By Steven Doyle
We didn’t necessarily ring in the New Year donning our finest top hat and cane, but we most certainly rolled out our own private red carpet for the end of year blow-out, making the better dinner reservations and spending a bit more on cocktails than normal. The cocktail scene in Dallas has greatly improved and there are excellent watering holes that specialize in uppity libations. Look no further than Uptown’s Tate’s or Standard Pour for some of the best drinking in the city. However, there are times when a well-crafted cocktail made with booze from the bottom shelf, or a bottle of mass produced beer will suffice. This is when we seek out the dive bar.
A good dive bar arguably could craft a fantastic cocktail, but most would agree that the drinks should be very strong, inexpensive, and flow quickly and easily. Beer is often sold by the pitcher or by the bucket-load, and a twenty dollar bill could definitely put you in a state where you may need a designated driver.
These no frills bars can serve food, but they are often relegated to things made in a fry-o-lator or a simple burger. Dallas has plenty of these watering holes that dot the boozy map, and we have a list of some of the very best that should be on your beer-bucket list.
Lakewood Landing is one of the quintessential dives set in East Dallas where hoards of drinkers gather to commune over Budweiser and cheap gin and tonics. If you stick around to midnight you will be treated to one of the bar’s house-made corndogs. The burgers are also legendary, but the true star of Lakewood’s show are the cheap drinks and camaraderie.
Ships Lounge might possibly be the definitive dive as they only sell beer, and forget about bringing in plastic as they only accept cash. If your date will only sip vodka then you are in luck. Ships will allow you to bring in your own hard stuff and sell set ups. There are a few bars that have a beer and wine license in Dallas, but Ships does it best.
The Time Out Tavern, or the TOT as it is known by its patrons, is a classic dive set in a better neighborhood. This is where you can enjoy a bit of relief after plopping down $500 for a steak dinner. You might be drinking with the busboy who cleaned your table at that steakhouse, or possibly the owner of the same establishment. The TOT enjoys this sense of sameness where all who can pay their small bar tab are created equal.
Club Schmitz is another fantastic dive. This saloon is divier than most, offering safe haven for those looking to drink very early in the day. This is a classic “old man bar”, but visited by a variety of people on into the evening. This club requires no membership, but does serve up one of the best burgers and fried jalapenos in Dallas.
A Step Up Lounge is set in the middle of Dallas on Walnut Hill and Marsh Lane. The shopping center has seen better days, and so has the dive. In its hey-day Step Up was refined enough to serve its guests classic high balls such as a Harvey Wallbanger which was very popular back in the 70’s, but now you would be hard pressed to find the proper ingredients for that throwback cocktail. Step Up serves fast booze and beer with zero food options, unless you prefer to nibble on microwaved popcorn or taco from the occasional visit from a vendor making his rounds about the city. Step Up offers live music each Friday and Saturday, and a karaoke option on Thursdays. This is a great cougar bar, but gets its share of college girls when very busy.
Lee Harvey’s is located near the Southside of Lamar and is a classic dive set in what looks to be a prison compound. The tall barbed wire fence perhaps protects the lounge from its own neighborhood. Patrons enjoy a selection of beer that includes such dive standards as PBR and Lone Star. The burgers and tacos are top shelf and there is always a good line up of bands each week.
The Grapevine is a dive that brings together people of every proclivity. The drinks are possibly the most powerful the city has to offer, and they are priced well enough to pack the bar on any given evening. The patio is one of the very best and features its own basketball court. The Grapevine’s food is all fried but made in house and pretty tasty stuff, especially after swilling a few cocktails. This is hallowed ground where the original Herrera’s once stood before moving a block away to fancier digs.
Adair’s Saloon rounds off our list for one of the best dives in Dallas, and is located in Deep Ellum. This dive serves up a fantastic burger along with some pretty good bands throughout the week. This is definitely a Lone Star beer bar, and you can buy it by the bucket-load. Feel free to take a pen to any surface you can and immortalize your thoughts along-side such luminaries as Willie Nelson and yours truly.