By Kat Worrall
With the closing of downtown Treff’s Bar and Grill, Scruffy Murphy’s has gained a new Thursday night act – Russell Boyd, more commonly known as the “Piano Man.”
Treff’s, located on Austin Avenue, was a popular Thursday night destination for students to see Boyd’s performance. Treff’s opened in 2001, but business recently “dropped out of the bottom,” owner Pat Treff said.
“It wasn’t doing well enough to pay the bills,” Treff said. “I just decided to move on to bigger things.”
Robert Johnson, who owns the building, said Treff, who operates another club in San Marcos, was having difficulties maintaining both locations.
As a result, Johnson said the inside of the building aesthetically declined and needed repairs on the flooring, drywall, and paint as well as the common complaint of leaving Treff’s and smelling like smoke.
However, Treff’s still brought in students and locals on Thursday nights, as a result of the “Piano Man.”
“I think that was directly attributed to him and how good he was at performing,” Johnson said. “That was despite the inside of the building not being up to the standard that I would’ve liked or that Pat would’ve liked.”
Boyd said the way Treff’s room sloped down to the stage helped focus attention on the band and was “one of the best rooms” he’s ever performed in.
He said he recalled a few “golden years” when there would be a line outside Treff’s every night and the bar would be occasionally shut down because of fire codes, but he said he had seen a decrease in traffic recently.
“In general, it’s been consistently good,” Boyd said. “I’ve never been like, ‘Oh great, I’m going to Treff’s again. Nobody is going to be there,’ even if it’s not crammed over fire code every time.”
Boyd noticed the economy take a toll on Treff’s over the years, starting in 2009 when everywhere he played “dropped off a little bit.” Treff said the bar’s income changed from $80,000 per month to $40,000, and he got behind on rent.
He also received two $5,100 citations for employees being intoxicated and one $2,100 citation for serving after hours from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
Treff said he plans to focus on his club in San Marcos, where he lives, but has enjoyed in his time in Waco.
“It’s been great,” Treff said. “From 2001 to 2014 was the time of my life. I loved every minute of it.”
Boyd first heard about Treff’s closing through an unusual way.
“The way I found out about Treff’s closing was by getting a job offer,” Boyd said.
Waco Cinema, a local club Boyd calls a “young professional place,” reached out to Boyd through Twitter after hearing rumors of Treff’s closing.
Treff later confirmed to Boyd through text message. Boyd said he is hoping to perform at Waco Cinema on Tuesday nights. Soon after, Scruffy Murphy’s contacted him.
“It never even crossed my mind to not play in Waco again,” Boyd said.
Starting Thursday, February 7, Boyd will resume Piano Man at Scruffy Murphy’s. While the room is smaller, Scruffy Murphy’s holds more people than the upstairs of Treff’s, and Boyd said he is excited for the new opportunity.
“I hate that it ended, but I think sometimes when you move from something in life that’s not working that well to another way that’s just the same, it gives you an excuse to get excited again,” Boyd said.
Kevin McBride, manager of Scruffy Murphy’s, has re-arranged the club’s nightly performances to accommodate Boyd.
The usual Thursday night performer, DJ Jamen, will be pushed back to Friday night.
McBride said they plan to set up Boyd’s piano on the stage in the back room and are looking to add more patio tables for seating.
“Hopefully we can keep this good live music going for Scruffs,” McBride said.
Cincinnati, Ohio, senior Taylor Dixon is curious how Scruffy Murphy’s set up will handle Piano Man, but is happy his performances will be closer to campus.
“Personally, I enjoyed Treff’s,” Dixon said. “I’m not surprised they’re closing, though, because of the distance.”
As for the future of the building, the new downtown construction, in businesses such as Dichotomy Coffee & Spirits and Muddle, has Johnson excited.
“The timing is great for new tenants,” Johnson said. “We plan to invest some money into the building to bring it back to its former glory.”