Built in 1942, The Kessler Theater survived a tornado, fire, and being vacant for over 30 years to become one of the premier small music venues in the US. Originally built as a small movie theater, owner Edwin Cabaniss bought and renovated the property in 2009/2010. Artistic director Jeff Liles books an eclectic mix of bands, many of which rarely perform in a venue as intimate as The Kessler. The Kessler has a reputation among musicians and patrons for amazing sound, thanks to the work of sound engineer Paul Quigg.
The Kessler is 1 mile west of the Bishop Arts restaurant and shopping district in the North Oak Cliff area of Dallas. The venue is 4 miles from Dallas Convention Center in downtown Dallas, and 24 miles from DFW airport.
Various bus lines serve the area, including a free service that loops from Oak Cliff to Downtown. Check the DART schedule for more information.
The free service is not 24 hour.
There is a small lot just east of the venue, and an abundance of on-street parking with no meters in the residential neighborhoods surrounding the venue. Even at the most crowded shows, it should be no more than a 5 minute walk to the venue after parking.
Avoid the nose-in parking on Davis. Limited visibility makes it dangerous to back out into oncoming traffic.
Park in the neighborhoods on the south side of Davis to avoid having to cross the busy street (but be respectful of noise after the show).
Food and drink
The Kessler has a full kitchen they use for catering private events. Before and during shows, the venue has a menu of bar food and specials, not a full dinner menu. There is a full bar at the front of the venue with some seating, and a second bar upstairs with a small lounge area.
There are specials listed on the chalkboard behind the bar. They sell out fast.
Other restaurants in walking distance
Norma’s Café is the original 1956 Diner with great pie. Closes at 8pm
Nova Gastro-pub food with good drinks and local beer selection. Nova serves food until Midnight! Open until 2am.
Other local favorites to consider in the area (within a short drive)
Ten Bells Tavern Late night menu. Great beers on tap. Big patio.
Lockhart Smokehouse Will sell out on busy nights by 7ish. Line can be 20+ Minutes.
El Corazon Happy hour until 7 Tuesday – Friday. House tequila is excellent and only $2.50 a shot at Happy Hour
Dude, Sweet Chocolate Closes at 6pm on Sunday. Free samples of everything. Consider ordering on-line instead of leaving what you bought in a hot car.
Seating at the Show
The Kessler Theater’s capacity is 350 seated to a maximum of 500 standing. There are 75 seats in the upper gallery, all arranged at an angle for good viewing on the “U” shaped balcony that surrounds the lower level, and several rows of tiered theater seats (from the original theater) at the very back of the balcony facing the stage. All seats have excellent sight lines.
On the main level, the seating configuration will change depending on the band. Some shows will have a dance floor in the front third, then seats to the back. Other shows will have seating, including VIP reserved tables, all the way to the lip of the stage. The stage is high enough for excellent site lines. There are two raised VIP booths on either side of the sound board that hold 10+ people There are “standing room” areas along the lower walls, and a few standing areas behind the seats along the sides of the upper gallery.
There are 10-15 bar stool height seats just in front of the VIP booths and sound board. These have good views and make it easy to get to the bar between acts. Slide the chairs out a few inches so the shelf behind the chair doesn’t hit you in the back.
How to watch the show
Do not talk during the show, other than between songs. Do not shout out songs you want to hear, unless the band asks you to. It’s not that kind of place.
Arrive for the opening act and claim a seat. There are no reserved seats except VIP tables and booths. If you don’t go early enough, you may not get prime seats or seats together.
Jon Daniel is a new contributor to craveDFW. His passions are music, food and coffee.