Bar Belmont

When I first moved to Dallas, over thirty years ago, I lived with some friends in Kessler Park, in Oak Cliff for a while until I saved enough money to get an apartment. I was working downtown and rode the bus to work. Living in the city was a big deal for me and I remember the quiet excitement of the bus ride to work. It came across the Commerce Street Viaduct into the canyons of skyscrapers after passing through the triple underpass and Dealy Plaza. To get to Commerce, the bus would drive up Sylvan Avenue.

In 1981 this was a very distressed area. That was a real shame because this part of “The Cliff” has a lot going for it. It’s close to downtown and is really the only part of the city with any kind of hills at all. It’s an old, beautiful part of the city. But thirty years ago, looking out that bus window, it was obvious that a long walk on those sidewalks might very well be fatal.

At Sylvan and Fort Worth Avenue there was a hotel called the Belmont. It was barely visible from the street because it sat up on top of a steep little rocky hill. It had a cool-looking retro deco office and a string of bungalows snaking across the crest of the hill. I never drove up there, but it was obvious that the place would have the best view of downtown in the city. It was run down and I wasn’t sure if it was even open. At any rate, it would not be a place anyone would want to stop – the neighborhood was frightening.

I remember thinking that it was a shame that little hotel was wasting away in such a state. I would fantasize about how smart and hip a property it could be with a little updating and a strong and visible security force. I was always thinking and talking about trashed out places that I thought should be fixed up. People used to make fun of me when I would talk about stuff like that. Nobody understood the potential I saw in those run down places. I felt like an idiot.

Now as I tumble into oldfartdom I realize I was right all along (the realization comes too late to do any good, of course). Oak Cliff is now the hot place to be in Dallas, and with the impending opening of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge that Renaissance/development/gentrification is only going to gain speed.

At the forefront of this change is that little hotel I used to stare at out of the bus windows. The Belmont has been rebuilt into a cute little boutique hotel and everybody who is anybody stays there. An upscale bar-b-que joint that specializes in local foods, called Smoke, is attached to the hotel and has become one of the most buzzworthy eateries in the city.

I really wanted to see this place.

On Sunday, Candy and I ate lunch in the Bishop Arts District and then driving back we planned on stopping at the Belmont and checking out the Bar Belmont and its view of downtown. The Belmont did not disappoint. They have done a fantastic job of updating the property while maintaining the the Art Deco retro-cool feel about the place.

The bar has a great patio. Part of it is covered and part is outside. It would be a fantastic place to hang out on one of the three or four days of good weather that Dallas gets every year. Today it was too cold, so we went into the comfy indoor part of the bar.

There was a knot of folks in the lower part of the bar unpacking guitars and arranging chairs and benches. While we sat up by the bar the crowd slowly began to grow with more and more musicians showing up and setting up. There were a half-dozen guitars, a few dobros, a banjo, a standup bass, a couple drummers, and a fiddle player. They started playing and singing.

It was fantastic. These people were very, very good. It was the best time – there were maybe ten musicians and about six of us listening. A free concert in an intimate setting with more performers than fans.

During a break, we found out what was going on. This was the Sunday Afternoon Charli’s Jam. Charli Alexander had founded this acoustic jam about thirty years ago. It has moved around from location to location and has now settled into the Bar at the Belmont. It is very well known and people have traveled from all over the world to play with these folks. There is a core of folks but Charli said it really varies from week to week, with different instruments, players, and styles of music. Today it was mostly traditional Texas honkey-tonk, with some folk and pop-folk thrown in (I’d love to hear some blues).

I loved listening to the jam. The core was arranged in a rough square and they would move around the square with each musician in turn choosing what they wanted to perform with the others filling in. During a part of each song they would take turns playing solos, with the original performer calling out the solo players in turn. They were very good, surprisingly tight. It was obvious that most of them were very used to each other and were able to anticipate what was coming next.

The room was filled with portraits of musicians, with David Bowie holding court over the mantle. Willie Nelson was on the opposite wall, a rough, glaring, black and white portrait. Everybody teased one singer (with an amazing bass voice) after he sang “Crazy” – telling him that it took some courage to sing that song with Willie looking on. “He’s happy as long as he gets his royalties,” was the answer.

They talked about a particularly difficult chord on the dobro. “That’s hard on the guitar, but even tougher on this,” the dobro player said. “At least Nancy doesn’t have to deal with that,” he said, referring to the fiddle player. “Yeah, but she has to worry about her own problems, like no frets,” someone else pointed out.

Candy and I had such a good time, we sat there and listened for three hours. Charli said they liked having people come out to listen, “It makes us play a lot better.” She said they are there every Sunday at three o’clock. I guarantee we will be going back.

I think we were the only fans to stay for the whole time. A few people came and went – some friends of the musicians. A few guests came to the Belmont desk to check out and stayed for a drink and a few songs. One scraggly looking guy stood by the desk for a couple of minutes. He looked familiar, but I didn’t pay much attention. When the song ended, he was gone, but the guitar player said, “Hey, that was Kinky Friedman standing there.”

So I think of that run-down old fashioned string of shabby bungalows up on that hill thirty years ago and what it has become today. I think of a young kid excited about riding a bus through a bad neighborhood in a big city. Now, it’s changed, but it’s still the same. Everybody had such a good time – the musicians in the jam, the hotel guests, even the folks working at the hotel. Sometimes it can come back.

The great Dallas bluesman, Mick Tinsley, playing his killer version of a Mark Curry number – “Raining All Over Me”. Recorded at Charli’s Sunday Jam at the Belmont Hotel in Dallas, Texas June 2010

The street entrance to the Bar Belmont

Charli's Sunday Afternoon Acoustic Jam

The front desk entrance to the Art Deco Belmont Hotel, with Smoke in the background.

