There may be hope yet for Lower Greenville. Long after the once rough-and-tumble live music neighborhood gave way to rooftop bars and valet service, the closure of Ships Lounge last summer looked like the final sign of the changing tide towards Uptownization. But now there's a plot twist.
Tomorrow, almost exactly one year from when previous owner Charlie "Red" Hunt closed the dive bar's doors after more than 60 years of operation, Ships is coming back from the dead. It's all thanks to Naser Nayeb and Matt Pikar, the owners of Lower Greenville restaurant Nora who helped save neighboring bar Dallas Beer Kitchen earlier this year.
"Me and Matt, especially after work, we would go get drinks [at Ships]. When we found out it was closing, we were trying to do everything we could to get it back open," Nayeb says, speaking over the phone. "Plus, we like that it's the only true dive bar on Lower Greenville. It was not an easy journey, but we pulled it off."
Yet, given the opposition that Ships' return at one time seemed to face from the Lower Greenville Neighborhood Association (LGNA), the return seems surprisingly easy. Last November, Jason Boso, who owns the nearby Truck Yard, was shot down when he applied for a permit to keep the bar open till 2 a.m.
"It'll be like squeezing blood out of a turnip," Boso told the Dallas Morning News at the time, insisting that the hours between midnight and 2 a.m. were when Ships did the best business.
Nayeb and Pikar, however, don't seem to share those concerns.
"I don't know what he was thinking, but we're fine being open till midnight," Nayeb says, dismissing Boso's doom-and-gloom assertions. "We're working on getting the permit to stay open later, but right now it's just till midnight."
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Very well then. Nayeb and Pikar seem to have done a good job of playing the long game on this one — but, most importantly, they still moved fast enough to maintain Ships' grandfathered-in liquor license, which allows them to serve alcohol without having to serve food. (A no-no by Lower Greenville's newfangled, and strictly regulated, standards.)
"[That was] another piece he couldn't pull off," Nayeb says of Boso's bid. "We were working on that in the background while he was doing that. The owner of the building, at the same time, he said, 'You guys can do your due diligence, and if his doesn't go through then y'all can try it.'"
Nayeb and Pikar received their new certificate of occupancy, which is required to run a commercial property, back in January. They've been working ever since to get Ships ready to reopen. It's set to stay mostly unchanged — the jukebox and the old leather booths remain as they were before — but not everything will be the same.
Besides a new upstairs seating area, Ships will now be taking credit cards (an idea antithetical to its proudly off-the-grid roots) and serving beer, wine and liquor. That means no more bringing your own booze and getting loaded for the price of a mixer.
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"With the new TABC laws [it] would be really complicated," Nayeb says, of the old bring-your-own-liquor policy. "We're still liable for how much you're drinking because you're bringing in your own liquor."
Most importantly, Ships' return appears to come with the full endorsement of the LGNA. Nayeb remains coy about how he and Pikar wound up in the association's good graces, when Boso couldn't.
"Once we applied, there was nobody blocking it. We just asked for it and they granted it to us," he says, matter-of-fact. "You have to live in cahoots with your neighbors. We have good respect for the neighborhood. We understand that [the LGNA] is trying to better the neighborhood and we do what we can to better the neighborhood."
With three businesses now on their books along Lower Greenville, Nayeb and Pikar are anything but done with expansion. "We like the area. We see the potential, the future in it. Every bar and restaurant we do, we see a future in it," says Nayeb. "We would like to open two more in the next year."