An Ode to the White Rock Sports Bar, Which Closes This Month

Your correspondent (in hat) with loyal Shady Side patron Jimmy D (in hat)
Your correspondent (in hat) with loyal Shady Side patron Jimmy D (in hat)

You’re going to have to bear with me. I need some space here to collect my thoughts and grieve. I learned yesterday that one of my favorite bars will shut its doors forever at the end of this month. I’m referring to the White Rock Sports Bar, which we regulars still refer to by its original name, Shady Side. Actually, its full name when it opened in 1998 was the Shady Side Cafe, but “cafe” fits the place like a wedding dress would fit my dog. A man named JD, a neighbor of mine, owns the place. He changed the name a number of years ago in a misguided effort (in this drinker’s humble opinion) to deal with the arcane rules governing dry areas and private clubs and the food-to-beverage ratio of sales numbers. JD tells me that his lease is up October 31. His liquor license expires even sooner, this Sunday.

I’ve been going to Shady Side since I moved to the east side of White Rock Lake, about 15 years ago. It is the only bar and/or restaurant in Dallas from which you can see the lake. (If there’s a place in a downtown tower that I’m not thinking of, it doesn’t count.) From the front patio of Shady Side, if the cigarette smoke isn’t too thick, you can look to your left, down the entire one-block stretch of Hobart Street, just past the Bath House, and see water. It’s not at all breathtaking or lovely or tranquil. The patio’s primary vista is a parking lot and Buckner Boulevard’s six lanes of traffic. But the water is there. I promise.

I cycle around the lake on some weekends. After 15 miles, maybe 20, I love rolling up to Shady Side for breakfast. On the weekends, the place opens at 8 a.m. Pretty decent migas. Even better veggie omelet. So what if I’m sweating profusely and wearing Lycra? It’s Shady Side, man. Pull a glass schooner from the freezer. I’ll have a Budweiser with that omelet.

Nine out of 10 times that I go to Shady Side, Jimmy D is there, sitting at the bar in his fedora, waiting to greet me. Except when the State Fair is running. Jimmy D works at the Fair. But when the Fair’s not in session, Jimmy D is generally in attendance and up for another Miller Lite. He’ll ask about my ride, about my kids, about anything. Jimmy D is conversant on a great number of subjects, everything from sports to geopolitics. He dabbles in computers. After I bitched one day about my internet connection at home, he ordered me a wifi extender. Problem fixed.

Shady Side is a true neighborhood joint, where neighbors run into each other. That’s where I first met Peter Payton, the executive director of Groundwork Dallas. If not for that bar, I might never have heard that crazy man’s life story, how he did children’s theater in Alaska and wound up in Dallas trying to save a river. Judges, electricians, mechanics, attorneys, school teachers, chefs, even Lycra-clad magazine editors — all are welcome. Imagine Kung Fu Saloon. Shady Side is the opposite.

Why would a 9-year-old girl play shuffleboard at Shady Side while wearing swim goggles? That's just the kind of place it is. Or was.
Why would a 9-year-old girl play shuffleboard at Shady Side while wearing swim goggles? That’s just the kind of place it is. Or was.

A few years back, my family decided that we’d make Shady Side our Christmas Eve dinner tradition. Okay, I made the decision unilaterally. But it was a good decision. Who wants to cook on Christmas Eve when the next day is pretty much spent entirely in the kitchen? We play Christmas music on the jukebox. Then some shuffleboard. The aforementioned frosty schooners bring cheer.

But, too, Shady Side is a good venue for adults-only maneuvers. JD will turn off the digital jukebox if you play rap with bad lyrics, but as long as no ladies are present, he’ll tolerate a shirtless man shooting pool near closing time. Every so often, JD will also play Elvis’ rendition of “Battle Hymn of Republic,” turning up the sound system for that one song so high that conversation is impossible. You’re forced to sit there and let Elvis wash over you. It’s quite something.

As I say, all that is coming to an end. The booze and beer will stop flowing Sunday. It’ll be BYOB until the doors shut on the 31st. JD and his longtime co-conspirator, Demi, plan to open a kitchen over in Casa View that will serve an expanded Belzie’s. As for what will replace Shady Side — or, rather, what will occupy its vacated space — that remains a mystery.

