How Greenville Avenue Restaurants Survive the Drunken Melee That Is St. Patrick's Day

The calm before the St. Patrick's Day storm.
The calm before the St. Patrick's Day storm. Nick Rallo
At dawn at 4724 Greenville Ave., they're hunkered down in the back room dousing the beer with green dye. They get hundreds of orders for St. Patrick’s Day-green beer, chilling in the kegs that Parkit Market has rolled out for 56 years on the corner of Greenville Avenue. Most will get picked up the night before the parade. The morning of, the Todora family preps the store like the Night’s Watch protects the Wall.

“Yes, we pretty much stick to our same routine. We’ve got a lot of experience — we’ve been doing this for 50 years,” Parkit owner Tony Todora says.

They add extra registers, erect portable toilets and hire extra staff for the deli. Quick cheeseburgers and salami sandwiches are flaming arrows for the beer-soaked mind. Another group of extra Parkit staff swipes up the inevitable flood of trash on the ground. Police watch begins early, the swords in the darkness, guarding the entry to the Parkit Market.

“We never run out beer. We run out of equipment,” Todora says. By the end of the day, the workers who’ve been coloring the beer are tinged green like Incredible Hulk stunt doubles. (Each keg is manually dyed in a painstaking process.) After the parade’s over, the street is swept of people. Another round of customers will swing by for more kegs.

Todora says the parade has a positive impact on the neighborhood and the businesses that inhabit it.

“It is by far our biggest and busiest day of the year," he says. “After 50 years, I guess you have to say it’s a tradition. We’re one of the few original stores still here.”

click to enlarge The Block Party spills out in front of the Granada Theater. - RODERICK PULLUM
The Block Party spills out in front of the Granada Theater.
Roderick Pullum
Around the same time, down the block at 2808 Greenville, Brian C. Luscher will be handing out golden-fried corny dogs.

They are not his famous Red Hot sausages — they'll be the drunken, deep-fried, straight-from-the-frozen-bag kind. Luscher tried serving more labor-intensive dishes like corned beef sandwiches for the swarming mass of partiers that descends during the annual Block Party, a 21-and-up event pingponging among the restaurants in the vicinity, but the crowds aren't looking for good. They're looking for quick food on a stick that you can hold in one hand while holding a beer in the other.

At the Grape, which has graced the block for 45 years, Luscher fortresses his bistro like he’s planning for the Great War of the Undead. No living human from the parade is allowed inside the Grape’s restroom.

“Eff that ... we don’t let any of these animals inside our restaurant,” Luscher says. "I would even tell my own mother she couldn’t use the restroom. There’s just zero tolerance. I’m sorry, no. No.”

Guards are posted, and the entire property is moated in fencing. Instead of the Grape’s mushroom soup, Luscher sells canned beer out of glorious tents and hands out hot corn dogs over the side of the patio to the street drunkards. It’s a much-preferred way of handling the onslaught of the day. Forget quiet, romantic mushroom soup.

Luscher is part of a committee of restaurants that shepherd what’s needed to keep the St. Patrick’s Day Block Party from becoming Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. They pay for cleanup from Mockingbird to Belmont and from Central Expressway to Skillman, assemble no-parking signs, pony up for insurance in case someone’s a Molotov cocktail-throwing expert, and hire a couple hundred police officers and more staff for picking up street garbage.

“Back in the day, you walk around on the street and there was just cans ankle-deep,” Luscher says. “There’s plenty of our neighborhood residents who come to our restaurant that just leave town this weekend. There are others that rent a couple of port-a-potties, put 'em in their front lawn and just have a crazy-ass open house all weekend.”

Desperados has been serving stick-to-your-ribs cuisine — like these tacos on deep-fried tortillas — for more than 40 years. - NICK RALLO
Desperados has been serving stick-to-your-ribs cuisine — like these tacos on deep-fried tortillas — for more than 40 years.
Nick Rallo
At Desperados Tacos at 4818 Greenville Ave., they're ready before you are. In the maddeningly early hours of the morning, Jorge Levy's team — his restaurant celebrated its 40th year in 2017 — slices and dices for the trains of fajita orders. The signature Desperados tacos, with fried shells that are both crispy and fluffy, are the No. 1 order of the day.

"Some of them tell us that they remembered the food was great — but they couldn't remember exactly where they where," says Jake Levy, owner Jorge's son. "My dad is here every year, so we better have things ready and delicious."

They know what to do because they've all been doing it for more than 40 years.
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Nick Rallo
Contact: Nick Rallo