All-American is a series that looks at beloved, longstanding North Texas eateries and examines their histories while exploring how the food has changed — for the good or bad — over the years.
The Inwood Theatre is a baby boomer, celebrating its 70th birthday in May, but few things are more iconically ’80s in Dallas than The Inwood Lounge. Instantly, you may picture the wall of thick, squared glass and violet runner lights, like something you’d see in the club Sarah Connors visits in Terminator, or the crystal-clear, ice-sheened martinis.
The Inwood Lounge has an undeniable presence. Britt Clardy, who wears many hats, including vinyl record DJ and bar manager, began as a barback about five years ago. He’d wash dishes, simmering in customers' strange stories from behind the bar. Once, he witnessed a woman drag a man from the bar by the ear, which apparently happens from time to time. The man had been sitting at the bar with another woman. Other times, while in the back office, Clardy heard footsteps on the ceiling. He says it sounded like heels clacking on the ceiling, and he was alone in the building.
“It’s definitely a victim of its time,” Clardy says, describing the lounge space. “Between the glass tile, the wall, the little fountain running through it — it looks like the '80s had one too many cocktails and vomited all over the place.”
As opposed to most joints in Dallas, the theme is not a theme. It’s not kitsch. The lounge is not an ’80s concept bar. It is the ’80s. The lounge was born in 1981, and it never grew up or changed. There’s ironclad proof of ’80s-ness in the stories you'll hear (ask and you shall receive): Duran Duran came into the bar sometime after it opened. According to a legend, Clardy was told, Duran’s manager dropped a gold lighter wrapped in 100-dollar bills. The lounge’s bartender at the time, it goes, swiped the lighter and bills, making the incident the most ’80s thing that may have ever happened.
Bellied-up to the bar with an end-of-Titanic-cold martini, you may look over your shoulder to see a black-and-white film on the TV over the bar. You’re more likely to find All Quiet on the Western Front playing on the lounge’s TV than the Rangers game.
The martinis are cold and perfect. Monopolowa vodka clatters loudly with dry vermouth and pours like liquid crystals into a glass. Settling in to one of the lounge's stubby stools with a Gibson (a skinned onion instead of an olive) long before a movie is one of Dallas’ most comforting things. Take your time, and you'll get some yellow Goldfish crackers and “Cajun mix” — loaded with plenty of those why-are-they-so-addictive craggy sesame sticks — in front of you. It’s another time entirely; you’ll feel like you’ve left 2017.
“I’m sure if the walls could talk, they’d scream,” Clardy says with a chuckle.
There’s always been a palpable sense of otherness, openness and, honestly, magic at this movie theater bar. Maybe hosting paranormal activity is part of the refreshingly un-hipstery charm: There are real ghosts at the lounge, damn it, not poser bangs and clangs pretending to ghosts.
“You can get pretty spooked out,” Clardy says. “I’ve had a few moments where I’m thinking, OK, I’m going to get out of here now.”
Down a Gibson with a vermouth-soaked onion or a little water in a low glass of 16-year-old Lagavulin, if you prefer (to let the flavors breathe), and you won’t care if the girl from The Ring is sucking souls behind you. For more than 30 years, the Lounge has been a deep, dimly lit breath from the outside world.
The Inwood Lounge, 5458 W Lovers Ln.
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