Most social beings have a regular bar haunt. This is where you grab a stool at the biggest moments of life to celebrate or on the worst days raise a glass to the dearly departed. Over the past nine years for most of my friends and me, The Grotto was our hangout: Weddings, divorces, births, funerals, big jobs, hiding out, thriving, giving up the battle, loving – all of the things that make up a normal life went down under that leaky roof on University Drive near Camp Bowie Boulevard. So it’s with conflicting emotions that I write this epitaph, for the end is officially nigh for the beloved local lounge.
The land and the building The Grotto occupies have been sold to a large food and beverage provider, according to the bar’s owners. The current plan is for the bar to remain open for business as usual until the first week of December. The new owners will take over in early 2018, and they plan to demolish the building for new construction. The father-and-son ownership team of Randy and Cody Admire are proud of being open for just shy of nine years in an industry not known for longevity, but both knew it was time to move on.
The Admires bought The Blue Grotto – as it was formerly known – back in 2008 with the intention of creating a home base for local music. It quickly became the place you could hit up seven days a week to see the old guard of North Texas music and up-and-comers play.
The Grotto stage afforded a chance for musicians to test their craft in front of culturally savvy customers. During open-mic nights, a polite and shy soul singer on stage would silence the rowdy din of that brick room, and you knew you were witnessing someone just on the verge of greatness. But for some musicians, The Grotto wasn’t a jumping-off point but a place of second chances, dreams deferred, bartending side-hustles, fake-it-’til-ya-make-it gigs, and drumming on the bar, praying their debit card wouldn’t be declined. Again.
Part of me knows that it’s the best decision for the co-owners. Cody is ready to explore new opportunities in town and perhaps find a partner interested in keeping the Grotto name alive in a different location. Randy is beyond ready to ease on into his retirement years.
But the other part of me knows this is perhaps a consequence of changing demographics in a sector of our city, which has become largely unsustainable for many small, locally owned food and beverage businesses.
As Cody recently put it to me, “We’re a particular kind of neighborhood place, and this isn’t our kind of neighborhood anymore.”
The regulars from days gone by don’t often come down to the West 7th Street area, he said. They have shifted toward West Magnolia Avenue and South Main Street, mostly to avoid the mounting issues in an area appealing mostly to college-age partiers and the cougars or Svengali-types who lust after them.
Don’t ring the death knell quite yet, however. Over the next two months, the co-owners are planning a series of surprise shows that will celebrate the people and bands that made this joint a favorite in the Fort Worth community. Everything will culminate in December in a classic Grotto-style blowout of a celebration.
Cody echoes the sentiments of many a regular patron when he says, “It’s bittersweet, but it’s time to do something else.”
So stop by soon, before they sweep the floors and turn the stage lights off one last time.
517 University Dr, FW.