What We Lose When Dallas' Dive Bars Die
RIP, Club Schmitz
I remembered it recently. A friend of mine is in and out of the country for extended stretches of time but was recently in town. He asked about Club Schmitz as a potential next stop on a weekend bar tour, and I had to break the bad news to him. "The best things you can get at that address now are Twinkies and gasoline," I told him. He looked sad, and then launched into tales about bars in Europe -- about how you can sit on stools inside pubs that have been pouring beers for many hundreds of years.
You can't do the same many places in the States, and not just because we haven't put in our drinking time. It's because we're turning a lot of our oldest and crustiest bars into gas stations, pharmacies and other corporate storefronts.
Obviously there's a large contingency here in Dallas (and in most parts of the country) that couldn't give two Schlitz about bar history. If Dallas can't protect historic landmarks downtown from developers and their wrecking balls, why would they even consider protecting a dive bar tucked underneath the train tracks on the outskirts of town?
But we're giving up a lot when we let these old watering holes get razed to the ground. On just about any day at Club Schmitz, there would be an old guy at the bar who would tell you what the neighborhood was like decades ago, if you asked. The regulars were there so reliably that I wrote a story about them for the Dallas Observer drinking issue. Sure, many claims were greatly exaggerated, robbing those stories of their historical accuracy, but it was way more fun than the audio tour at your average museum. Plus, there was beer.
So Schmitz is dead, and the Loon is dead, and that leads me to wonder which dive bar will be next. I tweeted the question earlier: "What Dallas bars are most likely to be here in 50 years?" Here's some of what came back:
Lakewood Landing was a popular response. The bar has nearly wrapped up its first 50 years, so it's got as much of a chance as anyone else to make it another 50. Ships came up, too, but that bar feels like it's on life support as it is, and Greenville is a prime target for redevelopment. I'm thinking Ships will be mid-rise luxury condominiums in the not so distant future. The Goat might have made it, but now that there's a Fresh Market across the street, it will likely become a townhouse soon enough. They say when your quirky, hard-ass karaoke DJ leaves, your very survival is in question.
The Grapevine, near the corner of Oak Lawn and Maple (and a Stone IPA's throw from Observer HQ), is still going strong, but it's telling that the bar's gravel parking lot is used every day by the construction crews making over the neighborhood one parcel at a time. The Crow Family will eventually find better use for it.
City Tavern, downtown, has potential for a long life. The space may not operate under the same name a few decades from now, but it's a good spot in a great location. Something tells me beers will be poured at that address for a long time.
Who knows? Maybe Dallas will value dive bars more than it does old black willow trees. And maybe 50 years in the future those bars will have some sort of cumulative draw. In addition to the Arts and Design Districts Dallas can seduce tourists with a historic pub-crawl, with souvenir glassware and transportation by hoverbus. That or the city will be overrun with noodle houses, trendy cocktail bars and beer gardens. Either way.
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