Jess Barr and Danny Balis Tell Us What to Expect From Their New, Retro-Inclined Deep Ellum Bar.
If the name Twilite Lounge has a sort of familiar ring to it, that's because it should.
Even before the news broke that Danny Balis (who splits time producing for KCTK 1310-AM The Ticket's afternoon drivetime show “The Hardline” and playing bass for Calhoun and The King Bucks) and Jess Barr (who plays guitar in Slobberbone and has long tended bar at the Barley House) were opening up a new bar in Deep Ellum by that name, the Twilite brand in and of itself already carries with it a certain level of cachet.
In the '80s, Dallas club owner Charlie Gilder was the proprietor of an establishment by that name, and the notorious downtown punk club played hosts to acts such as Johnny Thunders, Dead Kennedys, Butthole Surfers. It was also, according to bassist Gene Perfect, home to a 1985 gig that turned out to be only the second time GG Allin defecated onstage.
It was a short-lived spot, though. In 1986, Gilder sold the space to open the laundro-lounge Bar of Soap in Expo Park, and the new owners renamed the club The (Ob)Scene. Less than three months after that, the bar would shut its doors for good after playing host to a final show featuring Sonic Youth.
But while Balis and Barr say they most certainly chose the name Twilite Lounge in part because of its familiarity to old Deep Ellumites, it's also meant to immediately invoke up preconceptions about just what kind of place the new bar will be for out-of-towners and for those who weren't sneaking into punk shows in the '80s.
“It conjures up images of other bars across the country,” Balis says.
Like other commonly used bar names around the country — the Starlight Lounge, for instance — Balis says you'll know exactly what to expect before ever stepping foot through the door.
Over the past 20 years or so, Balis and Barr have been afforded the opportunity to play in enough bars all across the country to know exactly what kind imagery a name like Twilite Lounge is sure to invoke. In their experience, the name has “retro dive bar” written all over it — something one might find in New Orleans or Old Hollywood. And the vinyl tufted seating, the padded bar and the low-light sconces the pair plans on installing prior their early May opening will no doubt help them achieve that effect. In short, Balis says, the place will look “like a New Orleans bordello.”
But despite its niche-y decor, the two insist that Twilite Lounge won't be just another novelty bar or short-sighted cash grab. According to the partners, Twilite is a venture they've been working on for three years now, and it's something they wholeheartedly expect to be working on many years from now as well.
“If we like it,” Balis says, “then, surely, 200 to 300 other people in town will. We want to be a staple in town for 30 years.”
To that end, they've been throwing themselves fully into this project, conferring with the proprietors of some of the city's more well-established bars and venues. Friends of the pair — like Joel Morales at Adair's Saloon, Mike Schoder at Granada Theater and Josh Florence at City Tavern — have been generous with advice, Balis says.
“You can't pay for that kind of advice,” Balis adds. “We've been lucky that we've been surrounded by good people.”
Sometimes though, says Balis, knowing what is not going to work at a bar can be just as important as knowing what will. For instance? Although Balis and Barr are longtime local music vets, they don't intend to rely too heavily on live music to pay the bills. With Dada just down the street and only opening on show nights these days, that's not a fate Balis and Barr want to handcuff their own bar with. With a similar shape and layout to the nearby Black Swan Saloon (albeit with twice the square-footage), Twilite Lounge will definitely have the capability to strategically host its share of live music. But, more often than not, Balis anticipates just the occasional three- or four-piece jazz combo on the venue's small indoor stage, and nothing more aside from maybe one or two spring or fall events taking place on the bar's sizeable back patio.
Above all, though, the longtime friends know that the main thing that will lead to Twilite Lounge's failure or success is hard work. Both say they plan on being very hands-on in running the bar, from general managing the space down to bartending it.
“I've already told my wife,” Barr says, “that if I don't have a gig that night, I'm going to be at the bar working.”
While that attitude may not necessarily make his own wife the happiest, Barr and Balis both indicated that making their patrons' wives happy is another item at the top of their priority list. In other words: Twilite won't just be a spot for Ticket listeners to have their yucks. Quite the contrary, Balis and Barr both agree. Among the pair's top priorities at this point are making sure that women in particular have hooks to hang their purses on and clean bathrooms to use, and that they, first and foremost, feel comfortable when walking into the spot.
Says Balis with a laugh: “We'll always follow the girls.”