The Texas Theatre is a gorgeous building, laden with history and brimming with new life. The upstairs lounge, like much of the place, is done in white stucco, the plaster covering the old art deco walls and meant, some say, to change the feeling of the building where Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested. (The owners, however, point to a historical document that shows the stucco was simply an update to a 30-year-old building.) The lounge hosts art shows now, and on the first Tuesday of the month, a record club gathers to play albums on a turntable. The night I was there, a petite woman in glasses with clear frames told a short story about her life and the role of music in it. It was like a birthday party, a “this is your life” moment. Her album was The Queen Is Dead, by the Smiths, the band for late- ’80s, early-’90s teens who were arty or outsiders. Or both.
If you want to play records, you can do it downstairs, where a turntable awaits at the bar. (It’s BYOV-friendly. As in vinyl.) There’s one guy who comes in often, and when the theater is showing a classic film, he will play the soundtrack to the movie before the film starts. The bar is open mostly from Thursday through Sunday (and the first Tuesday night of the month), essentially when movies are playing. You can order and take a drink with you into the movie theater.
On a recent Friday, we stopped by the bar to meet friends and sit on a red-velveteen-ish-covered sofa. One film was playing in the theater. Another film was projected onto the wall nearby. No sound, just images. The floor tile, green and worn, was beautiful. The drinks were excellent— Moscow Mules especially that night, though the Woody Manhattan and the Scarface (with a splash of “coke”) were plenty good, too. Most people that night drank beer (four on tap), and most people seemed to be stopping by the bar for a drink on their way into the movie. During the film, the bar was quiet. A DJ was setting up, which happens regularly. By the time the main film had finished, the music had begun. It goes sometimes until 2 am.
There’s a patch of wall by the front stairs where the stucco has been removed and the original deco staircase is visible. There was some discussion in the past about restoring the Texas Theatre to its pre-Oswald deco glory. It would be prohibitively expensive. Also, perhaps, not physically possible. The stucco coverings speak as much about Dallas’ history as the original deco does. Which history should be peeled back? Which is the truest?
The theater itself opened in 1931 and was once owned by the billionaire Howard Hughes. It has closed several times. It has been vandalized and caught on fire. Animals lived in it at one point, and there were owners who couldn’t pay the mortgage and historical societies who stepped in and couldn’t pay the mortgage either. The building has narrowly avoided the wrecking ball. It is run now by movie geeks and filmmakers—Barak Epstein, Adam Donaghey, Eric Steele, and Jason Reimer—and the overall vibe is movie geek, artist, and filmmaker. They were the ones who co-founded the Oak Cliff Film Festival and who had the bar and concession stand built when they remodeled the interior to make it welcoming and hangout friendly. So many people with style—not necessarily money, but style—now hang out there.
It’s often hard to know what to do with history, what to hold on to, what to let go, what to remake. The Texas Theatre does some of all of the above. When we drive by, my daughter spells out the letters on the iconic, curved marquee: T-E-X-A-S. She likes that the letters have stars around them. I like that it’s a place with a history at once held, let go, and remade.