Legendary Houston live music destination Dan Electro is getting its shine back
The faded sign at 1031 East 24th Street featuring a guitar-chasing piranha may look like it’s seen better days, but a peek inside the gritty Heights property that’s home to longtime live music destination Dan Electros Guitar Bar reveals that this place is still buzzing.
After 35 years of serving the Heights neighborhood and countless live music-loving locals, Dan Electros is experiencing a renaissance under the watchful eye of its new owners, commercial real estate developer Alex Jackson, and attorney-turned-hospitality professional Will Thomas. This is the first partnership of its kind for Houston natives whose friendship goes back to grade school — but who aren’t familiar with the hospitality scene.
As a commercial real estate developer, Jackson has had a hand in reviving many of Montrose’s restaurants, bars and businesses. In the past five years, he has developed the properties Lightyears Wine Bar, Southern Yankee Crafthouse and the Park JJ Hotel. He also saved a former dry cleaning establishment from demolition by converting it into a cool California space that now houses Vibrant restaurant.
“I love fixing up old properties,” Jackson admits, noting that most of the structures he acquires are considered demolition. It aims to give them another chance at life. “By preserving these old buildings, we are preserving their history and creating something unique for the city.”
Thomas shares this sentiment and, for his part, brings a wealth of experience to the table. The licensed attorney, who is no longer practicing, is co-owner of a bar called El Cucuy in New Orleans and, until last March, co-owned White Oak Music Hall.
When the property housing the Dan Electros hit the market, the couple saw an opportunity. “The bar wasn’t really run as well as it should have been,” Thomas says. “It was a wonderful, old space – like a diamond in the rough, with a lot of history. We didn’t want to see houses there, and this seemed like a great opportunity to save and revitalize it.”
Since its first opening in 1988, the stage at Dan Electros has been graced by artists such as Billy Givens, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Richard Gere, and has served as a welcoming space for local bands from across all genres of music. The men, who had grown up frequenting live music pubs such as Fitzgerald’s and Walter’s (both now closed), felt particularly overprotective of the storied bar. “We couldn’t stand the idea of another music venue going out,” Jackson says. “We knew this was something special.”
In an effort to maintain its rustic charm, Jackson and Thomas made few changes to the space when they took ownership. “The eclecticism and coolness are already there,” says Thomas. “A lot of what we did was just fixing broken parts.”
As part of the renovation, they upgraded the sound system, installed new lighting and added eight television screens. The 2,500-square-foot space still has tables and booths spread around the stage, and a colorful neon sign depicting the bar’s signature piranha as a backdrop when bands perform. The walls are decorated with posters of old art and music by long-time patrons, and the smell of buttered popcorn continues to flood the room from the antique popcorn machine at the entrance.
A highlight of the property is the 5,000-square-foot gated courtyard, which Jackson and Thomas renovated into a festive gathering place. The lively outdoor area features more seating and a large projection screen, and hosts pop-up food vendors, such as Willow’s BBQ, which currently holds a weekly steak night. The custom second level, accessed from the courtyard, reveals an 800-square-foot lounge that Jackson and Thomas decided to use as a private event space.
With a full beverage program that includes local craft beers, wines, seasonal cocktails and rotating libations, Dan Electros fits the bill of being a reliable neighborhood bar. Furthermore, it is one of the few destinations in Houston that features live music every night of the week. A lineup of mostly local talent is advertised on the bar’s website and social channels, with plenty of genres considered, including bluegrass, country, jazz, blues, hardcore, funk, and rock, among others, and most performances don’t require any… Cover charge. “It’s a place that focuses on music and bands, but it’s also a place where you can have a drink and watch football,” Jackson says.
The guys have their work cut out for them, but they’re happy to see the community embracing a new era of Dan Electros, all while a new crop of talent gets a chance to take to the Houston stage. “Getting to know people who have been visiting for years, and hearing their stories, encouraged us,” Thomas says. “It’s great to see this bar back to what it used to be. We want to keep music alive in the area.”