Diving into the bar scene in Lake Highlands

A look at the watering holes Lake Highlands loves

Don’t even think of asking for a cocktail menu. You’ll only get an eye roll. Miller Lite or Bud is the building blocks of these watering holes, with a few local favorites like Oak Highlands Brewery thrown in for good measure. The décor is stripped down. The regulars all know each other. They are the “Cheers” of their neighborhood — a place the locals gather for a 40th birthday party or game of shuffle board. Bonded over brews, these establishments become especially active during the holiday months, when alcohol consumption skyrockets around the nation. Tis the season to get to know a little bit more about the best dive bars in the neighborhood.


One Nostalgia Tavern on a Friday night. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
One Nostalgia Tavern on a Friday night. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

One Nostalgia Tavern

National press can be a blessing and a curse, as One Nostalgia Tavern learned this year. In September, Buzzfeed News dusted off a video from April 2016 of alt-right political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos singing a drunken rendition of “America the Beautiful” at the Abrams Road tavern. Neo-nazi and Dallas native Richard Spencer was in the crowd, along with a slew of other white men who raised a traditional and terrifying Nazi salute just as the footage cuts off.

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After the video went viral, Dallas media became obsessed with knowing what happened next, and whether the bar condoned this behavior. “Absolutely not,” says owner Kent Smith.

That night, bartender Amiti Perry, standing all of 5 feet, rushed to the stage, grabbed the mic and used choice words to let the hateful few know they were not welcome. Smith himself marched the men out the door.

“Before [September], I had never heard of Richard Spencer or Milo whats-his-name,” Smith says. “If I had known who they were, I would have thrown them out sooner.”

Most people who pass don’t even know the bar’s name. The massive “Cocktails and Dancing” sign is deceptive. The bar’s mixed drink offerings consist of vodka sodas and whiskey cokes, and the only dancing takes place around tables during karaoke.

“People call it Cocktails and Dancing. People call it One Nasty. We don’t care, as long as they come,” says Smith, a Lake Highlands neighbor himself.

But One Nostalgia’s misleading signage somehow suits this establishment with an identity crisis.

During the day, retirees belly up to the bar, sharing stories from the golf course that date back to the 1950s. They’ve lived in the neighborhood since it opened in 1973, and it’s “their” bar.

“If it was just the old-timers, it was going to die. We needed to infuse some youth,” says Smith. Hence the identity crisis — while an older crowd fills the barstools during daylight hours when beers are cheap, nightfall brings out the hipsters like a swarm of vampires armed with flannel and cold-shoulder tops.

“Happy hour ends at 7 p.m., and we may have no one in here until 9 p.m., and then it all changes and becomes a night club,” Smith says.

That transition is sparked by One Nostalgia’s robust karaoke offerings, taking place Thursday-Saturday at 9 p.m. Mike and Pam Perkins run the show and keep songs blissfully shorter than the original artist intended (“Hotel California lasts 6 minutes when performed by The Eagles). Thursday nights are dedicated to the original singers, who have been performing here for years. They prefer the classics, crooning Patsy Cline, Etta James, Frank Sinatra and Sam Cooke — and they sing them well. Come Friday and Saturday, vocalists from across the metroplex perform a more contemporary catalogue of Bruno Mars, Adele and an obligatory “Sweet Caroline.”

Smith’s years as a cop equipped him well for the bar business. “Both deal with drunk assholes,” he says. But he’s worked to remove the bar’s seedy stigma, hustling out anyone who causes trouble and ensuring women feel safe from being ogled.

It’s worked.

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The bar is a true neighborhood spot, where the Lake Highlands Exchange Club meets to plan its Oktoberfest and PTA groups gather to organize school fundraisers. “People thank me all the time for keeping it going,” Smith says. “It feels good when you get that.”

One Nostalgia Tavern
6521 Abrams Road
Open noon-2 a.m. daily

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Did you know: You can buy a wide selection of adult toys from the vending machine in the women’s restroom.

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Pool tables fill one side of King’s X, but shufflboard is king at this bar. The local league teams play here every Monday. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
Pool tables fill one side of King’s X, but shufflboard is king at this bar. The local league teams play here every Monday. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

King’s X 

In our partially dry neighborhood, King’s X stands out as a beacon to the past where you still need to “join the club” to buy a beer. Anyone who drank in Dallas prior to 2010 is familiar with the concept of a “club bar,” where your ID is swiped when you walk in, giving you membership and permission to drink.

“It confuses the kids who didn’t grow up with club status,” says Brant Ince, who, with a pack Lake Highlands dads, bought the bar in March 2015. It’s their clubhouse, something they own to have fun, never expecting to make money.

“Ain’t no one getting rich, ain’t no one going broke,” Ince laughs. “The lights are still on; the beer is still flowing — we’re winning.”

The star of this bar is Becky, who has been pouring drinks for 23 years for the neighborhood crowd who gathers every weekday at quitting time. She doesn’t need a last name because she is the most interesting woman in Lake Highlands. Her little brother won the Nobel Prize in physics this year. She rules the bar with sharp wit and an ability to put you in your place.

“If you ask for a martini, Becky is going to say no,” warns co-owner Brandon Beeson.

“Screw you, I make a great martini,” Becky bites back.

It’s this kind of banter that earned King’s X the title of Best Dive Bar in Dallas from the Observer this year.

