Gezellig is the classy new import beer joint on Lowest Greenville, the strip of the avenue below Belmont. Outside the bar, a girl is standing on the sidewalk in her underwear: a white corset, black panties and thigh-high stockings. While other ladies on the strip are appropriating childhood characters such as Rainbow Brite for over-sexualized Halloween costumes, this girl's just gone and said it straight up: Halloween is an excuse to dress up like a $2 whore.
It's a fitting wardrobe choice, considering her locale. Lowest Greenville, for the most part, takes remarkable effort and expense on the part of those aiming to get drunk—or just have a nice meal. Parking blows, the bar crowds suck and the average IQ of the clientele hovers somewhere around 99, just about the same as the number of calories in a Miller Lite. A spooky coincidence, if you ask me. But if there's gonna be a half-naked girl ready to roll, maybe the $7 parking is worth it. Where else are we gonna go—Addison? I'll see you in the seventh circle of hell before I see you at Sherlock's.
Thankfully, most of us don't have to visit the LG if we don't want to. But some poor souls actually live there. Twenty years ago, when many people moved in, Greenville was antique shops and dry cleaners. Today it's the public intoxication capital of Dallas.
Homeowners want noise down. Bar owners want noise up. Patrons want affordable parking. Residents want less crime. Police don't want to work in the area at all. And the city code? May as well just not exist, for all the attention it gets.
Diana Souza, the petite, clove cigarette-smoking president of the newly formed Belmont Neighborhood Association that covers the lowest part of Greenville, agreed to help me sort things out. She started by giving me the greatest gift someone can give: free parking. Instead of circling the avenue 60 times before paying a valet $7 to park my car 15 feet from the valet stand, I pull straight into her driveway on Oram Street, and we prepare for a Friday night out. I am about to endure Greenville Avenue—sober.
Crossing the street just north of Whisky Bar, my tour guide shouts a sweet "Fuck you!" at a guy tearing through the intersection at around 40 mph in a pickup.
"It's a lawless frontier out here," she tells me as we're shoved off the sidewalk by a horde of well-bred guys in striped button-down shirts. She doesn't mean people are raping, killing and looting in the streets, it's just that a lot of bars are operating under inappropriate certificates of occupancy or charging patrons to park in lots that don't belong to them, with few or no consequences from the city. And nobody seems to care about the booming music pouring off rooftops and into nearby living rooms deep into the night. Boo-hoo, right? Who cares about a little piddly code enforcement? It's not like it's homicide.
Problem is, four people were stabbed this year outside Crem, a bar on the west side of the avenue. Then there's the vandalism and the graffiti. And the people peeing in yards and throwing beer bottles down the side streets. My crash course in Lowest Greenville culture taught me this: Put 23 establishments in business to get people drunk in a four-block stretch of street and you've got problems that are going to get a lot worse before they get better. It comes down to a very simple concept: following the rules.
The area's city council member, Angela Hunt, likes rules and wants to see if we can't enforce some on Greenville Avenue before the whole place blows up in a cloud of Tommy Hilfiger, noise complaints and chunks of dismembered valet arms clutching their $3 tips. I stopped by City Hall last week to chat with Hunt, a pageant-pretty woman with a no-nonsense approach to douchebaggery, who'd like to see a better balance of daytime and nighttime businesses on Greenville. She's starting by commissioning a parking study to analyze how many free spots each bar is required to have and how many free spots each bar actually has. But there is, of course, the problem of figuring out which watering holes are, technically, bars.
"How many restaurants would you say are on Lower Greenville?" Hunt asks. A few come to mind—Daddy Jack's, Ali Baba. Hunt continues, "What if I told you they were all restaurants?"
Here's the rub: You've got to have a certificate of occupancy to, you know, occupy a space. If you're a restaurant, you get your permit and start serving your tasty vittles. If you're an alcoholic beverage establishment, you've got to get a specific use permit, which means you've got to have a public hearing and tell the neighbors why you're a benefit to the 'hood before you're allowed to move in. If that ever happened, most of the LG pitches would've gone like this:
"We'd like to open a drinking establishment on your street. We're going to call it Mediocre. Sometimes we'll book cover bands that have rehearsed a couple of times, but mostly it'll just be college kids getting hammered on shot specials and watching sports on one of our 16 televisions. There will be a poorly balanced pool table, two arcade games and a bartender who will let you hit on her as long as you tip well. After closing, our patrons will pour into the streets, breaking things and spewing bodily fluid from various orifices along the way. Once a year, somebody will probably get beaten up pretty badly."
On Lower Greenville, these hearings never happen. We end up with a street full of—as Hunt calls them—"bars masquerading as restaurants." Ghost town by day, sin city by night.
According to city records, there are only eight bars on Lowest Greenville (the Cavern and the Beagle being two of the honest and worthwhile spots). The rest of 'em are restaurants. Sit-down places you'd like to take your mom to for a nice dinner. I'm sure dining among the gyrating rumps at the Old Crow and Crem is a very intimate experience indeed.
Last Saturday, Souza, Hunt and I united for a romp around a very Halloweened-out LG to check out the state of things on the party weekend. I watched in awe as girls in high heels clomped in slutty Rainbow Brite, Strawberry Shortcake, bumblebee and cat outfits, their boyfriends trailing happily behind. It brings new perspective to every themed birthday party I attended between the ages of 1 and 6. Somebody somewhere wanted to have sex with Strawberry Shortcake so badly that he stuck her in thigh-high tights just so he didn't have to feel like a pedophile. Shudder.
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On the street, Hunt points out pothole-filled parking lots, some operating, she says, without commercial licenses. As the music of the Black Eyed Peas emanates from surrounding rooftops, Sergeant Clifton, the Dallas police officer in charge of the area, tells her they've found a stipulation in the TABC rules that says bars can lose their liquor license for repeated noise violations, something the TABC plans to start enforcing.
It's a waiting game. We'll wait and see about the parking study, and we'll wait and see about the noise enforcement, and we'll wait and see if anyone ever gets around to auditing all those "restaurants."
In the meantime, I'm sure there will be plenty of eye candy to keep me occupied. Besides, who cares about a bunch of potholes, masquerading bars and crime when there are bumblebees with giant breasts and Burberry purses stumbling off sidewalks, emptying their alcohol-filled guts in the bushes?
On second thought, Lowest Greenville, never, ever change.