Since the days of legendary local gangsters Delois Green and Herbert Noble, Dallas has always had a reputation for tough, mean bars. It may be somewhat ironic that, here in the bastion of middle-class hard work and clean play, brawling saloons and clip joints still abound. But remember, Dallas began as a swashbuckling, gamb-ling-and-whoring frontier town, and that legacy has never left our blood.
When we say these places are “mean,” we aren’t kidding. We’re talking about bars where you literally take your life in your hands when you walk in the door. The Venetian Room they ain’t, but in their special milieu – sleazy, flabby go-go girls and stale, rancid beer smells – these joints have reputations as large as the Fairmont’s nightclub. This is the Third World of the bar culture, beyond the chic nightclubs, the discos, the piano lounges, and even the beer joints.
Some are bars still living on legendary reputations as hangouts for thugs even though, according to police, they have quieted down in recent years. Others are populated almost entirely by “hooks” – petty criminals, toughs and sundry unsavory characters who spend their after-hours talking mean and planning “deals.” Still others are classic clip joints where naive conventioneers pay ridiculous tabs for watered-down booze and cheap thrills.
The police vice squad and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission are constantly sending investigators into these bars and clubs; from time to time one will get its license pulled. They usually re-open a few days later, but under “new management.” The patrons of these bars are usually a shirt-sleeve crowd, with an occasional out-of-towner who didn’t know better and was lured by the slightly bawdy advertising.
A few of these places actually hire security guards to patrol the premises and throw out the more obnoxious drunks. But for the most part these guards carry out the trash bags full of empty beer cans, bottles and cigarette butts.
The go-go girls are a bizarre collection. Most appear to be about 18 years old, with dirty fingernails (or none at all), worn-out costumes and broken sandals. The flat look is in among Dallas go-go girls. Flabby stomachs, no bosoms, and lots of cellulite are their major physical attributes. They hustle a few drinks between dancing (two songs, strip to pasties and panties), and they’ll even sit down with you for about two minutes – long enough to get your drink order.
(It could be worse. While Dallas bars have a tough reputation, they pale by comparison to the old beer joints out on the Gregg-Smith County line in East Texas. “The joints out there are tougher than any here in Dallas,” says a city detective. “Those old farmers just like to drink beer and beat up on each other. When I was a kid I used to fight my way in, drink my beer, and fight my way out.”)
It seems that everything has to be ranked and rated these days. So, in the general public vicarious interest, we thought that these stalwarts of Dallas tradition were deserving of recognition. A brave research staff is pleased, and relieved, to present the unofficial rankings of the meanest bars in Dallas.
1. The meanest bar in Dallas is the Deer Lounge, 108 N. Fitzhugh at Columbia in old East Dallas. At least, the police consider it the meanest they have to deal with. The habitués roughed up two Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission agents who went in to investigate the conditions. Another time, they threatened to take prisoners away from four city cops. The atmosphere is early tacky, with deer antlers on the wall. The go-go girls are frumps with protruding bellies and flabby bosoms. The cops say: “The people in there are just plain mean. You can feel meanness in the air.” It’s now under new management. The old manager fired a pistol at a couple of customers and lost the license, which, by the way, belonged to a man who had died. The old manager just kept operating under the dead man’s name.
2. Little Egypt, 8022 Harry Hines Blvd. This bar is frequented by “hooks” and toughs. One night a fellow went into this joint and was “messin’ around” with one of the go-go girls. Some of the regulars didn’t take to this, so they took him outside, threw him on the hood of a car, and “just so’s we’ll know you the next time, you s.o.b.,” carved a large X on his cheek. We saw guys wearing chains as jewelry, pool hustlers with weighted cue sticks, a rather strange character in a wheel chair, and the toughest-looking battalion of go-go girls in town. Geno’s, 8000 Hines, and the Golden Nugget, 8110 Hines, have better-looking girls and more action. Same for Dandy Don’s, 9700 Hines. The police hang out around these places, but it’s hard to tell if they’re there to keep order or ogle the dancers. (One fuzz-faced rookie was seen with eyes riveted on a dancer for 15 minutes. Checking for identifiable features, of course.) Harry Hines is a great street for studying the sub-culture.
3. Chavarria’s Lounge, 4545 Bryan. This club, located in a small, one-story brick building, is the deadliest of all the Mexican-American clubs. It has been open just over a year, and there have been three killings in or just outside the club. Police say the murders were the result of a Mexican narcotics war. The club is almost totally dark, except for luminous paintings on the walls and lights over the pool table. Always crowded.
