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Cellar Dwellers

A local filmmaker documents a historic Fort Worth music club.
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Posted May 8, 2013 by KRISTIAN LIN in News
Cover_05_08_13

With the Cellar, what’s legend and what’s real …” said Giles McCrary, trailing off, implying that they’re hard to tell apart. He’s made it his job to figure that out, though.

The genial, bearded 60-year-old wasn’t referring to the bar that currently operates near TCU. Instead, he was talking about the coffee shop/nightclub that flourished in downtown Fort Worth in the 1960s and was home (in some cases, literally) to some of the biggest names in Texas music,  along with legendary nightlife and a colorful owner.

The Cellar was established in 1959 by Pat Kirkwood, the flamboyant former racecar driver who won championships in the earliest days of NASCAR. Officially, it was a coffeehouse that served no liquor, which is why it was allowed to stay open from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Unofficially, customers with the right connections could obtain liquor or almost anything else there. The connections were key; otherwise, patrons might wind up with rum-flavored Cokes.

“High-school kids would think they were getting a drink, but they were getting McCormick’s,” said McCrary, referring to the brand of flavoring extract. “And then they would act drunk. It was a psychological thing.”

For four years now, McCrary has been working on a documentary film entitled You Must Be Weird or You Wouldn’t Be Here, combing through the memories of the musicians, employees, and regular customers who populated the place. His extensive contacts with the former denizens of the Cellar come from his wife Jaci, who visited the place often as a teenager, dated several musicians there, and got to know the regulars well.

His work continues in a small upstairs room at his house in Fort Worth’s Overton Woods neighborhood, where note cards on a bulletin board contain chapter headings for the film — phrases like “Sex,” “Trouble,” “Racism,” and “Forbidden Fruit.” After all this time, and after a potentially catastrophic setback, he now believes he can finish his project within the next few months.

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McCrary is originally from Post, the West Texas town that was founded as a utopian community by the breakfast cereal manufacturer C.W. Post, who bought the land sight unseen from his office in Fort Worth and hoped to revolutionize cloud-seeding and farming techniques there.

Scantily dressed waitresses and customers were a common sight at the Cellar.

Scantily dressed waitresses and customers were a common sight at the Cellar.

McCrary’s father, Giles Sr., served as mayor of the town for more than 20 years. “It was an easy place to live,” McCrary said. “It’s easier to feel isolated in a big city. But I wanted the variety of a big city.”

That meant Fort Worth, where McCrary’s paternal grandfather, I.N. McCrary, served as mayor during World War II. As a boy, Giles made frequent trips to the city to visit relatives. “We went to the zoo a lot,” he said. “It was what you did.”

McCrary got to know the city better as a student at Texas Christian University in the 1970s. He dreamed a common dream, with an uncommon twist. “I wanted to be a rock star with a big black mustache,” he said. “I learned how to play guitar, but I wasn’t good enough, and I couldn’t grow the mustache.”

However, the dream did lead him to make his one visit to the Cellar, in 1970. “It was a dark and scary place,” he remembered. “If I’d been a Fort Worth native, I probably would have gone back at some point, but being from a small town, it was too much for me. I left quickly.”

At the same time, Jaci (pronounced “Jackie”) was frequenting the Cellar as an emancipated minor who had moved to Fort Worth from Dallas to follow a boyfriend. “I was raised by my grandparents,” she said. “I was going through a rebellious phase.”

She and Giles didn’t meet until many years later. It was even longer before their experiences inspired them to make a film about the club.

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6 Comments


  1.  
    Larry

    Most infamous of the “must go to places” in Ft. Worth for Texas teen youth in the ’60′s. Thousands of youthful farmers, rancher/stockmen attending the annual “Fort Worth Fat Stock Show”. Right of passage for a lot of those FFA kids, never got to go myself, but listened to all their stories. Now we know, McCormicks—very cool. Thank you Giles and Jaci, I ALWAYS wanted to go. L.O., PHS ’65




  2.  
    Jack Estes

    I was a Cellar Dweller at the original Cellar that was under where the convention center now stands. I literally lived at the Cellar for eight months during it’s first year in business. I worked for Kirkwood as a musician for four years off and on and probably know him and the Cellar’s early history better than anyone now alive.
    Jack Remington




    •  
      Russell Farley

      Man, how I would love to buy you dinner and hear some of those stories. We spent many a late night at the Dallas Cellar, right across from the “ABSOLUTELY NO PARKING!!” flashing sign at KLIF radio.




  3.  
    Lyn Kerr

    I worked at the cellar in the late 60′s and Pat’s other business at the time the Benbrook marina. I have many fond memories of those days.




  4.  
    Steven Uanna

    The CELLAR was ahead of it’s time as a counter culture club. Looks like the perfect place to conduct a teenage version of the MKULTRA “Midnight Climax” operation. Did you come across anything about or connections between: Jack Ruby? Lee Harvey Oswald? The movie Naughty Dallas? How much cooperation did Pat Kirkwood get from the authorities? The backgrounds of his bouncers? The Secret Service Agents partying into the morning the day JFK was assassinated? Some have posed the idea that the whole “Hippie” phenomenon in the 60′s was a government sponsored psychological warfare operation. So hip and kool, yet no blacks and bouncers that would have fit in at Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club. Jack Ruby boasted connections at Reprise Records. J.D. Tippit was in Top Ten Records in Dallas minutes before he was murdered. EVIL spelled backwards is LIVE?




  5.  
    Robert Paul

    I went there for a while and started when I was 17. My brother was a bouncer there so I was a regular. I really miss those times. Great music and I made friends with the waitresses and one night went to Johnny Carroll’s house that night.
    I did get drinks and was even a bouncer when Candy Barr came there. I remember Jimmy and Norm. I went to Pat’s house once with my brother. On the 4th of July I think is when we had the artist and models ball and at 5 in the morning went to Lake Worth to have fun on goat island. The vinison was really good. I miss the bands and the people and the gentleman who ran the kitchen. I even made drinks one night.





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