All-American is a series that looks at beloved, longstanding North Texas eateries and examines their history while exploring how the food has changed — for the good or bad — over the years.
This Friday at 9 p.m. sharp, there will be another round of karaoke at the Dallasite.
There’s no stage really, just a couple of microphones, TVs and plenty of cold drinks. You might hear a searingly strange rendition of a Michael Jackson song, or someone working their ass off to nail Bruno Mars. You’ll probably catch “Friends in Low Places,” if you’re lucky. You will definitely hear everyone, no matter how bad you tank it, cheer you on. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from — when you’re doing karaoke at the Dallasite, you’re a tried and true member of the club. Owner Rhonda Nail has hosted this night in East Dallas for nearly 24 years.
“Oh my god, isn’t that wonderful?” she says, “It’s the good, the bad and the ugly, and we clap for all,” she says, cigarette dangling from her fingers. “We call it Dallasite Idol.”
I pull up to the Dallasite just before lunchtime. Google says it’s open, but the door’s locked and the sign’s off. As I’m checking my phone to make sure I’m not crazy, Nail opens the front door. They’re open, but Nail, as she tells me, usually waits for the first customer to arrive before firing things up.
Nail was “a young girl,” she tells me, when she and her husband bought the first location on Gaston and Fitzhugh. She sits across from me at the O-shaped bar, eating a few fries laid out on a napkin. They held onto that location for 23 years before moving to Ross and Hall. Her husband passed away in 1994. The Gaston and Fitzhugh location is a laundry now, over there by Chicken House. They held the Ross location for another 12 1/2 years before moving to their current spot on Bryan Street.
Nail was born in Oak Cliff, raised in Mesquite, and stops me mid-question when I ask about the neighborhood.
“Oh I love it,” she says. “I love East Dallas. I drove 14 miles, and here I am.”
Just before lunch, the bar is dark and quiet. I haven’t seen it like this — I know the Dallasite to be the raucous, hollering place with stupendously drunken karaoke. I have flashes of cheeseburgers and strong vodka cocktails. Usually packed, the shuffleboard table is nestled into the back corner and the dart boards are empty. Cheeseburgers, cooked on a flat top and toasty, old-school BLTs (with that thin microwave bacon), hot wings and onion rings are favorites at the bar. It’s not particularly memorable food unless you have a few drinks sloshing around inside you. That’s when the dive bar baskets get good. Still, it’s the people who have kept this place running.
Nail tells me a story about meeting up with a 90-year-old customer of hers who has been coming to the Dallasite since 1973. “She’s still kicking,” Rhonda jokes.
“I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs, but I’ve seen a lot more ups. It’s been good to me,” Nail says. “I still tend my bar Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The old broad’s still here.” She lives down the street from this quadrant of East Dallas that seems immune, at least for now, to gentrification.
Inside the Dallasite, you wouldn’t know that just a few blocks away on Greenville, time has been cruel. The flood of change has whisked away a lot of good restaurants and bars close by, and the Dallasite clings tightly to the idea that it’s a place that will take care of you when you stumble. In other words, they’re committed to being a true-blue neighborhood bar.
So, when Nail says, “I have every race; I have every walk of life. Doctors, lawyers, dentists. When we’re all in here, we’re all just good folk. Nobody knows who’s got what. It’s not important.” This doesn’t feel like canned commentary for a press release. She means it.
On March 11, the Dallasite is hosting their fifth annual crawfish boil. The man behind the crawfish, Charles Donihoo, who’s banging around at the bar when I’m there, has been drinking at Dallasite for about 18 years. He’ll be tossing crawfish in with potatoes, onion, corn, garlic and sausage, and there will be one-buck jello shots and five-buck Irish Car Bombs. It’s a joy to hear.
Nail fires up the kitchen to make me a BLT. It arrives with evenly toasted white bread. It’s got the right ratio of mayo to tomato, which tastes surprisingly fresh, with tons of crispy strips of thin bacon. What else would I need? Maybe a beer. Maybe a shot of Jameson. It’s just past 11 a.m., but the Dallasite’s a place that won’t judge.
The Dallasite, 4822 Bryan St.