When Gas Monkey Bar and Grill opened last September in Dallas, success was inevitable. The business was inadvertently marketed for more than a year via Discovery Channel reality TV show Fast N’ Loud, where boisterous owner and gearhead Richard Rawlings told an international audience about his newest venture in Dallas.
Gas Monkey is a rustic biker bar with sprawling patios overlooking a lake. It is also a music venue, though some local music fans discredited its concert potential. What notable bands would make the trek out to a musical desert on the edge of town surrounded by highways and chain restaurants?
Country star Hank Williams III did. Americana buzz band the Wild Feathers did. And hundreds of their fans jammed in to listen, too.
Gas Monkey is a chameleon of a venue, suitable for genres from folk and funk to hard rock and heavy metal. Unlike other well-known music venues in Dallas, it isn’t pigeonholed into booking only one niche, like indie or electronica.
And despite naysayers, Gas Monkey’s primary booking agent Peter Ore said staff planned to create a “world-class reputation” from the beginning. A former Live Nation promoter, Ore described the venue to his network as a “no peanuts on the floor” kind of space, where he had one promotional tool no other Dallas concert hall has:
“We have a hit TV show that winds up featuring the venue,” Ore said. “That doesn’t exist anywhere else in the country. Bands want to be a part of the unique situation.”
Living up to ‘loud’
Located in the former Firewater Bar and Grill on the drag of chain restaurants near Loop 12 and Interstate 35, Gas Monkey inhabits a 10,000-square-foot building surrounded by wooden patios. Inside the restaurant, which serves a mix of burgers, barbecue and Tex-Mex, is a small stage that doubles as a merchandise store when there is no entertainment. (And boy, does that merchandise sell — between 500 and 1,000 items a day, said public relations coordinator Cheryl Rios.) Overlooking the lake on the southernmost patio is the main stage, a permanent structure decked in stone and rigged with $300,000 worth of equipment.
That’s perhaps how, in the nine months since opening, Gas Monkey swayed bands like Williams, rockers Marshall Tucker Band and punk pioneers X from venues closer to the city center. Concerts run until 1 a.m. and, depending on the layout, cap at up to 1,000 attendees.
For perspective, Granada Theater holds about 1,000 patrons, and House of Blues holds about 1,600 in its biggest hall.
Bigger isn’t always better, as those who go to Gas Monkey on a sold-out evening might experience delays. When the Sword packed the house in February, restaurant patrons waited up to 21/2 hours for food, Rios said. On a weekend with nice weather, you could wait over an hour, she added.
But for local and national bands, what could be more alluring than a captive audience waiting to get into the place?
“It’s as good a venue as I’ve ever played,” local musician Chase McMillan said of Gas Monkey. As guitarist and vocalist for local band Goodnight Ned, McMillan has also played Granada Theater, the Foundation Room at House of Blues and Trees.
Worth the drive
This summer’s Gas Monkey concert calendar reads like a musical variety show: There’s reggae group Common Kings (June 25), country musician David Allan Coe (July 2), bluegrass pickin’ Mountain Sprout (Aug. 7) and pop-punk band RX Bandits (Aug. 16), to name a few.
Gas Monkey Bar and Grill customizes the venue to fit the vibe. One night in January, the front of the stage acted as a dance floor where ragtag hippies danced to reggae band Passafire. A few weeks later, the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash crowd wore cowboy hats instead of dreadlocks, and high-top tables covered the dance floor. Tickets originally cost $10, but on a whim, management decided to open the doors for free, granting ticket holders table access.
When it’s chilly, the outdoor stage is covered with plastic. In warmer months, the covering is removed to reveal a top deck with additional viewing space and VIP tables available for purchase.
Fans point out a variety of selling points in the venue: the “shockingly good” sound system, central proximity between home and work, the convenience of eating before a concert, a surprising intimacy, a wealth of parking.
No matter the day, Gas Monkey Bar and Grill is usually buzzing, oftentimes with founder Rawlings enjoying the sights and sounds — that is, when he’s not filming Fast N’ Loud, approved through 2015, or working on Gas Monkey’s expansion plan. A second restaurant opened at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in March, and Rawlings has ambitions for “15 or 20 more,” he said.
“I like interacting with the people,” Rawlings said, adding that customers travel to his restaurant from all over the world. Some are serious about seeing a reality TV star’s home turf.
“We have tons of families where stopping at Gas Monkey Bar and Grill is part of the vacation.”