July 27, 2016

Bar None

It’s time to move on from the old Ships Lounge (R.I.P.).

With the reopening of Ships Lounge, the discussion on “real” dive bars has ratcheted up around Dallas. There aren’t many left—and many of the survivors are closely guarded secrets. For those looking to move onward and upwards from Ships (we get it, it’s not the same), here’s part one of our suggestions of where to venture out and find that dive bar experience in—get this—an actual dive bar.

Starlight Lounge

We started our difficult research for this story bright and early—10:30 a.m. on a Saturday starlightmorning. It had opened for the day a couple of hours earlier, and, frankly, from an alcohol standpoint, we weren’t going to be able to catch up with the patrons already there, so we ordered a couple of beers and admitted we’d be pacing ourselves. Chilled Fireball shots before noon (before or after any time really) are not our bag, but there was a guy there drinking them, and he was really friendly and offered us some (we politely turned him down).

The other fella sitting at the bar was, according to the bartender, in his 80s, but he looked like he was in his 50s, complete with a luxurious full head of hair and wrinkle-free skin. Clean living is clearly overrated. There were also a number of folks outside on the patio who clearly didn’t care (or realize) how hot it was for so early in the morning, because they were happily drinking away the heat.

Starlight was one of the friendliest bars we’ve ever been to, at any time of day, and the bartender was one of the sweetest humans we’ve met. They also complimented our jukebox selections (Internet jukebox), which is easily the quickest way to our hearts.

You saw the part about the Fireball shots, so you know you can bring your own liquor here, and you probably should. It’s our understanding that it’s “cash only,” but you won’t have to spend a lot of cash here to have a good time. The interior of the bar feels like it’s tilted and sloping away from you, but the instability is part of the charm. There’s a pool table, but you’re there to drink, commiserate, and have strangers slap you on the back over in-jokes you’re instantly part of.

Seriously, everyone is smiling there, which is pretty magical.

Starlight Lounge, 4319 Main Street.

Willie’s Lounge

williesWe are writing this story from a dusty corner at Willie’s Lounge because we like it here. It is the dive bar we always dreamed existed. There’s not any Wi-Fi (because there shouldn’t be at a dive bar). It’s simply a beautiful bar with gorgeous red metal flake vinyl padding, red vinyl stools, red neon, red and white checkered tiles under the two pool tables, and red walls.

You might be thinking that’s a lot of red, but if we told you it was a firefighter bar, it would all make sense. Vintage fire helmets hang on the wall above photos of the many brave patrons who have called this bar home. The local chapter of the Wind and Fire Motorcycle Club still holds charity events at the bar as part of its activities.

There aren’t a lot of places left in Dallas where you can still bring your own liquor, but, like the Starlight, Willie’s is one of them. We rarely bother with that though, since the lovely, motherly bar tenders will pull extremely cold beers for you from the ice wells that once graced the environs of the much missed White Rock Sports Bar (RIP), and they’ll offer you a koozie to keep it frosty cold while you drink.

The selection includes bottles of Miller Highlife and Bud heavy (we’re hoping to convince them to restock Coors Original soon, too).

It is exactly what you think a bar is supposed to look like (even with the life-size stuffed Alf in the corner), and it’s been like that for years now. You can’t call anyone from the non-functioning phone booth, and the jukebox is of the Internet variety, but if you just want to be in a bar drinking alcohol, there aren’t many places where you can do it as leisurely as you can at Willie’s.

Willie’s Lounge, 1105 S Beacon Street.

Fireplace Lounge

Even if you don’t love the Green Bay Packers (and let’s face it, why would you), thisfireplace Packer-fan home-away-from-home is full of the kind of people who welcome you whether it’s the first time you’ve been there or the thousandth.

While we’re not sure if the titular fireplace actually works, there is regularly an awesome outdoor fire pit, complete with a stack of wood, that lends the bar a bit of a backyard party vibe (we once witnessed a guy drunkenly barrel-roll through said fire, and, while we don’t recommend it, it certainly was entertaining).

As far as décor, the popcorn ceiling is very low, and mostly brown, and it features a Dallas Cowboys 2011 schedule banner that is undoubtedly there to cover up something else. The bartenders are always friendly and attentive, even if they don’t want you anywhere near the thermostat. Go more than three times, and they’ll call you by name when you stroll through the uneven door.

The Internet jukebox gets pretty heavy usage at Fireplace Lounge, so if you want to hear your own selection, you’ll need to assert yourself. When we visited most recently, we were serenaded by the dulcet tones of Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz and their hit “Get Low.” It was somehow the perfect companion to the NASCAR race playing on the big television that sits on the mantle of the fireplace. And when “Sweet Home Alabama” blasts out of the bar speakers next on the playlist, it is both perfect and disappointing, which seems like it’s own not-so-subtle metaphor for the dive bar experience.

What’s best about Fireplace is the lack of pretense. No one is trying to impress anyone. It’s just people at a bar having fun doing what people are supposed to do at bars—drinking and enjoying a bit of conversation with strangers who treat you like a friend and who eventually may actually become one.

Also, it doesn’t hurt that drink prices here are so low you honestly have a hard time believing it.

Fireplace Lounge, 3122 Samuell Boulevard. 

Check back next week for part two of our list of dive bars better than the new Ships Lounge.

About the authors: Erin and Nathan Johnson can typically be found hanging out in the corner of their favorite dive bar. And while they look exponentially cooler than you (him: denim and a distinguished beard; her: pink hair, perfectly layered ensembles; both: bespectacled and fingers stacked with rings), they’re actually quite friendly. Go up and say hi.