Raise your hand if you knew that the earliest commercial use of the former The Lot restaurant site was a hotel. Not just any hotel, the Blue Top Courts and Lodges.
There is more unique neighborhood history associated with the land formerly occupied by The Lot and Local Traveler that’s slated for rezoning to 320 apartments and an additional 10,000-20,000 square feet of commercial space.
The land is located at the 3G intersection of Gaston, Garland and Grand; so was the Blue Top Courts and Lodges. A vintage advertising piece notes four Blue Top locations in Dallas at the time. The postcard depicts a Route 66-style motor court with Art Deco motif and the four Dallas addresses where a traveler could stay at a Blue Top.
Neighborhood lifer Kyle Rains recalls that Garland Road/Grand Avenue was known as U.S. Highway 67 and Texas State Highway 78. It was a way to travel through Dallas before the construction of Interstate 30.
“There were at least three of these motels along East Grand,” Rains says.
After I-30 became a new thoroughfare through Dallas, fewer guests needed a Blue Top. But families in the growing neighborhoods around the busy intersection did need a place to eat.
Two Tulsa businessmen created Shotgun Sam’s Pizza in 1967. In the early ’70s, the first Dallas location of Shotgun Sam’s was built on the former Blue Top site. Shotgun Sam’s restaurants were family oriented, known for banjo and piano players and what the founders claimed was the country’s first pizza lunch buffet.
Across the street from Shotgun Sam’s, on the site where Raising Cane’s now sells chicken, was The Painted Duck, a striptease club, which catered to a different crowd. (We know The Painted Duck was there, but research gave us little history. Let us know if you have something you can share about the Duck. Send email.)
Eventually, pizza and spaghetti gave way to burgers and fried shrimp when restaurant operator and entrepreneur Rand Popp moved White Rock Yacht Club to the Shotgun Sam building. White Rock Yacht Club was an ’80s version of The Lot, with a big menu and a big play area for kids. Popp added a swimming pool that initially looked inviting, but eventually looked like a science experiment.
Closed by a fire in summer 2005, Popp rebuilt the restaurant but rebranded it as the Backyard Beach Bar, opening in 2006. New to the mix were several sand volleyball courts, where leagues and pick-up beach volleyball were also on the menu. Somewhere along the line, Popp built an apartment onsite for his personal residence. It was on the second floor, so Popp lived above the store. Literally.
Backyard Beach Bar closed in 2010, but hand it to Popp: He ran a restaurant on the same site in a very tough restaurant town for nearly 30 years.
After selling the real estate, Popp moved to Central America to focus full time on operating and expanding Banana Beach Resort in Trujillo Bay, Honduras.
In 2013, a group of seven East Dallas neighbors with restaurant and real estate experience bought the site from Popp. The investment strategy was straightforward — run a successful restaurant operation with the backstop of a great location that could eventually be sold for a higher-density real estate development.
John McBride, from the family that operated El Fenix for 90 years, inspired the vision for The Lot. The concept attracted neighborhood families and added a new customer segment of walkers, runners and cyclists from the Santa Fe Trail.
To protect and enhance their investment in The Lot, the group purchased the site of Jimmy’s Wheel-In in 2017. (We don’t know much about Jimmy’s, either. If you have some old photos or stories, let us know. Send email.)
The group did not originally intend to open a restaurant in the longtime convenience store and bait shop, but they doubled down. In 2018, the group invested $1.1 million in what became Local Traveler, converting the existing structure to a restaurant with a different vibe than The Lot.
“We felt there was a market for East Dallas couples and professionals who were tired of going north or west for an interesting dining experience and a good wine list,” says Jeff Burrow, one of the seven original investors.
The Lot had a nice run from 2014-2018. Burrow noted the seasonality of a concept that leaned heavily on families with kids and outdoor seating became tougher to overcome. Local Traveler had a genuine following, just not one large enough.
And then came the pandemic.
After a spirited try at “to-go only” concepts at each place, the owners closed The Lot and Local Traveler in 2020.
National real estate developer Mill Creek Residential has the high-profile sites under contract and is proposing a mixed-use development of 320 apartments and 10,000-20,000 square feet of commercial space, subject to a change in zoning.
What will be next at Garland and Grand and Gaston?
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