What’s the oldest bar in Dallas? AH
To begin with, booze and bars have always been big in Dallas. The very first store in Dallas in the 1840’s sold nothing but fabric for clothes and whiskey. Early Dallas was a frontier town with saloons like Dick Flanginan’s (featuring boxing every Tuesday) all along north Main Street and dance halls to the southwest. Dallas even had its own opium’s den in downtown, The Black Elephant run by Charlie Chunn. An account of Dallas in the 1890’s said that it had, “a nice lemonade stand, an ice cream parlor, and three hundred saloons.”
One of these
Three hundred of these
But the oldest bar, well got to admit it, this isn’t the easiest question to answer. And in fact I don’t have a simple “this is the oldest bar in Dallas” answer below. There are questions as to what constitutes a bar. Is a fancy restaurant that serves food and booze a bar? How about a place with live music and booze? Furthermore, when do you mark the beginning of a bar’s existence? If either ownership or the operators change, is it still the same? What if it moves but keeps the same concept, employees and ownership? I don’t have the answers to those questions, rather I have several contenders below which you yourself and make the determination about the oldest bar in Dallas.
Let’s begin with an example of how complicated defining a bar and it’s beginning is . Consider The Loon on McKinney. The Loon itself has been around for almost thirty years in the same place, under the same ownership, with the same concept, which is quite old for Dallas nightlife.
But before it was known as the Loon, it was operated under different ownership and known as Joe Miller’s. Before that it was operated as the Villager Club a cool jazz club in the 1960’s. Further complicating the matter is the fact that The Loon itself will soon be moving (if it hasn’t already) to make way for some CVS or bank or parking lot. The march of progress is a common reason for older bars in Dallas not being around. Anyways, when The Loon reopens at a different location, which date does one consider its beginning? The current 2014 date, the 1985 date when Joe Miller’s widow sold the place, or even further back to its 60’s roots as a jazz club. Convoluted right? Okay let’s try a less complicated example.
Ship’s Lounge on Lowest Greenville. Ship’s started slinging beer and wine 61 years ago, and hasn’t changed much since then. It’s in the same location, with the same concept, with stable ownership, and in some cases bar stools from when it opened.
Ship’s the same since ’53.
Putting a beginning date on Ship’s is easy, but going back before ’53 it gets complicated again.
Club Schmitz is just as old as Ship’s Lounge, perhaps even older. Schmitz on Old Denton Drive in northwest Dallas has been serving beer in the same spot since 1946 when German brothers started a bar in an old farmhouse.
Present day Club Schmitz
But that farmhouse burned down and the German brothers had to rebuild Club Schmitz in 1953. They rebuilt in the same location but managed to contuinely operate their bar as the brothers sold beer out of coolers to patrons who leisurely drank beneath the trees in the shade. The same family still owns Club Schmitz and hardly a thing has changed in the past 60 years.
Yesteryear Club Schmitz. As you can tell not much as changed
If you’re a not inclined to give Club Schmitz those years before there “new” building was built, then you might consider The Longhorn Ballroom on Industrial. The Longhorn was built in 1950 by eccentric millionaire O.L. Nelms for his friend Bob Wills. Bob Wills and his band the Texas Playboys played a lot of early shows at the Longhorn, which is more of a dance hall/honky tonk/punk rock showcase/professional wrestling venue, then a traditional ballroom dancing…ballroom. Greats like Elvis, James Brown, Otis Reading and The Sex Pistols have all played the Longhorn. The Pistols show produced this famous quote from Noel Monk’s book, 12 Days on the Road: The Sex Pistols and America. “Sid Vicious’s face is smeared with blood. Not all of it his. The Sex Pistols have hit Texas, and Texas has hit back.”
Also this famous picture.
The Longhorn Ballroom has been though more than a dozen owners and operates in the past 6 decades. Hell, Jack Ruby even ran it for a while. And to consider it operating continuously since 1950 is a stretch.
Going further back before 1950 or 1946 and finding pre-war places that are in old buildings with owners and operates that have ties to the originals, and have managed to stay up and running while also staying true their alcohol propitiating ancestors is even more difficult. The older dance halls and music venues like Lu Ann’s or The Aragon Ballroom are long gone. The bars and saloons have been bulldozed over like the Loon or Dick Flanigan’s (The Wilson Building circa 1904 now sits where Flangian’s used to be). And trying to find pre-prohibition places is incredibly tough, because you have to find places that survived by not selling booze while still serving booze but still not “serving” booze.
Beer? What beer? Oh you mean root beer, yes this is all root beer.
One place that has stood the test of time is the Adolphus Hotel in Downtown Dallas. The Adolphus Hotel opened up in 1912 and the restaurant/bar followed in 1916. Originally named the Bambooland Room it was one of the classiest restaurants in town.
Not what you pictured when you thought of “oldest Bar in Dallas”
The restaurant, now known has the French Room has remained classy, while the bar, now known as “Walt Garrison’s Rodeo Bar” has been developed as cowboy chic for tourists. The place has had its up and downs, there have been revamps, re-launches including sponsoring an on premises Ice-capades style show for 15 years, so it could be easy to question whether the Adolphus ‘s restaurant and bar are the oldest in Dallas. However if you can afford having a glass of wine in the French Room, you can make a claim that people have been sitting there drinking wine in the same place, in much the same fashion, for almost 100 years. And as far as Prohibition goes, well, Nochi Thompson from Boardwalk Empire will tell you that as the classiest hotel and restaurant in Dallas, you had to have a way of getting your guests booze. After all, the Adolphus was built by the heir to the Anheuser-Busch beer brewing empire, Adolphus Busch pictured below.
The man responible for Busch Light
One last contender I’ll throw out there comes from a social organization. Dallas has had a lot of social organizations throughout our history, including Masonic lodges, VFW’s, Kiwanis clubs, Knights of Columbus, The Bonehead Luncheon Club, debutante clubs like the Idlewild and even country clubs. As for the oldest bar, I’m going to single out one, the Sons of Hermann.
Outside of Sons
The Sons of Hermann is a fraternal organization of mainly German-Americans who founded a lodge in Dallas in 1890. Two decades later in 1911, the four Dallas area lodges pooled their resources together and built a joint Hall for brotherhood, camaraderie, and because their country invented Oktoberfest, for drinking beer. The building itself hasn’t changed much the past 103 years; it’s still a place for people to gather together to eat, drink, and be merry. What has changed is how the Sons’ have operated it. Years ago you had to be a member or a member’s guest to enjoy Sons, today anybody can walk on in and have a beer at the bar.
So there’s that little kink, but other than that the place has remained pretty much the same. As for the Prohibition problem, well, it wasn’t illegal to brew beer for your own “personal” use. So if a few Sons (what the members are called) brewed a few gallons every month and brought it down to the beer hall they built to “share” with their friends and their friend’s friends, so be it.