth in the upand-com­ing neigh­bor­hood.

“A year ago, Deep El­lum was a much dif­fer­ent place,” said Zan­der Reid, lo­cal DJ and founder of Dal­las-based nightlife com­mu­nity PRIME, which books dozens of lo­cal and tour­ing artists at mul­ti­ple venues through­out the city each year.

The Nines on Main Street is one of them, a dance club that’s evolved along with the neigh­bor­hood in which it re­sides. Now a des­ti­na­tion for happy hour cock­tails, chef-driven eats and a di­verse cal­en­dar of events, from elec­tronic mu­sic nights to drag shows and vis­ual art per­for­mances.

The Nines co-owner Allen Faulkner, who's lived in Deep El­lum for more than two decades who also owns the tat­too re­moval shop across the street from The Nines, said there are tons of rea­sons to love the neigh­bor­hood, es­pe­cially now. “It’s full of life,” he said.

“Here, you can walk past three venues and hear three com­pletely dif­fer­ent styles of mu­sic.”

As a cre­ative-minded busi­ness owner who sits on the board of the Deep El­lum Com­mu­nity As­so­ci­a­tion, he’s seen the highs and the dis­mal lows of the neigh­bor­hood, and sees both sides of the spec­trum: That of the artists’ com­mu­nity, which doesn’t want its au­then­tic­ity to be sti­fled by, for lack of a bet­ter term, gen­tri­fi­ca­tion in the name of cap­i­tal­ism; and that of the busi­ness owner, who sees the first res­i­den­tial tower in the neigh­bor­hood as an op­por­tu­nity to reach a whole new mar­ket—that of the twenty- and thirty-some­things, who are look­ing to im­bibe both cul­ture and craft cock­tails while en­joy­ing chef-pre­pared flat­breads and char­cu­terie.

“It’s a great area for com­merce,” Faulkner ex­plained. Galleries like Kirk Hopper Fine Art and Ket­tle Art, unique bars and clubs that are as lo­cal as it gets (“At [Black Swan Sa­loon], Gabe makes the best cock­tails”), and a com­mu­nity that’s open to ex­per­i­ment­ing with pub­lic ini­tia­tives such as the 42 Mu­rals art project. Ad­di­tion­ally, it’s the ac­ces­si­bil­ity that Faulkner said res­i­dents like him­self, as well as vis­i­tors, find ap­peal­ing. “It’s the most walk­a­ble neigh­bor­hood in Dal­las,” Faulkner said, de­spite be­ing in a metropoli­tan area that’s never been the most bike- nor pedes­trian-friendly. You’ll find all walks of life and hear ev­ery mu­sic genre de­pend­ing on which day of the week it is; and de­spite Austin, Texas’ nick­name as the “Live Mu­sic Cap­i­tal of the World,” Dal­l­a­sites would ar­gue that the tal­ent is just as ro­bust; ad­di­tion­ally, the di­ver­sity of entertainment (from a con­sumer per­spec­tive) is even more so.

“Here, you can walk past three dif­fer­ent venues and hear three com­pletely dif­fer­ent styles of mu­sic,” Austin, Texas na­tive and re­cent Dal­las res­i­dent Shree Tri­pathi said, a mu­si­cian/lo­cal DJ who works with Reid to book artists and events at venues in­clud­ing The Nines.

One thing Deep El­lum has never been known as (un­til now, of course) is a re­tail des­ti­na­tion. Last fall, lo­cal bou­tique Jade & Clover—which fea­tures the first suc­cu­lent bar and in­ven­tory from re­gional and lo­cal la­bels—joined re­tail­ers such as Life of Ri­ley, El­lu­ments and in­die book­store Deep Vel­lum that are put­ting the area on the map for shop­pers look­ing for unique gifts or sou­venirs. Giselle Rugge­berg, who owns Jade & Clover, said a sub­stan­tial amount of traf­fic from the store al­ready comes from out-of-town­ers; Reid said there are mul­ti­ple in­ter­est­ing fac­tors that ex­plain the “come­back hype” sur­round­ing the neigh­bor­hood.

“[Deep El­lum] is a high-traf­fic, eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble lo­ca­tion that tourists and cre­atives alike are ex­plor­ing, and it al­ready has this this legacy of cre­ativ­ity in it,” he said. “That in­di­cates growth, and [it] gives peo­ple the op­por­tu­nity to be ex­posed to some­thing new that they might end up lov­ing.”

Sure, you might not like ev­ery­thing; but from Texas rock ‘n’ roll to EDM, funk and heavy metal, there’s a genre of mu­sic to suit your per­sonal tastes in Deep El­lum. “My ad­vice is to walk down Elm Street or around the area and see what looks or sounds in­ter­est­ing,” Reid said.

Nearly 100 restau­rants opened in down­town Dal­las last year, ac­cord­ing to the Down­town Dal­las sur­vey, with many more slated to open this spring. While fa­vorites like All Good Cafe, Un­cle Uber’s Sam­mich Shop, An­gry Dog, Anvil Pub and 24-hour break­fast spots like Buzzbrews and Cafe Brazil have re­mained dining sta­ples, new kids on the block such as Stirr, Stonedeck Pizza Pub and Brick and Bones are el­e­vat­ing the culi­nary scene, along with restau­rants like Chef Matt McCal­lis­ter’s South­ern-in­flu­enced restau­rant Fil­a­ment.

“I like the fact that we’re put­ting in more restau­rants,” Faulkner said. As for The Nines, it re­mains one of the only of­fi­cial “dance hall” venues in Deep El­lum. “We’re a bar that serves food, not a restau­rant that serves as a club,” he said. And amidst so many ren­o­va­tions and im­prove­ments to the neigh­bor­hood, the artis­tic, com­mu­nity vibe that Deep El­lum venues such as The Nines are known for is one con­stant that hope­fully won’t change.

Jade & Clover

Wit’s End

Emporium Pies

Elm Street, Deep El­lum

“Akard & Elm, 1938” by Haylee Ryan



The Nines

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