Bars, restaurants on White Rock Lake: Could it happen?

So what do you think: Should restaurants or other food and drink establishments be allowed at and around White Rock Lake? According to a DMN blog post, that’s the kind of thing that is being “casually” discussed among some neighborhood politicos at City Hall.

Allowing a few food trucks to set up on city property surrounding the lake apparently is one option, while allowing a more permanent private setup — maybe at Winfrey Point or the Big Thicket — also is being entertained, all on the premise that food and beverage offerings adjacent to the lake would enhance the user experience along with adding funds to city coffers needed to help maintain city park land.

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The whole “should there be development around the lake” is a question that five years ago nearly drew blood when two projects — a six-story “high-rise” built by C.C. Young Retirement Community on the north side of Mockingbird and what was originally a 24-story high-rise called Emerald Isle just off Garland Road at Barbec’s — were proposed.

Neither project was literally “on” the lake, but that didn’t stop lake loyalists from coming out of the woodwork, pitchforks in hand, to say that there would be a lot of cold, dead bodies in the way of any development that interfered with the pristine look of the lake. There were public meetings, and some of them were downright unfriendly, with anyone supporting development anywhere near the lake (even on Garland Road) being shouted down at neighborhood gatherings.

Since then, the Emerald Isle project — which probably was never a threat to be built, even when commercial real estate money was flowing freely — died a fairly quick death, mostly due to errors by the developer in working with the community. Meanwhile, the C.C. Young project opened last year, and after the developers worked with neighborhood groups on a compromise to height and setbacks, the project seems to be a decent addition to the lake skyline.

So where does that leave things with this “casual” discussion down at the City about restaurants at the lake?

As the DMN blog surmises, the issue would likely find lake users (bikers, runners and general pedestrians) who would favor a couple of food and watering holes pitted against neighborhood homeowners, who perhaps would be concerned about additional traffic, trash and general mayhem caused by increased lake use.

Back five years ago, I remember asking a former city council person whether the city would ever — like in my lifetime — allow a permanent restaurant at the lake. As a potential site, and to elicit a response, I pointed to the southwest corner of Mockingbird and Buckner — you know, that area of natural grasses scenically overlooking the lake with perfect traffic access?

The politico just laughed and told me that there had recently been a proposal to do just that, and it was dead on arrival at City Hall.

“No chance it would ever pass,” I was told. Well, maybe times are changing?


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  • Dallas Lake Lover

    NO! STOP encroaching on what little nature is left at White Rock Lake!
    Boy Scout Hill serves park goers in numerous ways. It’s one of the only
    elevated hills to watch the sunset, have a picnic, and it is a fantastic
    spot for kite flying! PLEASE LEAVE THE PARK ALONE! The Dallas Arboretum
    has done enough damage chopping down trees and constructing eyesores!

  • Pingback: White Rock Lake development, Central-Park style « Abrams Brookside Neighborhood Association()

  • Dana Dixon

    I totally agree with the comment from CEPKUS. White Rock & Bachman Lakes are lovely just as they are; however, Bachman Lake lost its aesthetic appeal with all the businesses along NW Hwy ruining the landscape.  Would hate to see this happen @ WRL.

  • Eastdalgal

    Love the idea of a food truck area – kind of the best of both worlds for multiple groups. It serves the purpose of providing eats and drinks for those frequenting the lake, but something that would “spoil” the lake for the “anti” folks. I also think it would bring more folks out to the lake – we don’t all run and bike. Some of us prefer to picnic. 🙂
    But I do also love the idea of having a nice meal while looking out at the lake. It could be done properly if done carefully.

  • Tbarker

    Okay, understand the different sides. Do we really want alcohol back at White Rock Lake?  The reason for the barrier gates was to impede cruising and allow more pedestrian friendly spaces.

    We cannot even control shared use of the hiking trails, let alone parking enforcement. Take the concepts to commercial space, readily availble. We are lazy but not that lazy.

  • Michael Mosteller

    With all due respect, comparing that portion of Lake Austin where Hula Hut is located to White Rock Lake is not a fair comparison at all. That portion of Lake Austin near the Miller Dam is not made for public access except for boating. There are no hike and bike trails in that area. A more accurate comparison is Lady Bird Lake. If you look at that area, you will see that Austin does not allow any direct development on Lady Bird Lake either. The only exceptions I can think of are a few hotels and the Austin American Statesman building. The rest of that entire area is for recreational public use like hike and bike trails, kayak and canoe rentals, bat watching areas, outdoor music areas like Auditorum shore, baseball and soccer fields and access to the lake from Zilker Park. All commercial development is pushed outside the shoreline access to Lady Bird Lake.

  • Marshall_burke

    Seems like it has worked in Austin really well. Hula Hut is an institution now and it gives u some place to take non exercise people to enjoy the natural beauty of the city. Dallas could make WRL a JEWEL, but they don’t try very hard. Maybe the handful of people that want the lake for themselves only should consider the other people of the City of Dallas.

  • Cephus

    I would think you would have to redevelop an existing commercial area to accomplish anything like this.  If you try to do anything near the residential areas you will get too much blowback–heck you can’t even get lights installed on the jogging path .  The only area that seems to fit that bill is at the intersection of Garland and Winstead.  Obvioulsy something is going to happen at the YMCA/Far West site pretty soon although you would have to go through the Santa Fe trail to incorporate anything with the Lake.  Seems that something that incorporated the new Boat House complex would be interesting as well. I would suggest you could move the water department out and allow a small restaurant/bar and turn the walkway along the dam into a pedestrian mall of sorts.  This would also have minimal impact on the jogging/biking trail for those who use it.