It’s frozen in time. The team of bartenders have 120 collective years of experience slinging drinks at King’s X. For these neighborhood dads, that was the attraction.

“People walk all the time and say, ‘I haven’t been here since 1980, and it’s exactly the same’, ” Ince says, adding that the best thing about this place is the bartenders.

Opened in 1977 when the shopping center was new, King’s X has floated along through history. It draws a steady crowd of regulars from the neighborhood, along with Texas Instruments employees looking for an after-work libation. They all know each other, so much so they do a gift exchange every Christmas.

“Show up at 5 p.m. any day, and every barstool is filled with the same person every day,” says co-owner Dustin Sparks.

Ince adds, “That’s why we bought this place, those regulars.”

It’s always been a neighborhood watering hole, but under the new leadership, it’s become a community booster as well. King’s X supports all the events it can, with special focus on fundraisers for Lake Highlands schools.

“We give 20 to 25 percent of our profits to the schools,” says Sparks. “We all have kids in the schools. It just makes sense.”

King’s X
9191 Forest Lane, #1
Open 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily

Did you know: The bar is open every holiday, because the bartenders choose to come in those days, not because the owners ask them to work.


Poker players flock to Go 4 It Sports Grill every Tuesday through Thursday. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
Poker players flock to Go 4 It Sports Grill every Tuesday through Thursday. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Go 4 It Sports Grill

Calling this spot a dive bar isn’t really fair. It’s not dingy or dimly lit. It welcomes children and serves food. But it definitely offers the no-fuss, no-muss attitude of a dive bar, made apparent when it shunned its specialty cocktail menu shortly after opening in 2011.

“That’s just not who we are or what our identity is,” says owner Gene Martinez. “We’re a blue-collar bar.”

Neighbors flock to this watering hole, formerly a Blockbuster video store. While hipsters seek out One Nostalgia on the regular, and commuters are fond of King’s X, Go 4 It is almost exclusively filled with neighborhood faces.

“I would bet the majority of our customers probably live within five blocks of us,” Martinez says. “We are 100 percent successful because of this neighborhood.”

The only exception might be on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, when it fills up with poker players who have a comradery that is thick as thieves. Martinez started it as a weekly event, but its popularity grew so quickly, the bar is now able to support six tournaments a week. The same players show up for many of the games, building a tight-knit community of card players.

“They start at 7 p.m. and play until they’re done,” Martinez says, “then start over again at 10 p.m.”

But it’s more than a bar, Martinez says, because it’s part of a partially wet neighborhood, meaning 51 percent of its sales must come from food. The full menu is available until 2 a.m. nightly, and on Thursdays you can find 50-cent wings.

“That’s the reason we push our kitchen so hard,” he adds. “We’re called Go 4 It Sports Grill, not bar.”

The food has made it especially popular with Lake Highlands sports teams, who filter in after games to celebrate a win. Martinez makes sure to give back, supporting youth athletics with gift cards and other donations.

It’s a melting pot of the neighborhood, where everyone is welcome, regardless what sports team you root for.

“There’s biker groups and cyclists and even a moped club,” Martinez says. “It’s an all-walks-of-life place.”

Go 4 It Sports Grill
10677 Northwest Highway
Open 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily

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Did you know: As long as the kitchen has the ingredients, it’ll make you almost whatever you want, even if it’s not on the menu.


Bars of a feather

Lone Star Grill
Its motto is “The Texas way to eat and play,” and it lives up to that reputation. This bar has a little bit of everything, from regular country western bands to trivia nights to painting parties. There are pool tables and a menu with everything from bar bites to full entrees. It’s open 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily at 11277 Northwest Highway, suite 124.

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O’Riley’s
Sometimes called O’Riley’s Pub, or O’Riley’s Billiards Food & Bar or O’Riley’s Sports Bar, this tavern is best known for its music offerings. The full stage, along with proper sound and lighting equipment, make it popular with regional performers, who book the joint every Friday and Saturday. It offers to most unusual hours of 7 a.m.-2 a.m. daily at 8989 Forest Lane.

Bombones
If you’re looking for barmaids in skimpy outfits, like a Hooters with Mexican flair, Bombones is for you. More likely to play Fútbol de México than Cowboys games, this sports bar sets itself apart. It is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m.-2 a.m. and Monday-Tuesday from 11 a.m.-midnight at 11917 Northwest Highway.

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  • Carol Toler

    Lemme guess, Steve. They have your fave, Earth, Wind and Fire, on constant rotation. Seriously, thanks, neighbor, for the tips. As Emily says below, these are great leads for the nightlife story coming soon~

  • We obviously couldn’t feature every dive bar. Dreamz and Murphy’s, by their own online descriptions, are nightclubs. They have speciality drink menus, which goes against the description in the first line of this story. Don’t worry, we have another nightlife story in the works that features clubs/places to dance etc. This was about classic, no frills dive bars.

  • Steve Pickett

    Have you been to Heroes on Greenville & Pineland? Or how about Club Dreamz at Greenville & Park Lane. Dreamz has been a Lake Highlands/Vickery Meadow nightlife staple for 30 plus years. Murphy’s formerly sat three doors from O’Rileys, but somehow their current Lake Highlands location at Whitehurst & Skillman not mentioned. Each of these establishments are popular among minority, mostly African American and Latino customers, many who live in the Lake Highlands community. These locations certainly reflect the theme of “neighborhood dive bar”, based on the descriptions of those the Advocate highlighted.