I called Matthew Huckin, who works for the property’s leasing company, DuWest. DuWest was hired by the newish owners, a local hedge fund called Highland Capital Management. If you recognize the name of that firm, it might be because one of its co-founders, a guy named James Dondero, is a big-game hunter who has professed his liking for giraffe jerky and recently went through a high-profile divorce. Dondero and his crew have big plans for Lake Highlands Village, the little shopping center that’s home (for now) to Shady Side. They have painted the red-brick exterior a disturbing shade of white, and they are renaming the place White Rock Center.

Huckin told me that the owners aren’t in a hurry to fill the space. He said a 4,000-square-foot restaurant is going in next door, though papers haven’t been signed yet so he couldn’t tell me what it was. With the new restaurant and Alfonso’s at the other end of the shopping center, whatever fills the Shady Side spot will be the center’s third and final restaurant. Huckin said it wouldn’t be a chain, because the owners know that the people who live in our neighborhood would burn the place down. Well, actually, he said the neighborhood wouldn’t much care for a chain. The arson thing was just me making a joke. Probably.

Whatever winds up there will, I’m sure, be an improvement. They’ll fix up the bathrooms. They’ll get rid of the drop ceiling with the cheap acoustic tiles. The air conditioning will always work. The waitstaff will be attractive and knowledgeable. And 15 years from now, if they’ll serve me while I’m wearing Lycra, I’ll be a big fan of the place. But right now, there’s a hole in my heart where Shady Side once was. I suppose I’ll find out if that hole drains into my liver.

Here’s to one last weekend at Shady Side and drinking till the taps spit air. And here’s to JD. It was a good run, my friend. You’ll be missed.

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Comments

  • bill holston

    nice account Tim. Made me regret never going. But I am content as you know, with one great neighborhood bar. Although, I’ve been wondering about the Bandera Club.

    • Goodfriend is greatness. This cannot be questioned, Bill. But sometimes the occasion calls for something not as good as Goodfriend. In that way, Shady Side was greatness.

      Two things to consider: 1) except for special games, you can’t really watch sports at Goodfriend like you can at Shady. And 2) if you want to hang out with Jimmy D and get his hot take on Hillary Clinton or some other subject, you have to go to Shady Side. He was banned from Goodfriend.

      • RAB

        Jesus, the Monk, Slim Shady, Goodfellas, Lakeview Tavern. How many different bars do you regularly frequent in a typical week? (And what was your all-time record?)

        • Where’s this bar called Jesus?

          • RAB

            Here: http://www.christianpost.com/news/club-for-jesus-a-gospel-filled-nightclub-aims-to-share-christs-message-with-seekers-and-sinners-alike-112425/

            Half-price Virgin Marys on Mime Night.

            (Please answer the two questions in my original comment.)

          • You’ve overlooked the Growler. I don’t know what you’re referring to with “Lakeview Tavern.” Is that the Lake House? That place has its utility. As does Lakewood’s 1st & 10. And the bar at Whole Foods.

            In a typical week, I visit the Monk a couple times. In a good week, more. Realize that one of those visits is to record our podcast every Thursday. I try to hit the Growler every Wednesday, where a small group of guys I know regularly meets. Each of these visits generally lasts 30 minutes to an hour, on my way home from work.

            My all-time record in terms of frequency is a stop at the Monk every day of the week. It’s called a perfect week. I remember going there on Sunday for brunch, just so I could say I did it. In terms of variety, I can’t say what my record is. Never kept track of that. I’ll start.

            Any other questions?

          • RAB

            What one thing would permanently elevate your personal happiness level?

          • Your friendship.

          • Ox-Bow

            Your obviously not Catholic.

  • OldLakeHighlandeer

    Best hangover potatoes in Dallas. Excellent Migas, too. They will be missed.

    Whatever money is going into that property is pretty lazy. It has taken forever to spruce up and paint and get any new tenants. The stark white, too is a lazy way to rejuvenate. Whaevs. It will be owned by Just Another F’n Holding Company in five years.