    Some good possibilities exist, but I wouldn’t want to ruin a good thing in what we already have.  We have plenty of man made wonders in Dallas as it is and very few natural attractions.

  • stuart

     I love the Bath House so I certainly don’t want to take anything away from it! Was thinking more of something complementary rather than a replacement.

  • Rick Wamre

    Good points and thoughtful commentary, Michael. One note: The Katy Trail Ice House model would work great around the lake, but there’s no suitable spot there I can think of around the lake that wouldn’t result in trading desired commercial activity for natural landscapes. That will be the crux of the discussion if there is to be any development at or near the lake.

  • Mlejunque

    While I like the idea of looking at the lake while I dine, I have often thought how nice it would be if most of the lake was blocked off to car traffic. With a restaurant, it would really depend on what it would do to the traffic. I think pedestrian, runners, cyclists should own the lake, so as to preserve a bit of nature in the midst of our city.

  • Rick Wamre

    The idea of “doing something at the Bath House” is an interesting one, particularly since there is a relative abundance of parking there. But if I was a neighboring homeowner, I would probably not be in favor of having a busy restaurant I could see from my house. And I would expect that Bath House patrons would probably be unwilling to give up their space, either.

  • Michael Mosteller

    I think some food trucks would be a great idea. It enhances the lake and adds to people’s enjoyment when they go for a ride, a run, or bring their family down to play. Also it wouldn’t be permanent. I doubt the food trucks would be out every day, maybe just on weekends or at peak times. We’ve already seen some non-permanent additions to the Lake that have enhanced people’s enjoyment of the Lake like the kayak rentals on the North end of the Lake by Boy Scout Hill that is seasonal. 

    Permanent structures being added would really have to depend on where they would go and what they would replace. Winfrey Point? That’s a horrible idea as many groups rent that out for weddings, meetings, kids activities, etc. Dreyfus Club? While I would love to see something rebuilt there, it’s not exactly a large space. Add to that there is only one way in and one way out. Would the city be willing to reopen the stretch of the road that is currently blocked off from the Boathouse to just North of the Dreyfus Club circle? I agree with others that the only way to see some movement on rebuilding the Dreyfus Club would be from an outside, private source. I think that would be a great area for the food trucks to go. Highly visible and reachable by foot, bike or automobile.Other areas that are multi-use on the map from the DMN blog would all be horrific ideas. Boy Scout Hill is a great place to just go for a walk, have a picnic, fly a kite or look at wildflowers. Big Thicket is a great place for kids to play and families to cook out. T&P Hill would probably be a no go from the people who live right around that area who already deal with an increase in traffic from Lake goers. There’s also a very popular playground up there. It would be unfortunate to remove the natural landscape of those areas for a private business to go in. There is some space around the dog park but I would think the city might want to hold onto that since the dog park is arguably the most popular part of the lake area. That might be the best area though for a Katy Trail Ice House type restaurant/bar. However, you would be destroying more natural landscapes for a private business. You also would be taking away much needed parking spaces for bikers and joggers.I would rather the city focus on development around the spillway (like getting rid of Far West or the dead liquor stores) and Barbec’s area. Private businesses have already opened on the outskirts of the Lake to allow for people to get something to eat or drink like the Bicycle Cafe just North off Lawther Road. Just have to walk or ride a few minutes to get there. Ultimately, there needs to be a thought that some places in our city just shouldn’t be open to private development. White Rock Lake is a public amenity that should be preserved for future generations. Things like Emerald Isle were opposed by me because even though they were not right on the Lake, their additions would bring about a flood of people wanting to develop on the Lake, permanently altering both the beauty and the concept of why people go to White Rock Lake. The idea of going to the Lake isn’t to have a West Village type experience. If people want that, there is a ton of cheap real estate all along Garland Road that someone could buy up and transform. This isn’t like the Dallas Zoo where a private company could manage the Lake better. Short of too much trash around the Lake, the city does a fine job with maintaining the Lake. 
    I always thought the old pump house that is now the rowing club/museum would have made a great restaurant. 

  • Anonymous

    Tavern on the Green filed for bankruptcy because the City of New York was not renewing its lease. It was the highest grossing restaurant in New York and a new operator is taking the space over next year. 

  • stuart

    Some redevelopment at Garland/Winstead might be a good idea but it doesn’t really fit with what I see when I think restaurant ON the lake.

    What about doing something at the Bath House?

  • DK

    Tavern on the Green went bankrupt.

  • Anonymous

    I thought this would be about redevelopment of the liquor stores and gas stations by the spillway. That is where we should have some lake oriented development.

  • Last night we ate dinner at Gloria’s at the Harbor on Lake Ray Hubbard. We sat on the patio, watching sailboats and motorboats and the beautiful sunset. It was perfect. We live near Casa Linda. I’d love to have that kind of experience on White Rock Lake instead of driving to Rockwall.

  • jd

    If the Dreyfuss Club is ever to be re-built it will take a private partner, but it would need to be the right partner – think Tavern on the Green.

    The Arboretum is effectively doing this  today (albeit part time) and it is a big positive. It would take a partner like that, who is more or less above reproach, for this to happen.

  • GFO

    Food trucks would be great. A permanent place, if done right, could work too. One of my favorite cities, Vancouver, has a beautiful restaurant in Stanley Park that definitely enhances the experience of the public space. 

  • stuart

    A food truck park at White Rock would be Awesome!