Dallas's Most Authentic Dive Bars

Pull up a stool, order some cheap whiskey and don’t forget to duck when the beer bottles fly

"I haven't seen a fight in years," says longtime bartender Tom Forkit. "We head 'em off to the door. People will get in arguments, but that's just people."

Another thing Ships won't tolerate: sleeping. My wife found that out the hard way during a family outing to the bar with my brothers, a few buddies and my incorrigible, wine-soaked, nicotine-stained grandfather. Bored with our begging him to tell one of his outlandish stories—like the one about his father getting kicked out of a saloon, driving a brand-new car through the storefront and demanding one last drink—she rested her head on the bar's vinyl-cushioned edge to catch a few winks.

"You can't sleep here, ma'am, you'll have to leave," announced our bartender—and like that, we got kicked to the curb. Could be he'd earlier overheard Grandpa call the place a "goddamned dump," and out of respect for an octogenarian, he was waiting for a second violation to come from someone younger in our group.

Club Schmitz’s game room has shuffleboard, pool, and dining tables and booths. Believe it or not, the photos were taken recently
Sara Kerens
Club Schmitz’s game room has shuffleboard, pool, and dining tables and booths. Believe it or not, the photos were taken recently
Lakewood Landing lives up to
its “Upscale Dive” nickname, as
the bar accepts credit cards.
Sara Kerens
Lakewood Landing lives up to its “Upscale Dive” nickname, as the bar accepts credit cards.

Location Info

Map

Tradewinds Social Club

2843 W. Davis St.
Dallas, TX 75211-3679

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Cockrell Hill

The Grapevine Bar

3902 Maple Ave.
Dallas, TX 75219

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Uptown & Oak Lawn

Ships Lounge

1613 Greenville Ave.
Dallas, TX 75206

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: East Dallas & Lakewood

Club Schmitz

9661 Denton Drive
Dallas, TX 75220

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Northwest Dallas

Lakewood Landing

5818 Live Oak St.
Dallas, TX 75214

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: East Dallas & Lakewood

Copper Spur Saloon

6524 E. NW Highway
Dallas, TX 75231

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Northeast Dallas

Winedale Tavern

2110 Greenville Ave.
Dallas, TX 75206

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: East Dallas & Lakewood

Cooper's Restaurant and Club

2424 S. Cockrell Hill Road
Dallas, TX 75211-8102

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Cockrell Hill

New O'Malley's Club

2720 S. Zang Blvd.
Dallas, TX 75224

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Oak Cliff & South Dallas

Starlight Lounge

4319 Main St.
Dallas, TX 75226

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Downtown & Deep Ellum

Details


Web extra: Check out our slide show for more photos from 10 Dallas dives.

But Ships is quick to forgive and forget. A recent visit (sans Grandpa) found the place cozy and welcoming. It dates back to the '50s and has been owned by Charlie Red for around 30 years. Red may be the reason there are few patrons disturbing the peace at Ships. One barmaid says he's been known to break his own no-cussing/no-fighting rules when it comes to enforcing order. But he's also the kind of peacekeeper who's willing to buy a round for the house after enjoying a few himself.

Ships shows every second of its age in its attitude and catch-as-catch-can decor. A cramped walkway separates the bar from a row of tiny booths, a set-up better suited to quiet conversation than group commotion. Holiday decor aside, the "Unted We Stand" banner behind the bar—if anyone's noticed the missing letter, they haven't done anything about it—is probably Ships' most recent decorative flourish. As its name implies, there's a nautical theme, from the anchor design upholstered to the blue padding on the front door to the submerged treasure chest painted on a closet in the back. Pieces of the glossy black ceiling are peeling off in sheets, and the men's and women's closet-sized restrooms share a common sink. Don't bother pulling out your plastic here: The antique brass cash register is just that—a cash register—ready to make change for the Best of Dallas®-winning jukebox stocked with classic Motown, country, soul and blues.

And while it may be beer and (boxed) wine only, Ships is a great place to watch the Cowboys, as happy hour prices ($1.25 drafts) apply during the game. There's a sizable flat-screen behind the pool table but the older regulars seem to prefer the smaller set by the front door. One of them even bought a round for the house after the 'Boys sealed their victory over the Falcons. It may be difficult to make it through an entire Cowboys game without blurting out a curse word, but the possibility of a free beer makes minding your language worth the effort.

Ships is the kind of place its loyal patrons can depend on. The sign says its hours are 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day, but Forkit says that whoever opens will usually relent for the early birds waiting outside. And every day means every day—Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter. "Oh yeah, we'll be open," Forkit promises. "We don't close for anything."

Who's it for? Anyone—except, ironically, sailors, if the old saying "curse like a sailor" has any truth to it.

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Date-Night Dive

Club Schmitz

9661 Denton Drive

214-350-3607

"Let's git Schmitz-faced!" advise the shirts worn by the waitresses at Club Schmitz. With $1.75 drafts and $8 pitchers, you'd have to be a cheapskate not to do so. That said, it may not be such a great idea to get completely wasted, as getting into or out of the torn-up parking lot and navigating the construction-created detours in this dicey part of northwest Dallas requires some semblance of sobriety. On my first visit to the club, I ended up having to make a six-point turn to get into the Schmitz parking lot when I ended up off-roading into a DART construction area—and that was before my first drink.

Just as the fading "Club Schmitz—Beer, Good Food" sign outside suggests, the inside is a time capsule full of yellowed beer promos, mismatched ceiling tiles, well-worn pool cues and a classic shuffleboard table. Aside from a big-screen TV, a few framed magazine articles, a picture of Dubya and the Golden Tee and Silver Strike video games, there is not much here to indicate that it's no longer the '50s. Even the food prices—$2.75 for a grilled cheese, $2 onion rings, $4 to $5 for burgers—hark back to a different era. The place offers ice and mixers if you want to bring in your own liquor, as it only sells beer.

On one recent visit, a young couple on a date occupied the shuffleboard game for much of the evening, pausing only to eat cheesy tater tots and sip from plastic mugs of beer. And as far as I could tell, they were having a great time. Whichever of them thought to have date night at Schmitz had the right idea. You know you've got a low-maintenance keeper if she or he can enjoy a night of cold beer, greasy food and bar games in a somewhat seedy area near Webb Chapel and Harry Hines.

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