Wanted: Deep-Pocketed Jazz Lover to Save Balcony Club

I can’t count the number of times I stumbled out of the Balcony Club late on a Saturday night in college. A recent transplant from New York, it was one of my first Dallas finds, and it delivered just right roughly worn,  dimly-lit, smokey mood with extra-strong drinks, a good rotation of musicians, and lots of homesick-pricking nostalgia. There aren’t enough jazz venues in this city, a crime considering what happens a few miles north of us at UNT. So, if you love the art form and always dreamed of owning a hip bar, here’s your opportunity (h/t Art and Seek):

Revered Dallas Jazz Venue Needs Financial Backers To Survive

Dallas, TX – The Balcony Club, one of Dallas’ premier music venues, and a Lakewood cultural institution for 2 decades, is searching for investors or a buyer to ensure its continued survival and ongoing identity.  Owner Tommy Stanco has been fighting deep financial difficulties for several years, precipitated by an incident involving the club’s fire alarm which necessitated massive unanticipated expenditures.  Without an infusion of capital, the club will face a lockout by its landlord on September 14th.

Located at 1825 Abrams Rd. above the Lakewood Theater, the club came into being in 1988 as part of a major renovation of the theater undertaken by Dallas philanthropists Burke and Jo Barr.  Mr. Stanco was employed there as a bartender until he purchased the club in 1991.  He has kept club’s atmosphere largely intact over the years while expanding upon the original piano bar concept and shifting towards its current focus on jazz.

Balcony stages at least two live music acts every day (styles are diverse, but the late act is always jazz), and never charges a cover.  The club’s booking strategy involves regularly scheduled performances by house bands composed of some of Dallas’ finest working musicians, exceptional performers who earn their keep playing weddings, restaurants, corporate events and the like.  They adore their (not particularly well-paying) dates at Balcony Club for the opportunity it provides them to perform, for a receptive audience, the songs and styles that speak to the passion for music which caused them to chose it as a career.  Superior performances ensue.

Among the most noteworthy of Balcony’s house musicians was Dallas pianist, vocalist, and saxophonist “Big Al” Dupree, who performed at Balcony 5 nights a week from 1994 until his death in 2003.  During this time, he rose to international prominence with the release, at the tender age of 76, of his first album, “Big Al Swings The Blues” in 1999.

The national financial downturn of recent years, however, has struck the club hard, causing revenues to plummet to a level barely sufficient to cover operating costs.  Moreover, when the club became disconnected from the Lakewood Theater’s fire alarm system in June of 2009, theater management required eight days to effect repairs, during which time the club was forced to have a Fire Marshal on site at all times, at a cost of $70 per hour – a drain on club finances from which it has yet to recover.

There appears to be good reason for confidence about the club’s long term future, assuming it can overcome its current challenges.  “Sales have increased in recent months as the economy has perked up,” says Mr. Stanco, “and with the upcoming entry of Mi Cocina Restaurant into the space now occupied by Matt’s Rancho Martinez, this entire shopping complex is certain to experience a renaissance.”

Mr. Stanco envisions two possible scenarios for restoring the club to solvency.  One is that an investor will emerge willing to infuse approximately $20,000 into the club in exchange for a share of ownership, which will allow the club to pay off its arrears and give it leverage to negotiate a long term lease with the landlord, significantly enhancing its value.  The second is to find a buyer to purchase the club outright, which Mr. Stanco is willing to do should he become convinced that said buyer is committed to maintaining the club’s identity and its relationship with employees and house musicians, some of whom have worked there, or performed there on a weekly basis, for many years.

He is willing to consider many other scenarios, however, and will entertain any offer which he believes will lead to the continued existence of the club in something similar to its current form.  “Balcony has always been a labor of love for me, and if I have to relinquish it to save it, I will,” he says.  “My financial well-being is less important to me than continuing the magical tradition that has animated this club for decades.”

Arthur Riddles, a Dallas pianist who has anchored Sunday nights on the Balcony since 1998, has similar sentiments.  “The outstanding musicians who have made Balcony Club their home over the years are too numerous to count,” he says.  “There is a special atmosphere, a bond between musicians of all ages, the employees, and the clientele, that is not found anywhere else in the Metroplex.”

Potential investors and buyers should direct inquiries to Mr. Stanco at 214.320.0884.

About Balcony Club

Balcony Club, located at 1825 Abrams Rd. above the Lakewood Theater, is one of Dallas’s premier music venues.  It has won many awards over the years, including an appearance on Esquire Magazine’s list of the Best Bars in America in 2010, and repeated recognition as Dallas’ Best Jazz Bar in the Dallas Observer’s Best of Dallas Awards.  It may also be the best date bar in North Texas, although this has not been empirically verified. More information is available by emailing thomaspstanco@sbcglobal.net or by calling 214.320.0884.