Photo by Danny Fulgencio
Mike McRae doesn’t hesitate when he says his sports bar, Stan’s Blue Note, is the oldest, continuously open bar in Dallas. City records are, admittedly, not great at tracking such things. So how does he know?
“There are a couple bars that claim to be the oldest,” McRae says. “When I talk to them about it, I ask when they opened. We opened in 1952. Then they say, ‘Well, you know…’ They don’t know what to say.”
Stan’s became the city’s oldest bar when Greenville Bar and Grill closed nearly three years ago, McRae says. After opening in the 1930s, it was one of the first places to get a beer license after Prohibition. When it closed, the title could have passed to Ships Lounge, which opened in 1947. But the East Dallas establishment encountered stormy weather and closed for almost a year in 2015.
Stan’s position of honor is contingent upon that “continuously open” distinction. There’s also another caveat. Some places in town are older than Stan’s Blue Note, but they aren’t stand-alone bars. They’re hotel bars or fraternal lodges that just so happen to also serve alcohol.
“I absolutely love dive bars, and Stan’s is a dive bar,” McRae says. “That’s what makes me happy. It has such a good feel.”
Stan’s is known as a sports bar, but when it first opened, it was the go-to place in the neighborhood for live music. E.E. Stanley purchased the property on Greenville Avenue and built the bar so his band would always have a place to play its soulful blues and swinging jazz.
Stanley eventually sold the property, and it came under the ownership of Dorothy Shipley. Sporting cowboy boots and a beehive hairdo, she ran the bar with an iron fist. She didn’t allow cursing, and patrons knew better than to cross her.
Photo by Danny Fulgencio
Stan’s served only one draft beer, Budweiser, and about five canned beers. The offerings included Schlitz and Miller High Life — both considered high-end beers at the time.
The food menu was just as scant and perhaps even more unsavory with menu items like pickled pig feet, hardboiled eggs, chips and Slim Jims. When Shipley made friends with the next-door restaurant owner, John Caulfield, they devised an ingenious and profitable solution to Stan’s food problem. They cut a hole in the wall between the businesses so customers could order meals from Caulfield without leaving the bar.
When Shipley sold Stan’s to Caulfield in 1987, the going price for a mason jar of draft beer was 85 cents.
Caulfield remodeled Stan’s — starting with the ceiling when the nicotine-stained surface collapsed after years of smoke damage. He also expanded the bar to the size it is today. He acquired two neighboring businesses, and just like that, the bar grew from 57 square feet to 1,700 square feet.
Photography by Danny Fulgencio
Stan’s changed hands once more in the following decades and became a sports bar with 33 TVs and a wall projector. Regulars pack the space every weekend to cheer for their favorite teams and enjoy half-price food during happy hour.
When McRae considered buying the business, he joined the crowd at the bar, observing what looked like a scene right out of “Cheers.” At Stan’s Blue Note, the staff knows your name, interacts with customers and cares about the community, McRae says.
The 67-year-old bar underwent another renovation when McRae became owner. He demolished the old walls, applied a fresh coat of paint and decorated the interior with neon beer signs and sports memorabilia.
“Women heard the bathrooms had been remodeled, and they all started coming back,” McRae says. “Business immediately increased.”
Sports banners for various college teams hang from the ceiling, but McRae doesn’t cheer for anyone in particular. He does, however, have a soft spot for Oklahoma. Ten years ago, an OU student came to Stan’s with a group of friends to watch the Red River Showdown. The customer’s three brothers, who all went to Oklahoma, continue to organize watch parties, which have grown to 350 students. If the Sooners lose, they pack up and go home. If they win, they stay and party all weekend, McRae says.
The owner doesn’t care that his allegiance is to an out-of-state school. It’s good for business, and extending Stan’s streak as the city’s oldest bar for another 67 years is his first priority.
“I’ve been in the bar business since I was 15,” McRae says, “and owning Stan’s Blue Note, the oldest bar in Dallas, makes me proud.”