So during my hiatus from this legendary blog, I was mostly living in Dallas. I stayed in a really cool neighborhood, too, Old East Dallas, in a small apartment near Gaston Avenue.
Just north of downtown, Old East Dallas was originally a suburb of Dallas, though now I guess you’d call it the inner city. The area is on a tight grid, and the residential streets are mix of single-family homes and apartments, with the occasional corner store or two. The commercial roads are very busy, a mess of parking lots, streetcar apartments, strip malls, restaurants, and gas stations.
Architecturally, you have this brilliant mix of Greek Revival, Prairie School, and Spanish Revival, with cheap modern junk thrown in. It’s extremely, extremely American.
Houses in my former neighborhood.
And it’s great. Trees hang over the streets, and flowers explode from yards. There’s always something different to look at. Swiss Avenue, the neighborhood’s preeminent street, has this wonderful strip of elegant, meticulously landscaped mansions with a grassy median running down the middle.
Its Dallas at its best, big and extravagant.
After all, what other city could enthusiastically support building one of the nation’s most extensive light rail systems and a double-decker freeway at the same time? OK, maybe some California cities could, but they’d still manage to bleat on about how they’re saving the environment in the process.
In Dallas, it’s simply about becoming the biggest, craziest, and most awesomest city you’ve ever fucking seen. That’s the goal.
Other wonderful examples of Dallas-style absurdity include the sprawling NorthPark Center, a mall adorned with museum-worthy modern art, and the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, a beautifully overwrought bridge built more to enhance the city’s skyline than to appropriately tackle the logistical issues of crossing the Trinity River. At an imposing height of 400 feet, the arch over the middle of the bridge is a sight to behold.
Not that all of Dallas is covered in glitter. In Old East Dallas, gentrification and decay contrast sharply.
I’ll never forget my first walk in Dallas. My plan was to catch the Ross Avenue bus in my neighborhood, which I ended up missing because Google had the wrong route information. Already, in the first few blocks, I passed some boarded up houses and a homeless person. A reason to pause, sure, but nothing too alarming. I can deal with that.
But then there was a liquor store with the drunks outside giving me the thousand yard stare, followed by an abandoned apartment with junkies giving me the thousand yard stare – if they weren’t nodding off. Where was I? The shiny skyscrapers downtown gleamed to the south, poking above the buildings here and there. It was extremely disorientating.
I eventually learned the best routes. Take the wrong street to Ross Avenue and you’ll think you’re in a pretty bad neighborhood. Take a different one and you’ll feel like you’re an up and coming urban neighborhood. It’s very much a block-by-block situation in some areas.
Not that I’m trying to pick on Dallas here. It’s an international city, the 8th largest metropolitan area in America. Some parts are going to look a little rough or worn. That’s how our world works. And for its size, Dallas is remarkably safe and prosperous, providing an environment where unusual, niche businesses can thrive.
Like bars that let you bring your own beer. To quote The Band, “a drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one”, though you sorta have to be in the know to find these wonderful establishments. They don’t advertise their BYOB policies outside, and you’re not going to find the BYOB bars on the strips everybody already goes to. You’ll only realize after the fact, when you order a beer and the bartender has to look up the price, because nobody has actually ordered a beer since about – oh – ’83.
The gig is you pay for a bucket of ice and some glasses, plus any mixers, give or take a few details.
Generally, these bars are real holes in the wall, squat, windowless, and sagging. The interiors look like your dad’s “man cave” basement from the ’70s.
As you might expect, I found out about the whole subterranean BYOB culture quite accidentally.
I was with my girlfriend. We were heading to a club near us to hear a local DJ. Like total “newbs”, we got there right after they opened the doors, only to find out you’re not really supposed to show up for another hour or two. They didn’t even have the sound system ready yet.
Darn EDM punks and their fashionably late coolness!
So I went with my girlfriend to a nondescript, blue-collar looking bar down the street to drink a few beers. She was a little apprehensive, but I promised her nothing bad would happen.
I walked in with my olive skinny jeans and fish polo and you could’ve heard a pin drop. Everyone was over 40, and most were Latino, which makes sense since Dallas is roughly half Latino.
I clearly didn’t fit in, but whatever. We were getting a drink.
“What are you guys up to tonight?” A lady with a Hispanic accent asked us at the bar.
By this point, a bead of sweat was dripping down the side of my forehead. I wasn’t exactly nervous, but I wasn’t feeling relaxed, either.
“We’re just waiting for them to start at the club behind here,” I said.
“Isn’t that where all the gay people go and dance? Ha, these guys are going to the gay bar. Don’t they play disco there? You like that music? You’re young.”
“Uh, I don’t think they play disco,” I answered.
“No, it’s not disco anymore,” the bartender chimed in. “It’s like a night club now. The kids go there.”
I remember him as a stocky, gregarious guy in a baggy t-shirt.
“Oh, OK. I see. Really, though? When did that happen?”
The conversation continued, and after two Budweisers I was more or less accepted. I know I said some really funny jokes that I can’t quite remember know. You’ll just have to believe me. The whole bar was laughing.
“You know, if you guys come again, you can bring your own drinks,” the bartender explain. “That’s how we do it here. You pay for the setup and you can drink as much as you want.”
On our way out, the bartender shook my hand and said to come on in whenever, probably in the hopes I’d make his bar the next obscure hipster sensation.
“You two be careful going home,” the lady from earlier warned us. “It’s not safe out there.”
“Aw c’mon, it’s not bad. It’s not bad. You have nothing to worry about,” the bartender assured me.
“Everywhere is dangerous these days. I moved to a nice apartment in Richardson and I got robbed two months ago. It’s crazy.”
The bartender smiled and rolled his eyes, and we left. That wouldn’t be the last time I’d stumble into a BYOB bar.
You’ve got to love Dallas, right?
I hope you do, because I’ll be telling more Dallas stories now and then.