Playing the Dobro

The view of Downtown Dallas from the Belmont Hotel

A Girl Walks Into a Bar: Bar Belmont

The mall is a museum

Hotel Belmont

Exploring the Boroughs

Advertisements

42 responses to “Bar Belmont

      • Bill, Here’s a song I wrote about those cats….

        Well There’s a place that we go

        Oh, every week or so

        A place where you can lay your burden down

        For twenty years or so…

        People that you’d like to know, show up at

        Charlie Alexander’s Sunday Afternoon Acoustic Jam

        (Jam)

        There’s all kinds of guitars,

        There’s even violins

        Harmonicas harmoniously sweet…

        Accordion, a piana, percussions and even slide all come to

        Charlie Alexander’s Sunday Afternoon Acoustic Jam

        (Jam)

        Friendly hearts are singing

        Surely makin’ a real good time

        A place where you can rest your worried mind

        So come on in and sit

        Sing a number — Pick -a-little-bit at

        Charlie Alexander’s Sunday Afternoon Acoustic Jam

        (Jam)

        There’s a place that we go

        Oh, every week or so

        A place where you can lay some music down

        Make a friend, Take a lover

        You’ll be glad that you discovered the folks at

        Charlie Alexander’s Sunday Afternoon Acoustic Jam (Repeat out)

  1. ahhhh, what a treat it is to see that Charli’s Sunday Jam is recognized and appreciated. She and others have made it a Dallas staple for people who love to make music in a comfortable and casual surrounding. The talent and camaraderie runs deep.
    Thanks Mr Chance for your foresight and riding that bus to work!

  2. Hi Bill, Thanks for liking today’s post. On my first bounceback visit to your site, this is what you have waiting for me–I have played in acoustic jams around the world and I felt like I had come home here! Our acoustic jam here in Omaha died a couple of years ago and no one seems to be picking up the thread. I really miss it and would love to jump in to another, the sooner the better. Thanks for this! -Gary

    • Gary,
      The folks at the Belmont – Charli Alexander’s Acoustic Jam – seemed to be welcoming to anybody that wanted to join in. If you are down in Dallas any time, I think they are there every Sunday at three in the afternoon. Charli Alexander is on facebook – I don’t know of any other way to contact the folks in the jam to confirm. Maybe the front desk at the Belmont would be a good contact.

  3. Pingback: Smoke | Bill Chance

  4. Thank you for the like on my blog! Like the article. Here in the Sierra Foothills there are a number of places that need some renovation. The place that actually houses the “hanging tree” has been condemned. Such a loss considering it is a historic site.

  5. Last time I was in Dallas (except for being stuck at the airport for 3 days [out of a 6-day Easter family visit] with my 2-yr-old son after our flights to Illinois were canceled due to aircraft issues and tornado touchdowns on the tarmac–but I’m not bitter…), I was in IBM’s marketing training program. That time now seems like someone else’s life. My brother-in-law lives in Austin, and to hear him tell it, that’s the only music-making place in Texas. Now I can see he was stretching the truth. :o) I’m picking up the violin again after a 20-year hiatus. It is pure joy.

  6. Thank you, Bill, for stopping by my blog (through). I’m glad you liked it. My wife and I stayed a couple of days in San Antonio. WE went to River walk ,listened to the Mayan group playing there music. We enjoyed it alot. Having played the guitar off & on over the years, I would have liked to stop by and listen to the group you were talking about.

  7. I just love the way towns are revamping their downtowns. Can’t wait to see what Downtown St. Louis has reworked when I visit. Thanks for visiting my blog and good luck on your publishing. I’m debating whether I should do that, but at the moment I’m enjoying struggling with my script writing and blogging. Regards.

  8. Hi Bill, thanks for stopping by. I enjoyed your easy, descriptive way of writing. You made the transition of past to present an interesting read. Look forward to more of your blogs in the future.

  9. Thank you for your tour of Oak Cliff, and a memorable time at Charli’s. Oldfartdome was good. I’ve never heard that one before.

    And thanks for your thoughts on my poem Moon.

  10. Looks like a great time! It sounds alot like the group of street musicians I saw at Portland’s Saturday Market – sometimes the best music doesn’t cost the price of a ticket – music is so priceless 🙂

  11. Places that we loved once have a life of their owns. Cities grow and go down the hill. From my experience these favorite haunts when we leave and our youth behind, also die. I suppose the mistake was that we grow up. Even looking at them again we require rose tinted glasses. It is not quite the same.

  12. Pingback: Got Pupusa? | Bill Chance

  13. Being a neighbor of Dallas (Tulsa) and having family there (son, dgtr-in-law and grandson) I have connections. I remember when my son first moved to the city and how he instantly love the DT area. Through him I’ve watched the changes and the rebirth. It is heartening.

    As a published author, editor and writing instructor, I also must comment on your writing talents. So well written. Pulled the reader right into the scene. Congrats on a job well done.

  14. I love how you begin this post. I’m the same way. I see potential in places, houses, buildings, streets, etc. ALL THE TIME. It’s a very creative and positive sort of gene, I think. I love your enthusiasm for that area.
    I was considering a move to the Dallas “area” are there any really nice areas I should consider? What do you know about Southlake and Flowermound?

  15. It is so fascinating to explore a city and its people, including the districts and neighbourhoods that appear lost but actually have potential so long as the right people actually care about it.

    Nice post. Keep exploring.

  16. Pingback: What I learned this week, June 15, 2012 | Bill Chance

  17. Pingback: Sail on Silver Girl, Sail on By | Bill Chance

  18. Pingback: Brewery Ride | Bill Chance

  19. Pingback: Music In the Used Book Store | Bill Chance

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s