  • jfpo

    We moved to Dallas 15 years ago (Casa Linda the entire time) and for years this was the only “bar” in the neighborhood. They didn’t even bother asking for your Unicard back then. My wife and I used to be Saturday night after dinner regulars for several years. Sorry to see it go. Glad Demi is staying out of jail. I guess Jimmy D will be spending more Chasers. He would go there in the mornings because Shady Side didn’t open early enough during the week.

  • space2k

    Good times there investigating how many drinks one can drain during my daughter’s 45 minute ballet class a few doors down.

  • alyb803

    So far I hate all the changes that have been made at “White Rock Center” since the new owners took over –the white paint is wretched. But this news is devastating. WRSB has soul, the kind of neighborhood dive bar that should be in every neighborhood. We went there for breakfast our first morning after moving into our house, just a few blocks (“stumbling distance”) away. We loved the folks at the bar in the morning– you were never sure whether they’d come early for breakfast or stayed the night. Many a long lake loop during marathon training ended at WRSB, for a cold beer, migas and “hangover potatoes.” I just wish the new owners gave a #$^%# about the neighborhood, rather than whatever tax advantages come with owning an empty, dying strip center.

  • scotty c

    I liked the shady side when it was the only bar on this side of town. It’s main selling point was it was close and they had a jukebox. They did have a habit of putting way more beers on your tab than you actually drank. I guess they figured I didn’t notice but I did.

    • DubiousBrother

      Jimmy D and Tim always had less.

      • scotty c

        Wendy always seemed to tax me extra

  • Ox-Bow

    That property is going downhill. Maybe the owners want that as there is a lack of commercial real estate around White Rock Lake and I’m sure some big developer has big ideas for it. I don’t know. The painting is hideous and an eyesore. Its as if they put primer on it and then ran out of money. Now the White Rock Local Market is moving out too. Alfonso’s and The Greenspot are the only things that make that center interesting.

    • Don’t forget the Unrefined Bakery.

      http://unrefinedbakery.com/

    • A. Zigon

      I think your on to something with the speculation aspect. There is a city planning project to improve the Gaston/Garland road corridor which is to enhance the Arboretum and if that road is developed there will be spillover on side streets. But everyone here is correct that the loss of the Neighborhood bar is sad. Quirky, not always clean with an amazing cast of characters and some occasional good music. Everybody needs a place like this.

  • Lakeman

    Ouch. This news hurts. Their Sunday afternoon acoustic music jam was the first time I ever played in public, and it’s going to suck not having that around, especially if the 3 p.m. football game sucks and the weather is nice. I’ve met some of the best pickers and singers (and frankly, some of the worst, but that’s the score) in the city at that get-together, and for many of them, it was something they looked forward to all week. And their hamburger and onion rings, never quoted as the best in Dallas, were certainly better than they had to be and great to have close to home. Thanks for the memories, WRSB.

    • KKR

      The Sunday Jam will be moving to Belzies. Not sure when but they will be at WRSB this coming Sunday for the last time.

  • dkstaff

    So where will the regulars go? The White Rock was just a good little neighborhood dive bar. We will miss Josh and Demi and the rest.

  • TJ

    The center’s changes have not been improvements. Poor choice in painting the brick. Most spots empty. Sorry to see WRSB go. Wish it was the property managers leaving.

  • Susan Durr Taylor

    That place is my Cheers. I will miss the regulars, the blaring Trilogy, and the afternoons on the patio with my friends. You just don’t get an eclectic crowd like that at other bars. It is more like a family than a bar crowd, really. At least JD and Demi have assured me that the breakfast menu will be the same at Belzie’s.

  • T_S_

    I recall a certain band hacking its way through their set at your wife’s birthday party there Tim. I recall it very well, since I was one of those doing the hacking. Rip WRSB.

  • CitizenKane

    I went once and was underwhelmed by the quality of the food……now a days “bar food” needs to be a whole lot better (elevated) than what they were serving.

    And the first Shady Side in East Dallas was little hole in the wall bar/restaurant along East Grand near Samuell (1980s)..I think it is now (or was) a furniture rental place. Owned by old time East Dallasite Rand Papp ( who use to own/manage) the old bar that is now the horrible place called The Lot.

  • Jackie

    Ugh. I just read this when I went there right now. Great story. I’m so bummed.