The faded sign at 1031 East 24th Street showcasing a guitar-chasing piranha may look like it’s seen better days, but a peek inside the gritty Heights property that has long housed live music destination Dan Electros Guitar Bar reveals that this place is still rockin’.
After 35 years of serving the Heights neighborhood and countless live music-loving locals, Dan Electros is experiencing a renaissance under the watchful eye of its new owners, commercial real estate developer Alex Jackson, and attorney-turned-hospitality-pro Will Thomas. This is the first such partnership for the native Houstonians whose friendship dates back to elementary school — but they are hardly unfamiliar with the hospitality scene.
As a commercial real estate developer, Jackson has had a hand in bringing many Montrose restaurants, bars, and businesses to life. In the last five years, he developed the properties of Lightyears Wine Bar, Southern Yankee Crafthouse, and the Park JJ hotel. He also saved a former dry cleaning establishment from being torn down by transforming it into the California-cool space that now houses the restaurant Vibrant.
“I have a love of fixing up older properties,” Jackson admits, citing that most of the structures he acquires are considered tear-downs. He aims to give them another lease on life. “By keeping these older buildings around, we’re preserving their history and creating something unique for the city.”
Thomas shares this sentiment, and for his part, brings a wealth of experience to the table. The licensed attorney, who no longer practices, is co-owner of a bar called El Cucuy in New Orleans, and until last March, co-owned White Oak Music Hall.
When the property that houses Dan Electros hit the market, the pair saw an opportunity. “The bar really wasn’t being operated like it should be,” says Thomas. “It was a cool, old space — like a diamond in the rough, with tons of history. We didn’t want to see townhomes there, and this seemed like a great opportunity to save it and revive it.”
Since first opening in 1988, the stage at Dan Electros has been graced by performers like Billy Givens, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Richard Gere, and served as a welcome space for local bands of varying music genres. The men, who grew up frequenting live music bars like Fitzgeralds and Walter’s (both, now shuttered), felt particularly overprotective of the storied joint. “We couldn’t stand the thought of another music venue going out,” says Jackson. “We knew this was something special.”
And in an effort to maintain its rustic charm, Jackson and Thomas made few changes to the space when they assumed ownership. “The eclecticness and coolness already existed,” says Thomas. “A lot of what we did was just fix the broken parts.”
As part of the revamp, they upgraded the sound system, installed new lighting, and added eight TV screens. The 2,500-square-foot space still features tables and booths peppered around the stage, and a colorful neon sign depicting the bar’s signature piranha as a backdrop when bands perform. The walls are decorated with art and old music posters that were offered up by longtime patrons, and the swoon-worthy aroma of buttery popcorn continues to flood the room from an old-fashioned popcorn machine perched at the entrance.
A major draw of the property is its sprawling 5,000-square-foot fenced-in patio, which Jackson and Thomas revamped to be a festive gathering place. The vibrant outdoor area boasts more seating and a large projector screen, and plays host to pop-up food vendors, like Willow’s BBQ who currently maintains a weekly steak night. A dedicated second level, accessible from the patio, reveals an 800-square-foot lounge area that Jackson and Thomas have decided to utilize as private event space.
With a full beverage program that encompasses local craft beer, wine, seasonal cocktails, and rotating frozens, Dan Electros fits the bill of being a reliable neighborhood bar. Furthermore, it is one of the few Houston destinations that showcase live music every night of the week. A lineup of mostly local talent is announced on the bar’s website and social channels, with plenty of genres considered, including bluegrass, country, jazz, blues, fold, funk, and rock, among others, and most shows require no cover charge. “It’s a place that is focused on music and bands, but it’s also a place where you can have a drink and watch football,” says Jackson.
The guys have had their work cut out for them, but they are thrilled to see the community embrace a new era of Dan Electros, all while a fresh crop of talent gets the opportunity to take to a Houston stage. “Getting to know the people who have been visiting for years, and hearing their stories kept us motivated,” says Thomas. “It’s great to see this bar return to what it once was. We want to keep music alive in the area.”