Our neighborhood dive bars: Where everyone knows your name, and your drink

Lakewood Landing (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
Lakewood Landing (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Laid-back libations

When you crack the door and walk in for happy hour, everyone sees you before your eyes adjust to the darkness, and chances are, you are recognized. You may hear a jukebox, a hearty chuckle among friends or perhaps some live music, but as your vision returns, the darkness becomes familiar. You have arrived in one of Dallas’ many neighborhood dive bars. These treasures have become even more valuable in a Dallas that often values the newest and shiniest, and provide a respite from the posturing and anonymity that plague many watering holes around town. Take the plunge and learn more about East Dallas dives.

No matter the night or time, you will find neighbors, regulars and music lovers alike at The Goat. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

The Goat

Even during the holidays, The Goat is hopping on a Tuesday night. For this neighborhood bar with live music every night, it’s no surprise. Tuesday is Delta Blues night, when acoustic musicians entertain guests with down-home songs of loss and love.

One couple saunters onto the compact dance floor between the tables and stage, eyes locked on each other, without a care for the guests. The two touch foreheads, hips swiveling and feet tapping to belie their dancing ability without showing off too much.

Loud conversations along the bar and a pool game are the backdrop to a man decked out in Dallas Stars regalia, including green Mardi Gras beads, a green top hat, bedazzled cane and sunglasses.

“You may see something you will remember,” says manager Adam Testa, tellingly.

That is the epitome of The Goat, where everyone is confident they will see someone they know. It is more surprising to not recognize anyone.

“There is never a dull moment,” says Testa, who has worked there for over a decade.

Despite the acronym, The Goat did not get its name from being the greatest of all time (though they would argue that they are). The bar derived the name from a former owner who owned a 1960s Pontiac GTO (nicknamed goat) and wanted to hang the front end of the classic car on the building’s façade. The city said she couldn’t do it, but the name stuck. It has been The Goat ever since.

The Goat. (Danny Fulgencio)

Neighborhood regulars dot the bar during the day, but nightfall brings out the music-seeking crowd. Two nights of karaoke, two blues jams, a Delta Blues night and Friday and Saturday’s featured artists keep the evenings musical, where everyone fits in no matter how poorly they belt out Bruno Mars.

“This is a place where everyone drops pretensions, where people of all stripes become best friends for three to four hours,” says Testa.

The Goat is one of the few bars that can be found open at 7 a.m. While that might seem like a poor financial decision for the bar and a poor life decision for anyone else, it services the night shift workers, whose happy hour begins when the rest of the world is waking up.

Owner Bill Weiss took over the bar in 2004, but says he is “kind of foggy” on the exact history of who owned the bar when. He does know that back when Rhonda Nail, who now owns Dallasite (another East Dallas dive), was the owner, her husband died in the bar. “Right over there,” says Weiss, pointing to the end of the bar.

History is a big part of The Goat, from its clientele to its tables, where family photos have been preserved under layers of lacquer.

When a regular walks in, Weiss flings a coaster at her, both laughing as it spins away wildly. “We are blessed with a loyal clientele,” he says. “We haven’t managed to piss them off too much.”

The Goat

7248 Gaston Ave.

Open 7 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Saturday,
noon-2 a.m. Sunday

Did You Know: The Goat doesn’t offer food, but you can bring in pizza and sandwiches from Cigarz next door (or anywhere else) to eat with the drinks and live music.

For a quiet conversation away from the jukebox that only plays the classics, head upstairs to the lofted library. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
For a quiet conversation away from the jukebox that only plays the classics, head upstairs to the lofted library at Ships Lounge. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Ships Lounge

Down the street from paleo and fancy toast eateries on Greenville Avenue, crock pots are humming along with something closer to comfort food at Ships Lounge on Wednesday nights.

Humpday is free chili dog night at Ships, which tells you everything you need to know about the local dive. Guests may grab a beer at the bar and head over to the slow cookers, which keep hot dogs, chili and melted cheese warm and ready for the hungry, at no charge.

With deals like that, no one asks questions about how a bar with a nautical theme hundreds of miles from the ocean has lasted for decades.

One Wednesday, as the night wore on, a man entered and began making several chili dogs all at once. They weren’t for him, though. He was heading out to distribute the hot dogs to his homeless friends, he said.

Pam Shaddox has tended bar at Ships for the last 17 years, and she says the bar is like going back in time. “Look at the jukebox, it’s all oldies,” she adds.

Ships’ shotgun design has been in place since the 1950s, with the bar taking up more than half the width of the tight space, though there is a pool table and more seating at the back, as well as a newer lofted library area full of old Encyclopedia Britannica volumes.

The padded blue front door has an anchor pattern riveted into the upholstery, which may be a metaphor for the bar and the people there. In stormy seas, neighbors can count on Ships Lounge.

Ships almost didn’t make it when the shopping center at Ross and Greenville was redeveloped in 2015 and 2016. When a longtime Mexican restaurant, a used tire place and a paint store became hip restaurants, an upscale barbershop and a boutique gym, Ships closed for almost a year.

Ships Lounge. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

“People were calling and texting me, asking, ‘What is going on with Ships?’ ” Shaddox says. New owners Nasser Nayeb and Matt Pikar, who also own Nora on Greenville, made sure the bar survived, changing the space slightly without running off the regulars. The bar reopened in 2016.

