In January of 2015, I got drunk at the Bearded Lady with Where House impresario/Fairmount neighborhood general contractor Casey Smith and some homies. The meeting was part of an interview with them about the shuttering of The Where House, the weird, wild, wheels-off event space on Hemphill that they had run for the previous five years. The last thing I asked Smith was what he was going to do after the venue’s final show.
“Honestly, I’m just gonna take a breather,” he said. “I didn’t go looking for The Where House. The Where House found me. I’m just gonna keep my ear to the ground and see what happens.”
If you know Smith, the idea of him taking a breather is kind of comical because he has trouble sitting still, both literally and metaphorically. The Where House was ramshackle and occasionally sketchy (both in terms of permits and patrons), but it was almost always wonderful. Smith was probably the only person who could have made a place like that work. That he did it for five years is inarguably amazing. But he did take a breather of sorts. Maybe even for a whole year.
Just as he more or less stumbled upon that dearly departed events space stuffed into a lot on Hemphill between the train tracks at Page Street and the wig store next to the Dollar General, he found his next creative adventure practically by accident.
According to Smith, he and his now-wife Kelsy Smith were getting gas at the K-A Mini-mart on Hemphill when the store’s owner, a guy named Bobby, appeared seemingly out of nowhere and told them about a property he had available.
“He literally walked up and said, ‘Come, I want to show you this,’ ” Smith said. “I was like, ‘OK, where are we going?’ ”
Bobby led the couple to a bar on the corner of West Jessamine and Hemphill streets that had just closed. It had most recently been a Costa Rican-themed dive called Tica’s Sport Cantina. Before that, the space housed a neighborhood watering hole called BJ’s.
As a contractor with a yen for woodwork, Smith has a knack for envisioning what a space can be. Though Tica’s advertised “chicas sexis,” the interior wasn’t exactly attractive – mostly just unfinished plywood panels on the wall and a peeling laminate bartop. But Smith saw the space’s potential, and he and Kelsy signed a lease on it. In the year since, they have been waiting for the right time to turn it into something.
Admittedly, it has a ways to go. Smith showed it to me last summer but didn’t have any events booked until Kelsy’s birthday this past March. And it’s also still pretty barebones, though if you remember Smith’s last spot, that plays to its strengths.
“We’re calling it The Where,” he said.
And as I looked around, I could see why.
When you walk into the new place, you’ll see some familiar relics of The Where House, like a skateboard ramp posted against the opposite wall (though its permanence is, like every other idea Smith has for The Where, open-ended).
“I want it to be like the old place, where you look around and see different things,” he said.
If you look to your left from the front door, there’s a pool table (just like the old place), as well as a door that opens to an attached building, which Smith and Kelsy are looking to rent to the right tenant.
“We’re interested in a business that complements what we want to do,” Kelsy said.
The Smiths have partnered with local filmmaker Brandon Schwindt to bring The Where to life, and Schwindt plans on “leaking” teaser videos of the Where’s off-the-radar events –– after the Open Streets event last Sunday, the Where hosted an informal after-party with punk bands and skaters –– that will lead up to Smith’s planned launch date.
“I’m shooting for mid-summer,” he said.
He intends to have what he says is a “nice bar” on the Hemphill-side wall and keep the multi-use potential of the rest of the room, with a stage for bands and cocktail seating. His biggest idea is an outdoor patio that conveys the vibe of the FOE pool in Dallas, where revelers can get some sun along with their cocktails. The space’s liquor license is grandfathered, so it can revive as a functioning bar when it’s finally complete. In the meantime, Casey and Kelsy are interested in a restaurant that will cater to the 4pm-3am crowd –– those hours are intended to respect those of the Montessori school across the street.
Though The Where is still not quite ready, it will continue to hold unadvertised events, so local music fans will just have to keep their ears open until the summer. But Smith is amped to get rolling.
“When it’s ready, it’s going to be like the Where House grew up,” he said.