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The 'Old Dirty Basement' of J&J's Pizza in Denton reopens for bookings

The basement under J&J's Pizza was one of the largest dominoes to fall last year after two other renowned Denton music venues closed in a span of five months. 

Hailey's Club fell first in December 2015, followed by Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios the following June. Finally, the space underneath the pizza parlor, which is fondly known as the Ol' Dirty Basement, closed in August 2016. 

The Denton music community mourned its loss. After 15 years of floor-rattling shows, it had been one of the remaining few venues that catered to young, up-and-coming artists in the music scene. 

Sixteen months after its closure, the space has reopened for bookings, according to a post from the restaurant's Facebook page. A comedy show already is scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday, and several other bands have moved their shows in January to the dimly lit space. 

The venue's owners, Jaime and Jessie Ham, could not be reached for comment. Their pizza business was not affected by the venue's closing. The venue initially closed after the landlord decided to turn the space into an entirely different business. It's unclear how those plans have changed since then. 

Meanwhile, RJ Avery, the organizer of Friday's comedy show and a real estate broker from Garland, said he's honored to host the first night open in more than a year. 

"We're pretty lucky in Denton to have such an arts-based community," he said. "J&J's, I think, is the last of its kind in Denton, and reopening is keeping the tradition alive of the DIY idea." 

In the literal sense, "DIY" means do-it-yourself. But in this case, the phrase refers to the idea musicians and other artists can set up and run their own shows. 

Avery is hosting Friday's show as part of the Panther City Comedy Collective, which is a small group he formed to support independent comedians. 

The event is free and features three Denton comedians, including Taylor Higginbotham, who hosts local comedy open mic nights. Avery,  who also helped organize the Denton Comedy Festival last year, said there's also a surprise headliner. 

Avery said he used to work at J&J's while attending the University of North Texas in the early 2000s. He said owner Jamie Ham's willingness to allow artists to play free, all-ages shows lent itself to the city's creative side. And the basement blossomed from there, he said. 

"It's very inclusive, and it allows the younger artists who are anywhere from 14 to 20 years old to still be involved," he said.

John Hodge, drummer of the Denton-based punk band Razorbumps, said the band moved its album-release show to the space on Jan. 27 because it's one of the band's favorite places to play. 

"We all have a lot of sentimental attachment to J&J's and the basement, and it was a no-brainer to try to have it there as soon as they reopened," he said. 

The basement remained quiet and empty Thursday afternoon, aside from a portrait of the Virgin Mary standing on a globe with a Schlitz beer logo. But the unusual silence won't last last much longer. 

JULIAN GILL can be reached at 940-566-6882. 

FEATURED PHOTO: RJ Avery, a real estate broker from Garland, on Friday will host the first show at J&J's Pizza's "Ol' Dirty Basement" since the iconic all-ages venue closed in August 2016. The free event will feature several Denton-based comedians and one surprise headliner.