Looking Back On 10 Years Of City Tavern Being A Neighborhood Haven In Downtown Dallas.
I can’t remember the first time I visited City Tavern. But isn’t that a little fitting? For the most part, City Tavern’s just an unassuming little spot in Downtown Dallas — the kind of neighborhood bar that every neighborhood deserves, really — and, in turn, it sometimes gets lost in the shimmering spectacle of Downtown.
But, once found, it’s the kind of place that’s held in reverence. Because, no, City Tavern isn’t just some bar. Not in the slightest.
For one thing, in the late ’00s, when Deep Ellum was still in a deep rut, the Tavern served as one of the few places in the greater Downtown area where good live music could be enjoyed — sometimes acoustically on the small downstairs stage, but mostly upstairs where acts local and touring alike were welcome to come and rock out (presuming, it must be said, that the prospects of lugging their gear upstairs wasn’t an immediate turnoff). That’s a legacy that’s continued to this day too — and outside of the limits of City Tavern itself. It’s kind of remarkable how much of the local music scene has stemmed from this little spot — and beyond the musicians who’ve played there themselves. Owner Josh Florence, who was once on Road Rules and who took over City Tavern ten years ago this weekend after years spent working in the service industry, has since gone on to re-open Club Dada, launch the Homegrown Music & Arts Festival and, most recently, co-launch the upcoming Old 97’s County Fair, among other ventures.
That’s kind of incredible on its own. But perhaps lost in that chatter is the fact that City Tavern is really just an easygoing, friendly place — the kind of bar where you can lose track of time, the kind of bar where you can find yourself and the kind of bar that’s earned a 10-year run under a single owner, rare a feat as that can sometimes be in the fickle Dallas bar, restaurant and music venues realms.
So to honor that, and timed with the three-night, 10-year anniversary bash that City Tavern is throwing itself in celebration, we figured we’d reach out to various recognizable fixtures of City Tavern’s staffs past and present — y’know, the people who make it special — to see what makes the spot special in their eyes.
Alicia Coughlin: “I have worked at the Tavern for going on 11 years this May. When I turned 21, I was hired to cocktail, and I learned how to make drinks. A few months later, I was bartending. I managed for about five minutes, but it was way more fun just to bartend. When I think about my time at the Tavern, my immediate thought is ‘Wow, it’s been long time!’ But I wouldn’t change a minute. I’ve met a second family. I have so many memories there, I don’t know if I could come up with just one. A lot of them would be inappropriate to repeat — I mean, it is a bar, and it is a fun bar. Ten years in the bar business is just so impressive — especially in an area has changed so much. City Tavern would not be what it is if Josh hadn’t bought that little hole in the wall 10 years ago. He is absolutely the heart of little City Tavern.’
Thad Kuiper: “Officially, I’ve worked at City Tavern about nine years, but being a Downtown resident since 2002, I’ve been a regular at CT since it opened. A few years before Josh bought it, when Ben Tapia started booking bands, I would help out running sound. After a few months, Josh insisted on paying me. I’ve been the sound guy and stage manager ever since. Being the sound guy, the first thing I think of when I think of City Tavern is all the great music acts that cut their teeth here — Somebody’s Darling, Grant Jones, Madison King. To see them outgrow our little stage has been great. Plus, all great touring acts that have passed though! This year, during the Grammys, Josh sent me text during Chris Stapleton/Gary Clark, Jr. duet reminding they have both been on the CT stage. There are too many good stories. The very week when Josh first owned City Tavern, there was a little bar scuffle, as will happen. Josh, being the new owner, jumped right in — but, not knowing the players, who were CT regulars, he jumped in on the wrong side. I tapped him on the shoulder, ‘No, dude. Those guys are on our team.’ Then there was the night we had a packed house for King Tuff and Natural Child and the roof caught on fire during the show. It was put out quickly and the show was more packed after the fire truck left. Josh Florence is the best bar owner I’ve ever have met. He rarely says ‘no’ or asks ‘How much is this going to cost?’ When you come to him with a good idea, his first words are usually, ‘Let’s do it.’ That’s really makes City Tavern a fun place to work at. We’re all part of a team, and in the trenches together.”
Dusty Pope: “I worked with Josh at Boston’s Pizza before he bought the Tavern. I remember going in before he bought it to check it out and thinking, ‘This is exactly the bar I would want to own!’ I started working the door some time in ’09, I think. I’m pretty sure I was one of the first door guys. At some point, I started bartending and eventually became GM until summer of 2011. It was an incredibly great time working there. All the friends I made that I still hold very dear are what I think of most. From coworkers to regulars to countless musicians and even beer and liquor reps. I developed relationships working there that I’ll proudly embrace for the rest of my life. City Tavern definitely gets its power from the people. I have countless awesome memories of the place. I love nothing more than going in there and reminiscing with old friends. People remember different things, and I always love being reminded of the stuff I’ve forgotten. It’s so hard to pin down a favorite moment. I mean, I got engaged to my wife there! I’ve seen a million awesome shows there. The Somebody’s Darling album release concert comes to mind as one of the most epic nights ever. You could see and feel the upstairs floor move. Probably my favorite ‘Holy shit, that was awesome!’ moment was the time that Tim DeLaughter came in to see Binary Sunrise and ended up using our office to sign them to Good Records. That was super badass. We really thought we had arrived as a venue at that point. City Tavern absolutely embodies a sense of community. Anyone is welcome and can find a friend at a place like that. I couldn’t begin to tell you how many successful fundraisers have been held there for many different great people and causes. It’s the kind of place you hope to find when you”re visiting a city. It’s the kind of place you hope to find when you move Downtown. It’s definitely the kind of place you hope to find when you’re looking for a bartending job or a venue to play a gig. It’s the perfect neighborhood tavern. Here’s to many more anniversaries.”
Tim Daniels: “I started working at City Tavern right after Josh bought it and have been a part of it ever since. When I think of City Tavern, I think about all the lifelong friends I’ve made, and how my time there led to partnering up with Florence and being a bar owner [at Dada and Off The Record] myself. The funniest memory, to me, is the fist drink I ever had there. It was the night Josh took it over, it was a hot shot of Jägermeister, and I immediately threw it up. The fact that City Tavern has been around this long and is still going strong is a testament to Josh and his relationship with people, and the community. I’m proud of him, and I’m proud to say I was a part of it.”
Photo by Jeremy Hughes.