8 Ball and MJG Prove the Potential of Faded Dallas Gem Carnaval Night Club
Dallas nightlife tends to get a little unsavory as you venture out toward Harry Hines and Northwest Highway. It would be fair to call Carnaval Night Club off the beaten path. Most people head out that way to peruse the seedy strip clubs and other adult-themed activities that populate the edge of Farmer's Branch. The parking lot, if you can call it that (it's more of a patch of grass beneath an overpass), was barely visible on Storey Lane. Carnaval's towering ball steeple emblazoned in neon lights and art deco marquee are hard to miss once your eyes adjust to the darkness. Last Thursday, Dallas heads found themselves at the rundown theater-turned-nightclub to celebrate the 20th anniversary of a classic Southern rap album, 8 Ball & MJG's Comin Out Hard.
Vanessa Quilantan MJG onstage at Carnaval Night Club, a forgotten Dallas night club with the potential be great.
Carnaval's lights look slightly less impressive up close. At least a third of the neon tubes are burnt out. The thick, white glass looks stained with age, and more bulbous than modern design. The cost to fix an antique like that must be staggering. The marquee glows nonetheless as you funnel in, getting carded at the door. Hood-rich high rollers with big dazzling chains shuffled through, en route to reserved tables. Women in minidresses and heels filed in, opening their purses for the bouncer to check. Poster boxes that once illuminated coming attractions to 1950s Dallasites are still mounted to the walls, now hollowed out and barren.
The Circle Theatre was built in 1947. It was part of a shopping center development project, and ran family fare until about 1968 when it went straight porno, opening only on the weekends until closing a year later. After six years vacant, it was turned into a club called "The Old Theatre." In 1975, D Magazine featured it in a guide to local entertainment:
"A rejuvenated movie theater with two dance floors, two bars, and 14 levels. Old movies, slides, and cartoons on the full-size screen. A new feature is occasional live entertainment by local and big name bands ... Weekends are always discotheque with no cover and big crowds."
Through the '80s it reclaimed the name Circle Theatre as a music venue before turning into a very trendy honky-tonk called Cotton Eyed Joe's. It was all the rage during the urban cowboy country revival craze. There was a mechanical bull. Bud and Sissy would definitely have approved.
After a string of music club, bingo hall, and latin nightclub concepts, it became Carnaval in 2012. Rap DJs started playing on the weekends, and there was even a lucha libre match there this year. Lunaface Promotions, a Houston promotions company breaking into the Dallas market didn't quite know what to expect when they booked Carnaval for 8 Ball & MJG's Dallas stop. Local rap fans would be damn well inclined to keep an eye on Lunaface's efforts in 2014, as they plan to bring Gunplay into town next month, as well as Madlib and Freddie Gibbs as we get into the spring.