Recently, I've been thinking a lot about dive bars, that sub-sect of watering hole fiercely guarded by established regulars. The type of place where the bartender and waitress know 90% of their customer's names and take the time to invest in conversation past the precursory friendly pre-drink banter. I decided last weekend to make my way around some Dallas haunts in hopes of tracking down Norm and the guys, and to find out exactly what people at these places were listening to.
Inwood Lounge Though not really a dive, and with prices that indicate you are in fact in one of the pricier parts of Dallas, I have this insane love for a bar inside of a movie theater. As I walked, El Michels Affair played over the speakers. I order a $4 Lone Star (I like this place, but this is highway robbery) and make my way to the back room, which feels like it should be used for drug deals - maybe it's all the neon and the Talking Heads vinyl. This thought comes to me either because of the lighting, the gentleman sitting at a table wearing sunglasses, or because I've seen the works of Michael Mann a few times too many.
Ships Ships is the closest thing Dallas has to Cheers, as the Lower Greenville haunt is renowned for its regulars and what might be the best jukebox in town. When I arrived, I ran headlong into a pirate-themed birthday party for one of the regulars. As I sat down in a booth and ordered a $2 PBR draft, I couldn't help but smile. It feels like the clientele knows each other, as hugs are given out and liquor poured into set-ups.
An assortment of Stax-era soul and outlaw country plays from the jukebox as people take turns picking through their favorite songs. Willie Nelson plays as the bartender asks my story and hands me another PBR. Next to me, a woman in full pirate regalia talks about dogs with another woman who has an abundance of feathers in her hair. I almost feel bad telling you about Ships. The limited capacity makes things cozy, but borders on the criminally small side.
Inwood Tavern I walked into the Inwood Tavern on a lark, more curious than anything else. I had seen two brothers walk in earlier and was hoping they were a sign of something interesting. I was not disappointed. The Jackson 5 is blaring loudly and I notice everyone is wearing a name tag. I've stumbled into a high school reunion. Hillcrest High School's class of '85, '86, '87, '88 and '89 has taken over the bar.
I put on a name tag, so as not to standout too much, and start making my way through the room, receiving confused looks from each person that greets me, their brains not fully registering the absurdity of my youth mixed with the "Falcon '87" name tag. After milling about for a bit, I decide to take a seat at the bar, where a highly buzzed woman tells me how nice it is to see me. While I ask the bartender about the crowd, she tells me the party has been going since 6 p.m. Considering it's now midnight, the rosiness of the Hillcrest crew's cheeks makes perfect sense.
I am not the only person who didn't graduate in the '80s. A group of Park Cities twenty-somethings are enjoying the show as well, and one of them takes the beginning of Michael Jackson's "Bad" as the green light to start dancing with a Hillcrest '86-er.
Q Room/ Cafe Billiard Gameroom My night ended at an establishment that seems to have two names, as online searches identify this space as Cafe Billiard Gameroom, but signs throughout the building read Q Room. Located in a rundown strip center on the corner of Webb Chapel and Forest Lane, Q Room serves a rather odd niche; the expanse of the room is filled with pool tables surrounded by serious looking players who are taking turns shooting and drinking Corona.
The jukebox in the back is blaring Tejano music and a small space is being used as a dance floor. I'm only able to pick out a few songs from the mix, and the vocals of Maná's Fher Olvera. An El Salvadorian gentleman hands me a beer and asks my name. He laughs and shouts "Bullsheet!" when I use the proper pronunciation. It seems that even though I'm a Mexican citizen and willingly here, I'm still the pale-skinned mestizo. 2 a.m. hits, and two DPD officers from outside come in to usher people out. I kill my Corona, glance up at one of the TVs and catch the medal ceremony from the men's soccer final. I walk out into the night as "Viva El Tri!" fills my ears.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.