Kent Smith, the owner of One Nostalgia Place, didn’t think much of the group of a dozen or so white men who came into the bar that Saturday night. It was 12:30 a.m. and they were dressed alike, all blazers and ill-fitting slacks. Maybe they were coming from a costume party or a themed benefit; such dress is not out of the ordinary for this Lake Highlands neighborhood bar. Karaoke was winding down about an hour after their arrival, as the bartenders prepped for last call. But a tall, thin man wearing a maroon blazer over a pink button down approached Smith and asked him for one more song.
He requested “America the Beautiful” and offered to tip the staffer manning the karaoke machine $25 to cap the night with it. This was April of 2016, a few months before names like Richard Spencer became part of the mainstream national dialogue about the state of our body politic. The man who requested the song was Milo Yiannopoulos, the Breitbart tech editor who catapulted to fame on the white wave of the alt-right, and the video became an integral part of a BuzzFeed story yesterday that exposed how the website helped fuel the racist movement that flooded into Charlottesville, Virginia, with tiki torches, bigotry, and violence. The BuzzFeed story details how tech journalists and millionaires from Silicon Valley and Hollywood secretly asked Yiannopoulos to shame prominent women in media, and how Steve Bannon, the Breitbart chief editor and President Donald Trump’s ousted top adviser, further weaponized Yiannopoulos’ rhetoric to help cause chaos in the election.
But that night in April of last year, Yiannopoulos was there on the tiny stage of the Lake Highlands dive bar, belting out “America the Beautiful” as about a dozen white arms shot up in Nazi salutes. Spencer, the noted racist and Dallas native, was among them.
“They’re through the song and we start getting the heils and whatever salutes they’re doing and immediately we said, ‘Get your ass off stage,’” Smith told me last night. “We’re going, ‘You’re out of here!’ One of our bartenders got up onstage on the microphone and she said, ‘Look, motherfucker, get the fuck out of here.’”
One Nostalgia Place is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sort of dive bar tucked off Abrams, a sharp right turn east off Skillman. A blue-and-yellow sign reading “Cocktails Dancing” is more evident than its business name. It has speaker stacks with sound quality that has no business being in a karaoke bar, and it attracts an older, neighborhood crowd. There are Lone Star logos and framed George Strait 10×8 portraits. Seeing the One Nostalgia name behind Yiannopoulos and the Nazi salutes was incongruent, and when I brought up the story to the bartender, Chase Hughes, his reaction was: “They didn’t mention how we kicked them out right after.”
If you watch the video and listen closely at 56 seconds, you can faintly hear a high-pitched yell over the hollers from the crowd, although it’s tough to make out words.
“We got ’em in the parking lot, and there was never fisticuffs, but we were pretty blatant about ‘You’re leaving and you’re not staying here,’” Smith said. “They started chanting ‘Trump’ on the way out when we kicked them out. I hadn’t even thought of these guys until this popped up today.”
If you hadn’t seen the story, you wouldn’t have noticed anything different last night at the bar. When we arrived, just after 9 p.m., the person in charge of the karaoke was singing Elvis’ “Dixie,” which was jarring, considering. But that quickly gave way to a woman singing Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best.” He played Tom Petty between karaoke tracks. A woman from San Francisco sang Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta.” A man sitting next to her in a blue Golden State Warriors tee belted out a serviceable version of Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page.” Half an hour later, a biker parked his motorcycle, walked in, tipped $4.50 on a $1.50 Diet Coke, and did a fine rendition of Willie and Waylon’s “Luckenbach, Texas.” Things looked normal, like they usually are. Maybe it’s why that night still stands out.
“Why would they come here, like this is some political platform?” Smith asked, looking at the traffic speed by on Abrams. “This place?”
Editor’s note: Originally, this piece referred to the Elvis song as “Dixieland.” As a commenter pointed out below, that’s a trilogy; the man sang “Dixie.”