By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
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But the proposal is not without its critics. Some businesses worry the SUP process will bury them under a mountain of red tape, while others fear it vests too much power in city or neighborhood leaders, who might retaliate if they don't succumb to their demands for change. The Greenville Avenue Restaurant Association, the newly formed Lowest Lower Greenville Avenue Business Association and outspoken neighborhood advocate Avi Adelman all oppose the one-size-fits-all approach of the plan. And most of the good bars, restaurants, tattoo parlors and other small businesses feel they are being punished for the actions of a few bad bars.
Because his pizza place is open late, under the proposed rezoning, Cook will be required to go before the city to get an SUP. And, while he's not too worried, he is concerned some good businesses may suffer if the city doesn't invest in the area before the bad bars get weeded out.
Yet he is keenly aware how violent crime is tainting the area's image. In June, 29-year-old Evans Wright was gunned down in the parking lot of Char Bar, shortly after he got into a fight while waiting in line to place an order at the pizza shop. Most media reports mentioned Greenville Avenue Pizza Company.
"Now, it's to the point where there's just something crazy almost every night," Cook says. "And it's starting to get really old."
When Cook and his half-brother Sammy Mandell opened Greenville Avenue Pizza Company in 2007, they hoped to fill the void left on Lowest Greenville after Café Nostra burned down in the fire that claimed the Arcadia and several other businesses. "No one was doing pizza or pizza by the slice down here at the time, so we started tossing around the idea," he says.
Cook, now 42, has been hanging out in the Greenville Avenue area since he was in high school, and few have seen the dramatic changes in the neighborhood that he has. Historically, Greenville Avenue has been divided by Mockingbird Lane into Upper and Lower strips, and eventually Lower Greenville south of Belmont became known as Lowest Greenville. Cook has worked in the bar and restaurant business throughout the entire area most of his adult life. The walls on his pizza joint are decorated with music mementos and memorabilia—many of them tickets and promotional flyers from shows reflecting Greenville Avenue's past. He's quick to point out that the area's been a hub of late-night activity for decades.
In the early 1980s, Tango's nightclub was a popular hot spot and many still reflect fondly on the dancing frogs that once called attention to the club that sat where Taco Cabana does today. In March 1983, Poor David's Pub moved from McKinney Avenue to Lowest Greenville, and by the mid-'80s, crowds were spilling onto the streets from places like On the Air and Rick's Casablanca. By 1985 even Texas Monthly took note, mentioning the bustling street and its long lines.
In the mid-'80s, Cook landed his first job at Bluebonnet Café, the restaurant located in the old Whole Foods store on Greenville, which now sits empty. While waiting tables at Terilli's in '91, he began bartending at Mick's on Lower Greenville, becoming general manager there in 1993. "Back then was when all the bars like Harder Bar, Whiskey Bar and ZuBar started popping up down here, and everybody up there [businesses north of Belmont] was watching Lowest Greenville because they were worried they'd be taking a hit."
When the brothers opened Greenville Avenue Pizza Company, they just served dinner and late-night pizza, but as they made a name for themselves, they opened for lunch. But now the street is dead during the day. Sure, Pipe Dream, Good Records and EZ Pawn do their share of day-time business, but when Lula B's Antique Mall made the move to its new spot in Deep Ellum, Cook says that was the proverbial "nail in the coffin" for their lunch trade, which ended in July.
Cook says he understands the sensitive situation in which some bars on Lowest Greenville find themselves. The entertainment scene is fickle; people want to be seen at the hottest, trendiest bars and clubs. Lowest Greenville has given way to Knox/Henderson, Uptown and a recently resurrected Deep Ellum.
"In the bar and restaurant business, you have to cater to the crowd that frequents your place," Cook says. "If people walk into your establishment and they're paying cash, buying drinks, buying their friends drinks and tipping well, it's pretty hard to say, 'Hey, I don't want your money.'"
And, his pizza shop, like the bars on Lowest Greenville, now depends on late-night traffic. "All of a sudden you find that you're making all of your money on one or two nights a week in a small window of time," Cook says.
For the bars, that magic hour starts around 11 p.m. and runs until last call before 2 a.m. Extend that until 3 a.m. and that's the time interval during which, according to the Dallas police, the majority of the crime occurs on Lowest Greenville and its surrounding neighborhoods.