Brother says Hershner died of cardiac arrest; officials waiting on results of toxicology tests
Marty Hershner was remembered this week as a larger-than-life persona whose passion and hard work led him to the brink of becoming a major force in Dallas’ gay bar scene.
Hershner, proprietor of the Tin Room on Hudnall Street and the Drama Room on Cedar Springs Road, was found deceased in his bed at the Tecali Apartments on Tuesday night. He was 30.
No foul play was suspected, and Hershner’s brother, Lonzie, said Marty suffered from untreated high blood pressure and died from cardiac arrest.
Dallas police indicated that an overdose was possible because a lot of unidentified drugs were found at the scene. An official cause of death will await toxicology results from the medical examiner’s office, which could take several weeks.
"When he set his mind to something, he did not fail — he’s left two great bars behind to prove that," Lonzie Hershner said of his brother. "He was always looking to see what’s going to better the community. It’s hard to lose someone who always wanted to do so much good."
In 2002, Marty Hershner took over the small establishment owned by his mother near Hudnall Street and Maple Avenue. It was then called Judge Roy Bean’s Saloon, which Lonzie Hershner described as a "small redneck bar."
Hershner, who was gay, turned it into the Tin Room, and eventually added live dancers and DJs. The bar’s intimacy and unique character — symbolized by the many trinkets and antiques adorning its faÃ§ade — helped it evolve into an off-the-beaten-path hotspot.
But Hershner wasn’t done. Earlier this year, he opened the Drama Room, a big hit at the site of the old Mickey’s on the gay strip. And he planned to open a bar at the site of Bill’s Hideaway on Buena Vista Street, which has been closed since last year.
Lonzie Hershner said Marty wanted to restore the Hideaway to a vintage piano bar.
"We’ve sat down and had several discussions on what he saw in that place, and I will go through with everything we talked about," he said. "I’m going to run it as a tribute to him."
Lonzie Hershner, who currently runs two straight bars, said he’ll also take over the Tin Room and the Drama Room, all part of the small nightclub empire that was reportedly built by their mother, Paulette.
"The Drama Room and the Tin Room will continue exactly how he’s always operated them," Lonzie Hershner said.
At the Tin Room on Wednesday night, April 28, the mood among employees was somber, but they said Marty wouldn’t have wanted the bar to close, even for a night.
"The beat has to go on here," said Michael "Jon" Preng, a DJ and manager who’s worked at the Tin Room for the last year. "Marty would roll over if we weren’t open. We’re doing it for him."
The 38-year-old Preng, who’s worked in clubs all his adult life, described Hershner as a rarity in the industry, a hands-on owner who was committed to making sure everyone had a good time.
Above a desk in the Tin Room office sits a large photo of Paulette Hershner, working at a bar as a young woman.
"He lived for her, and she taught him everything," Preng said.
Preng said he’ll always remember Hershner’s smile and the way he responded to everything by saying, "Child!"
Bradley Register, a bartender at the Tin Room, said Hershner seemed to enjoy taking care of other people.
"If you were loyal to him, he would do anything for you," Register said. "He was a larger than life type person. He just had a knack for making people love him."
Hershner’s popularity was evident from the outpouring of condolences posted on Dallas Voice’s Web site and on the bar’s Facebook page in the hours after his death.
Jeff Wilson, Hershner’s roommate and the manager of the Drama Room, said Wednesday night he’d already been contacted by more than 100 of Hershner’s many friends from all over.
"He touched a lot of lives," Wilson said. "Marty had a keen wit. He could entertain a crowd like no one else I’ve ever known, really. He created himself almost into a character, just like Dave Thomas was for Wendy’s, on a smaller scale. He was cut short, definitely. He was poised to really, really take over.
"It would do a disrespect to him to not do what we do on a daily basis," Wilson added. "The Tin Room will continue to rise, and so will the Drama Room. Nothing’s stopping. We’re going full speed ahead."
Lonzie Hershner said a viewing will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, April 30 at Ben F. Brown’s Memorial Funeral Home, 707 N. MacArthur Blvd. in Irving.
A funeral will be at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the same location.
Both the viewing and the funeral are open to the public.
Lonzie Hershner said family and friends also plan a memorial show at the Drama Room in the next few weeks. He said he would provide details next week.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 30, 2010.