Art: Wednesday, February 2, 2005
The move from a cool, creaky old space to a clean, well-lighted place hasn’t hampered MacHenry’s, according to owner John Walker. (Photo by Jeff Prince)
Stage Fright

MacHenry’s manages to keep its doors open to acoustic musicians and fans — somehow.


Rumors of MacHenry’s imminent death have been greatly exaggerated, says the man who opened the club three years ago. “I think we’ll still be here 15 years from now,” John Walker said — though he’s still having trouble turning a profit in his present location.
The folk-country-Celtic club struggled after moving in October 2003 from its original spot, in a creaky but charming old space above Salerno’s Italian Restaurant on Camp Bowie Boulevard to a less creaky but also less charming and more remote site on Camp Bowie West. Wags had MacHenry’s teetering on the verge of closing in December 2004. But the club has survived and appears to be clicking in 2005. “We’ve had a great January, which is unusual in the bar business,” Walker said. “We still need all hands on deck, but the storm has passed.”
Worried musicians spread the word to put butts in seats or risk losing one of the region’s few purely acoustic venues. “John has had four or five really good weekends in a row,” said Kathleen Jackson, bassist for Trinity River Whalers. “Everybody is calling everybody and saying, ‘We’ve got to get out there.’ For musicians, if you’re not gigging, you need to be out at MacHenry’s supporting this [bar], buying beer, and putting money in the tip jar.”
Local musicians showed up en masse on Jan. 16 to play an event billed as an anniversary party but which morphed into a benefit for the club. The event raised about $600 and gave Walker a boost, emotionally as much as financially.
Walker is one of the most affable proprietors in the local club scene, a glass-half-full kind of guy, so it’s not surprising that he predicts rosy days. Let’s hope he’s right. MacHenry’s (Fort Worth Weekly’s Best Acoustic Venue in 2003) is unique, with live music every night, an emphasis on original folk-country compositions, and frequent forays into Celtic strains — Fort Worth’s version of Big D’s Poor David’s Pub. “It’s one of the few acoustic music venues that we can count on right now,” Jackson said. “It’s such a wonderful place, and we’d hate to lose it.”
Walker, himself an acoustic singer-songwriter, toured extensively in the 1990s and early 2000s. He opened MacHenry’s in the summer of 2002, with a concept based on two of his favorite haunts — Nashville’s The Bluebird Café and Fort Worth’s former folkie hotspot The Hop. “I opened the whole place on $6,000 that I was able to borrow on my credit cards and really started a good thing,” Walker said.
The club quickly established a following. MacHenry’s Upstairs, as it was then called, was dark, dingy, and L-shaped, with ugly bathrooms, and it held only about 80 people. Walker lacked a liquor license and sold only beer, allowing patrons to bring their own bottles. It all added up to an irresistible hole-in-the-wall that dripped with character and featured some of the best semi-pro talent and occasional “name” acts, such as Steven Fromholz and Willis Alan Ramsey.
The tattered building had already been for sale a long time when Walker signed the lease; he figured the chances of the property being sold out from under him were slim. Three months of remodeling led to a grand opening in June 2002. Walker suddenly found himself ramrodding one of the city’s funkiest bars. A year later, the building was sold and slated for demolition. (An auto shop and dry cleaners were later built on the site.)
Searching for affordable rent, Walker moved farther away from downtown, to a nondescript building next to a golf shop. His new digs seat more customers but lack the old joint’s mojo. A new liquor license has ended the days of BYOB. Drink prices are on the high side, and Walker has also raised beer prices. “Our building overhead just about doubled,” he said. “We’ve done better saleswise, but we haven’t caught up.”
Customers have slowly begun warming to the new site, and Walker has softened the sterile décor by adding original art and photography to the walls. Support from customers and musicians might be enough to ensure MacHenry’s survival. “The thing that has encouraged me is that our sales figures, while they have been a little bit below break-even, have been consistent to the dollar,” Walker said. “I can tell there is a solid base. We just need to add to it.”

Email this Article...

Back to Top

Copyright 2002 to 2018 FW Weekly.
3311 Hamilton Ave. Fort Worth, TX 76107
Phone: (817) 321-9700 - Fax: (817) 335-9575 - Email Contact
Archive System by PrimeSite Web Solutions