Somewhere in Dallas at this very moment someone is ordering a craft cocktail packed with crushed ice, organic produce and boysenberry infused vodka, and they are paying some $14 for it. For those who find this silly, there is Kings X, where the drinks come simple, strong and cheap.
As the bartender says, “There are no mixologists here. We have your basic liquors, beer in bottles, Natural Light in a can.”
The décor, entirely by accident, is momentarily trendy, and the company (unlike the shuffleboard competition) is friendly.
Inside the small dark dive, past the old-fashioned cigarette machine and wall menu (which, without a hint of irony, offers Tombstone pizza for $6 and White Castle Burger for $1.50), regulars line the long bar. They saddle up early and watch daytime TV with Becky Wolford, the bartender/manager who has been here 20 years.
“We watch Family Feud, Steve Harvey, Ellen, but if someone wants to play the jukebox, we will turn down the TVs and let them hear their songs,” Wolford says.
In the evenings, the crowd thickens, and, these days, groups of 20-somethings in skinny jeans and well-groomed beards, mix with the old timers and Gen Xers.
“They say they heard it was a great dive bar,” co-owner David Pokorski, a medical adhesive salesman from Lake Highlands, says of the hipster crowd.
Pokorski’s friend and co-owner Brandon Beeson says he started coming here 10 years ago. To the regulars, he and his buddies were “the suits.”
And after a decade of drinking, talking, planning and trust-building, a few weeks ago Beeson, Pokorski and three friends — Dustin Sparks, Brant Ince and Derek Ferem — purchased Kings X from Joan and Monte McDearmon, the Garland couple who had owned the place since the early 1980s, when it was just a few years old.
When asked if they’ve made any upgrades, the guys flash each other knowing grins. “We added a hand dryer to the bathroom,” says Beeson, a commercial real estate attorney.
“We replaced the hot water heater,” adds Sparks, also an attorney.
“And got a new TV,” chimes in an eavesdropper at the bar.
Thing is, the regulars dictate most changes, and they like for things to stay pretty much the same, explains Beeson.
Though they are not opposed to all modernity — Kings X supplies free wireless Internet, and one elderly war veteran who commonly occupies the barstool near a countertop touchscreen game reportedly is hooked on social media; he updates the Kings X Facebook page.
Beeson says he first heard of Kings X on The Ticket, a local sports radio station.
“They were interviewing Don Nelson, who was the Dallas Mavericks coach at the time, and he mentioned that his favorite place to hang was Kings X, and I thought, ‘that’s right by my house!’”
Photographic evidence of Nelson’s patronage peppers the walls. Wolford says Nelson still comes in when he’s in town. She also confirms the rumor that actor Owen Wilson accompanied the coach on a couple of occasions.
The guys love the bar’s convenience and simplicity and the kindness of those who frequent it. There is one regular who walks the bartenders out every night, to make sure they are safe, Pokorski says.
“We all grew up with the show, Cheers. This is our Cheers.”
Kings X’s occupancy limit is 49, and it comes closest on karaoke nights (every other Wednesday), live music nights (Whiskey Pants is an especially popular ensemble) and during shuffleboard tournaments, which are intensely competitive.
Despite the posted menu, there is quality food to be had at, or at least near, Kings X.
One neighbor, Lalibela, serves Ethiopian food, and another, Thai 2 Go, offers delicious Thai and Chinese takeout.
“They both are very good restaurants,” Beeson explains, “and we hope to partner with them. Some of the regulars, you know, don’t think they would like Ethiopian food and then they try it and see how good it is.”
All of the new owners have fulltime day jobs and they say the bar definitely requires work. They credit their daytime bartender, Wolford, with keeping everything running smoothly.
“She is the enforcer,” says co-owner Ince, who nonetheless takes many an afternoon phone call when something needs attention.
They all, also, have wives who have come to embrace the idea of owning a neighborhood bar.
“I told my wife gently, but as time went on, it turned into ‘our bar’,” Ince says.
At a recent send-off party for the outgoing proprietors, the new owners’ wives showed up in “My Husband Bought A Bar” T-shirts.
Ince says his wife put into words what he thinks they all are feeling: “’We didn’t just buy a bar, we bought a family,’ is what she says. And that’s true. The regulars, the former owners, the staff — we consider all of them friends.”
His partners nod in agreement.
King’s X is located at 9191 Forest Lane.