The faded sign at 1031 East 24th Street depicting a piranha chasing a guitar might look like it’s seen better days, but one look inside the gritty Heights property that’s long housed live music destination Dan Electros Guitar Bar, reveals that this place still rocks.
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. It’s the first such partnership for the Houston natives, whose friendship dates back to grade school, but they’re hardly strangers to hospitality.
As a commercial real estate developer, Jackson has had a hand in the revitalization of many restaurants, bars and businesses in Montrose. Over the past five years, he has developed the Lightyear Wine Bar, Southern Yankee Crafthouse and Park JJ Hotel properties. He also saved a former dry cleaner from demolition, transforming it into the breezy California space that now houses Vibrant restaurant.
“I like to fix up older properties,” Jackson admits, citing that most of the structures he acquires are considered to be torn down. He aims to give them a new life. “By keeping these older buildings around, we’re preserving their history and creating something unique about the city.”
Thomas shares this sentiment and in turn brings a wealth of experience to the table. The licensed attorney, who no longer practices, co-owns El Cucuy Bar in New Orleans and, until last March, co-owned the White Oak Music Hall.
When the property that housed Dan Electros came on the market, the two saw an opportunity. “The bar was really not being run properly,” says Thomas. “It was a great, old space – like a diamond in the rough, with a lot of history. We didn’t want to see townhouses there and this seemed like a great opportunity to save it and revitalize it.”
Since it first opened in 1988, the Dan Electros stage has been graced by acts such as Billy Givens, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Richard Gere, and serves as a welcome venue for local bands from a variety of musical genres. Men who grew up frequenting live music bars like Fitzgeralds and Walter’s (both now closed) felt particularly wary of the legendary establishment. “We couldn’t bear the thought of going out to another musical venue,” says Jackson. “We knew it was something special.”
And in an effort to preserve its rustic charm, Jackson and Thomas made few changes to the space when they took ownership. “Eclecticism and coolness already existed,” says Thomas. “A lot of what we did was just fix the 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 features tables and booths dotted 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 art and vintage music posters donated by longtime customers, and the swoon-worthy aroma of buttery popcorn continues to flood the room from an old-fashioned popcorn machine perched at the entrance.
A major draw of the property is its 5,000-square-foot fenced-in patio, which Jackson and Thomas remodeled to be a festive gathering spot. 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 hosts a weekly steak night. A dedicated second level, accessible from the patio, 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 beer, wine, seasonal cocktails and rotating frozen items, Dan Electros qualifies as a reliable neighborhood bar. Plus, it’s one of the few destinations in Houston that features live music every night of the week. A lineup of mostly local talent is announced on the bar’s website and social channels, taking into account many genres, including bluegrass, country, jazz, blues, fold, funk and rock, among others, and most shows don’t require a cover charge. “It’s a place that’s focused on music and bands, but it’s also a place where you can drink and watch football,” says Jackson.
The guys have had a lot of work to do, but they’re excited to see how the community embraces a new era of Dan Electros as a new crop of talent gets the chance to take the stage in Houston. “Meeting the people who have been visiting us for years and hearing their stories motivates us,” says Thomas. “It’s great to see this bar getting back to what it used to be. We want to keep music alive in the area.”