Yesterday, Robert Wilonsky ruined all our mornings in short order. The Dallas Morning News reporter had decided to head to Ships Lounge on Lower Greenville for a morning beer and, via a quick discussion with owner Charlie Red, learned that the bar would be going on a short hiatus. Wilonsky reports that Ships will only be closed for “about a month,” but things don’t look good for Dallas’ most beloved crotchety old dive bar.
Bar closures — for however long a time — generally don’t bode well for an establishment’s future. In order to pay your staff and keep the lights on, you’ve got to be able to serve booze (in Ships case, beer and wine) to willing customers. When the doors are closed, those customers are forced to give their cash to other establishments, ones that they may ultimately end up liking more than this grimy dive. But so many Dallasites will tell you that Ships is totally irreplaceable, an institution to be preserved.
Whether or not that is true depends on how you like to drink. If you like to, as many regulars do, drink beer from a can and do a lot of people-watching, Ships is the perfect spot. If you want a $14 cocktail made with house-infused mescal and artisanal bitters, though, you’ll have to look elsewhere on Greenville Avenue. In fact, the regulars here might try to fight you for ordering a Death in the Afternoon if it weren’t for the bar’s strict no-fighting, no-cussing policy.
Quirks like these make Ships Lounge a unique place, but they also highlight exactly why it is a relic. Same goes for the jukebox, arguably the best in town, which is still stocked with actual, physical music unlike its more modern counterparts across the city. Sadly, the jukebox may ultimately be a metaphor for the entire bar: Even though it is one of the best in the city, it is still outdated and stands in stark contrast to the surrounding landscape.
And now Ships is changing, perhaps permanently. After this temporary closure, as Wilonsky reports, Red will turn his bar over to another person, likely someone who has already seen success in the industry. Even if this person is wholly dedicated to preserving Ships' history and its characteristic aesthetic, it’s impossible to imagine it won’t change in some fundamental way. And that change, we’re sorry to report, is all our fault.
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It’s our fault because you don’t go to Ships enough. It’s our fault because we want Greenville Avenue to have fancy bars that serve cocktails made with fancy ingredients. Maybe it’s our fault because we don't put enough money in the jukebox. We all have some culpability as these revered Dallas institutions take their dying breaths, whether or not we want to believe it.
Don’t say we didn’t warn you. Development has been threatening some of Dallas’ favorite dive bars, and Ships is no exception. As Greenville Avenue gets “cleaned up,” made more palatable for people who pay $2,000-a-month condo rent and shop organically, spots like Ships are inevitably going to fade away. At this rate, we’re more likely to see this building turned into an artisanal barbershop than a revival of this supposedly unforgettable atmosphere and the people who inhabit it. Those are the unfortunate facts of a city that is changing.
And with that change, we lose a place like Ships, which once played home to the city’s most interesting assortment of weirdos, thinkers and everyone in between. That crowd still gathers, but they’re flanked by an even larger group of gawking hipsters, all trying to soak in something that is authentically cool. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to do a very good job of paying the bills.