A mural of the ocean adorns the wall opposite of the bar, which keeps its beer selection simple yet plentiful. The vinyl pad that lines the edge of the bar has its outer layer peeled away, and a now defunct space heater hangs above an inverted occupancy sign that originally said “49,” but now reads something closer to “6h.”

The campy décor and homey feel bring many to the bar, but for Shaddox, the regulars are what keep her coming to work every day.

“The people make it interesting and joyful to be here,” she says. “I enjoy the compadre-ship of the people I’ve been with all these years.”

She adds, “No matter what time you come in, you can forget your problems at the door. There will be a cheerful bartender behind the bar, and you can tell a difference between when you walk in and when you walk out.”

Ships Lounge

1613 Greenville Ave.

10–12 a.m. Monday-Friday, 10–1 a.m. Saturday, noon–12 midnight Sunday 

Did You Know: Country music legend Charley Pride, who released 36 No. 1 singles in his career, was a semi-regular at the bar for a spell.

Postcards from patrons on trips around the world decorate the back of the bar, while more active guests head to the billiard room. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
Items from patrons decorate the back of the bar at Lakewood Landing, while more active guests head to the billiard room. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Lakewood Landing

A portrait of Lucille Matthews, who worked at the bar for more than 30 years, watches over this watering hole. She used to work for Jack Ruby and her roommate once dated Lee Harvey Oswald, but she is remembered for being the heart and soul of the Landing for decades, her personality standing just a bit taller than her hair.

Owner Bill Rossell bought Lucille a car, complete with a giant bow, for her 30th anniversary of employment at the Landing, which started off as a Goff’s hamburgers around 50 years ago.

“She was shaking and kissing me,” Rossell says.

Lakewood Landing can feel like a series of spheres, each with their own geological formations and character. The sections of the local bar reveal unique social climates, depending on where one wants to sit.

The barstools are somewhat protected by an interior gable separating it from the dining area, where several tables and booths sit, well worn by generations of neighbors enjoying the award-winning burgers. Small groups huddle around the Bud Light lamps that dimly light the booths.

Around the corner, the bar gives way to a pool table. Billiard players weave their way around patrons who are blowing away beasts at the throwback hunting arcade game Big Buck Safari. Quiet conversations circle the room from the couches hiding along the room’s edges.

Outside, the patio is always packed. There aren’t any pergolas, big screens or space heaters, but neighbors crowd the wooden deck to smoke cigarettes and share laughs.

Lakewood Landing certainly is our neighborhood’s most heralded dive bar, claiming awards for its food and ambience which proudly adorns the walls. The bar made Esquire’s list of best bars in the country in 2011, and Thrillist recently named the neighborhood haunt the best dive bar in Texas. It comes by its awards honestly, with great burgers and a vibe that can’t be manufactured.

Jerry Cole, who has done the vending for the bar for decades, comes in nearly every day to banter with Laura Harrell, the bartender who works the day shift when she isn’t playing guitar in her band Party State. When asked if he was into sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, Cole responds, “At my age, the sex is gone, so it’s just drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.”

Harrell says the bar offers an escape for musicians and artists, and it was her hangout before she started working there. She says musicians enjoy being able to relax. “It is like actually having time off,” she says.

Rossell doesn’t drink anymore, after recovering from a liver transplant two years ago. He will celebrate 20 years of ownership on March 4 with a roast pig, fish fry and a crawfish boil at the Landing. “It’s all for Lakewood,” he says.

Rossell and longtime General Manager Roger Nelson want the Landing to feel like home for guests. “Every night is like having cocktail party at our house,” Nelson says. “It is a home away from home for everyone.”

Lakewood Landing

5818 Live Oak

Monday–Saturday, 3 p.m.–2 a.m.,
Sunday 3 p.m.—midnight

Did You Know: Owner Bill Rossell concocted a secret batter recipe from roasted jalapeños and cornmeal for savory corndogs; they are served only after midnight.


Single Wide

2110 Greenville Ave.

This Lower Greenville watering hole isn’t big on space, but a drive by on a weekend shows its popularity. It is the little brother of Deep Ellum’s Double Wide, and draws the crowds with Hump Day bingo, eclectic DJs and the Yoohoo Yee-haw.

Milo Butterfingers

5645 SMU Blvd.

Generations of SMU students and neighbors continue to enjoy the no-nonsense food and libations at this tavern. Though it has changed locations since its founding nearly 50 years ago, it has remained a place to find cold beer and a friendly welcome.

Dallasite

4622 Bryan St.

For darts, shuffleboard and pool, folks head to this Old East Dallas spot. The Dallas skyline on the sign above the patio welcomes neighbors to an adventure in fairly priced drinks, burgers and karaoke.

Lakewood’s 1st and 10

6465 Mockingbird
Lane, #316

Regulars can take a load off, watch a match or two and chow down on sizable burgers at this neighborhood bar. There’s also a competitive trivia night at this East Dallas hangout with rare ample parking.


WANT MORE?
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.
Written By
More from Will Maddox

Homecoming parade, art shows, neighborhood fundraisers and more things to do this weekend in East Dallas

Thursday is Woodrow’s Homecoming parade, beginning at 5 p.m. The parade will...
Read More