by Judy Chamberlain
More than two decades ago, Dallas resident Tommy Stanco, an avid gourmet cook and former professional children’s entertainer, combined his love of hospitality and music to create an aura that would transform Lakewood’s Balcony Club from a simple piano bar to a haven for live music and Texas-sized camaraderie featuring as many as 70 bands each month.
Stanco – who went to work at The Balcony Club as a bartender on Valentine’s Day 1990 and bought the place from original owners Burke and Jo Barr – has been its sole owner for over twenty years. Recently, he added his own band to the roster of regulars on the club’s calendar.
While several live music venues in the area have closed recently, The Balcony Club is still going strong. This month, the tiny venue with the big following celebrates its twenty-fifth year in business with nightly drink specials; an official celebration is slated for December 13.From reggae to American roots music and R & B, Stanco and longtime manager Todd Buckley offer something for everyone, although the emphasis is on jazz. Happy hour entertainment begins at 5 p.m. nightly, and the late-night jazz bands often play until 2 a.m.
The club, which sits atop the iconic Lakewood Theater, has become something of an icon itself. It’s weathered hail storms, theater closings – once, for as long as three years – economic challenges and changing times in which live music has been overtaken by DJ’s, karaoke and a loud, frenetic club du jour mentality. In 2010, Esquire Magazine named The Balcony Club to its list of Best Bars in America, on a short list of “best bars to take a woman.” It’s not so easy to find a place where one can bring a date, listen to music and carry on a conversation.
Coincidentally, the Lakewood neighborhood of Dallas is on the upswing. Re-gentrification in the area has produced the arrival of a brand spanking new Mi Cocina directly next door to the club, valet parking and all. The Balcony Club serves no food, but many nearby restaurants will deliver.
The Balcony Club’s crowd is a study in harmonious contrast. Out-of-town visitors and tuxedo-clad Highland Park kids fresh from a wedding reception mingle with regulars on the patio or at the bar. If you hang out at the Balcony Club long enough, you’ll run into dozens of people you know.
Stanco, whose grandfather played drums in Tom Mix’s Wild West Show, is dedicated to providing entertainment that spans genres and engages multiple generations. He credits the club’s longevity to a collaborative effort of teamwork and says, “Over the years, so many friends and strangers have stepped in to help. The Balcony Club is really bigger than all of us, and we’re grateful to still be here.”
CraveDFW contributor Judy Chamberlain will be performing at the Balcony Club on December 7 and 29 – 10pm to help celebrate this marvelous occasion.