After delays caused by the lockdown and shifting TABC regulations, Kim Finch, the brains behind the operation, was able to open Thunderbird last week, and she considers herself fortunate.
“After six months of being closed, we were very lucky. We had some great landlords,” Finch says.
Thunderbird Station sits on the east edge of Deep Ellum — close to Finch’s first Dallas venture, Double Wide — and is housed inside what used to be a service station, Maynard Regiel’s Gulf Service (and what was most recently Bowls and Tacos, which closed in 2019).
Long before the beginning of the pandemic, Finch had been admiring the old Maynard Riegel’s gas station from her perch in Double Wide. When she saw the opportunity to snatch up the 1922 building, she jumped on it.
Finch has gone to great lengths to preserve and highlight the history of the original tenant, which occupied the space for 62 years.
Outside, a triangular awning frames the front patio, which is decorated with a variety of repurposed materials — rusty chains connected to barrels hang from the awning to direct extra water from the gutters during heavy rains.
Many of the shapes used in the space are reminiscent of the fin-shaped geometry of the eponymous 1950s Ford Thunderbird car, as well as more generally of drive-in nostalgia.
Large windows and the original garage bay doors create a spacious feeling, visually connecting the indoor and outdoor areas and allowing for improved ventilation — aesthetics that lend themselves to social distancing during the ongoing pandemic.
The overall atmosphere is calm, far from the packed crowds closer toward downtown, and far more suitable for a chill kickback with friends than a crazy night on the town.
“People were asking me if we would have a burger. But every bar has a burger. So our take is the Sloppy Joe,” Finch says.
We tried the Frito pie, which hits the spot just like it should and doesn’t break the bank ($8). Heftier mains are also available on the menu, such as the bologna sandwich, available cold ($8) or fried ($10).
Brian Luscher's red hots also have an appearance; the snappy dogs are served with mustard and onion ($7) or with chili, cheese, Fritos and mustard ($9).
The cocktail program is the clear standout, offering creative takes on classics and some original creations.
We tried the G-Tea-O, with tea-infused gin and mint lemonade ($8), and the Keep on Truckin’, a Vietnamese coffee-inspired cocktail with local Noble Coyote cold brew, coconut milk and a mix of liqueurs ($12).
Thunderbird Station, 3400 Commerce St. (Deep Ellum). Open for dine-in (to those 21 and older) 4 p.m. to midnight Tuesday through Friday; noon to midnight Saturday and Sunday.