There are a lot of certifiably “cool” places in the 817. Lola’s Saloon attracts some of the hippest bands in the world, 1919 Hemphill is, by all accounts, the oldest DIY space in Texas (going on nine years now), and Angelo’s Barbecue has been written about in Playboy magazine. But for my money, the coolest place in town has to be The Where House, a DIY venue (across the street on Hemphill from 1919, incidentally) that’s been open for about a year now but has only recently really begun to shine. The Where House’s most recent success was last weekend’s Piranha Bear art/music show.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first heard about The Where House a few months ago. My friends went to a show there in March and came home with what I thought was an outlandish account of what went down: free hooch, three awesome bands, dancing outside, and partying ’til after 3 a.m. But after seeing the Hanna Barbarians play at The Where House in early October, I learned my friends were telling the truth.
From the outside, the place looks like your typical abandoned warehouse. Different styles and textures of dilapidated wood paneling and brick with small square windows at the top of the walls make The Where House nearly indistinguishable from most of the other buildings on Hemphill –– there is no “Welcome” sign and really no sign of anything particular going on inside. But since I like puns and homonyms, I thought I’d give The Where House a try. Many visits later, it’s become one of my favorite spots.
Nobody would say The Where House is in a posh part of town. That stretch of Hemphill Street is pretty sketchy. But when you step inside The Where House, you immediately feel at home. The vintage lamps, faded portraits on the wall, comfortable seating, dueling pianos, decorations dangling from the rafters, and soft lighting are unique and homey. And as much as I hate to use the word “hip,” that’s what The Where House is.
One of the coolest things about The Where House is its speakeasy vibe. The place doesn’t have a liquor license, doesn’t have a web site, and is promoted only through word of mouth –– owner Casey Smith doesn’t advertise anywhere. So a trip to The Where House is like going to a highly recommended family-owned exotic food restaurant in an old strip mall –– you may be a little apprehensive at your first view of the exterior, but once you’re inside, you realize the food is delicious, different, inventive, and something that you wish you’d thought of yourself earlier. And while food isn’t served at The Where House, the place is like any other hip establishment. It has its regulars: young, easygoing, progressive yet friendly people with a passion for local music, art, and anything Fort Worth.
In that way, The Where House is becoming more than the usual venue for drinking worries away, dancing booties off, and hopefully forgetting everything in the morning. Instead it is a place small enough for sharing creative, serious ideas and big enough for spreading them. Perfect point is the Piranha Bear show.
Fort Worth abounds with art galleries and museums filled with work from awesome painters, photographers, sculptors, and more, but it can be a long road to get your work shown –– and many artists don’t know where to start. Take Anna Smith, manager of Sunshine Glaze Creative Studio by day, frustrated photographer by night. While Smith helps other people create and paint pottery at work, she was feeling stymied with her own creative endeavors. So after talking with close friends Beka Johnson and Amber Elkins, they decided to have a show displaying their own art. Well, word spread, more artists wanted to participate, and Piranha Bear was the result.
The young women did everything, from writing press releases to setting up the exhibit, which took some real muscle. Inside The Where House, they built and set up huge wooden partitions that almost touched the ceiling and divided the warehouse into sections. Then came the intricate placing and hanging of each piece of work, making sure each of the 21 artists had a chance to be noticed.
And noticed they were, by at least 300 people, according to owner Smith. Guests were greeted at the door and left to navigate through the maze of exhibits, sometimes stopping at the bar for a free beer or glass of wine.
Rather than just a group of twentysomethings getting wasted and knocking down the gallery walls, there was a turnout of young adults, businessmen, bearded men, parents, and just plain old curious folk. One of the younger artists I met there was still in high school, while another artist, B. Scott Kellogg, had heard of Piranha Bear through his daughter who attends the studio that Anna manages. His work was outstanding: intricate, fantastically realistic colored-pencil and gouache depictions of the restored antique automobiles that he so admires.
Other memorable work included Jay Wilkinson’s monochromatic portraits and massive mural, Elkins’ mirror necklace, and Johnson’s square acrylic paintings of 16 yellow popsicles, so delicious-looking I wanted to lick them. Christa Vaznis offered paintings of beautiful women, reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance, with design elements that centralize the haunting look in the women’s eyes. Other types of art were blow-ups of images of bugs as seen through a microscope, sexy digital photographs, and whimsical ironwork, namely a jellyfish hanging upside down with its tentacles tickling the ceiling.
Something that made this show particularly special was that literally anyone could be in it –– Anna said yes to everyone who approached her about it. And the show itself was possible because owner Smith said yes to her, as he usually does to inquiries from people with unique ideas. In return for his kind deeds, the people behind the Piranha Bear event wanted to give him proper homage.
So on Saturday night, an old pal of Smith’s was remembered, with a picture of the two of them together displayed on the refreshment’s table: a pet goat that “mysteriously disappeared some years ago.” Its name: Piranha Bear. — Katie Ruppel
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