4. The Players Lounge, 1705 N. Carroll at Ross. We didn’t check this one personally. The vice squad said we probably wouldn’t come out if we went in. However, the vice officers tabbed this club as a hang-out for tough characters. They report that it’s a celebration spot on Saturday night for dope dealers, hookers and pimps. “I was in this place one night, and all I could see were beer cans flying through the air. Man, this place even scares me,” said one of the city’s toughest vice officers.
5. Cabaret Lounge, 2010 Gaston Avenue, is a hang-out for some mighty rough folks. One night, four intelligence officers went into this one and were recognized. The man who recognized them sent over four beers on his tab. The cops sent them back, so the man re-delivered them-by bouncing one off a detective’s head. The man, who weighed only 205 pounds, then sent his four sons over. The four brothers weighed 280, 300, 305, and 320, and the police had to battle their way to the front door. The brothers went to jail, and some of the officers got a little disciplinary time off for brawling. Not exactly a place for an on-the-way-home drink.
Runner-ups: Not mean enough to make the top five, but worthy of note.
The Blondes, 1914 Greenville. They had a killing here a few months back.
Sundowner Lounge, 5506 Bryan Parkway. A tough place with lots of drinking.
The Characters, 3600 block of Samuell Blvd. A hang-out, appropriately, for police characters.
Kelly’s Go-Go, 4300 block of Elm. Fortunately for the victims, it’s close to Baylor Hospital.
Antrail’s Restaurant, 3208 S. Oakland. A tough joint.
Doc’s Drive-In, 5318 Second Avenue. Another tough joint.
South Dallas Club, 4511-A Second Avenue. Hang-out for black and white prostitutes and their pimps.
Chances R Lounge, 1921 Henderson. Two recent killings inside and one in the parking lot.
The Time-Out, 1601 N. Industrial. A strip joint with grimy girls and drunks.
Thirsty Thirties, 3316 Samuell Blvd. Pool’s the thing here, with some real heavies at the tables.
Special After-Hours Award: The Times Square Cue Club, 4430 Main at Carroll, is the after-hours meanie -the place where thugs congregate when the “meanest bars” close at 2 a.m. Brother, this is the toughest pool hall in Dallas, and no place for the average person to go without bodyguards. A teenager got into an argument with a tough in this place one night several years ago. The tough followed the kid outside and beat his head in with a board. The youth suffered brain damage and was a vegetable for 18 months. The tough paid a fine for fighting and got off. The place is upstairs over a cafe; there’s plenty of room for playing pool and fighting.
Meanest Ever: A Posthumous Presentation.
In a category for “meanest ever” bar, the hands-down (or hands up) winner is the old Sky Club, Commerce and Fort Worth Avenue. The Sky Club no longer operates; it was closed down after a particularly violent era in 1949. On New Year’s Eve of that year, gangster Delois Green, who had been feuding for years with Herbert Noble, walked out of the Sky Club and headed for his car across a small alley. He never made it. Green was ripped apart by shotgun blasts and died in the alley. (Noble was killed a year later by a bomb.) Some months after Green’s death, a feud between Mexican-Americans erupted in bloodshed; three were killed at the club. The vendettas that grew out of the three murders have lasted to the present, and as many as 35 murders have been linked to those original deaths. Some of the families, who live nearby, still open up on each other from time to time.
Has-Beens and Overrateds
The Lemon Twist, 4305-A Lem-mon Avenue, got a bad rap because it attracted some unsavory types from the now-defunct “Dixie Mafia,” a loose knit gang of criminals operating throughout the South. They had no real alliance with the Sicilian Mafia, but they were a treacherous lot who eventually killed each other off in internal disputes. It was just outside the Lemon Twist that the most feared “Dixie Mafia” member, Stanley Lee Cook (alias “The Creeper”), met his end, shot from ambush with a high-powered rifle. Cook was the “enforcer” for the gang and was suspected of complicity in at least a dozen gangland slay-ings. The Lemon Twist today is actually a very quiet place and attracts a somewhat well-heeled crowd.
The Debonair Danceland, 2810 Samuell Blvd. was blasted into rubble about five years ago. The Debonair, a remodeled supermarket, was thought by police to be the object of a struggle for control by various criminal elements. The bomb was probably rigged to a telephone; it exploded when the club’s number was dialed. However, the place has since evolved into a pretty jazzy joint, attracting young singles and couples to its big dance floor and rock bands. The club now has its own security guard on duty; there is rarely any trouble here.
The It’ll Do Club, 4322 Elm, used to be a challenge to us when we were younger. We snuck into the It’ll Do on somebody else’s driver’s license (before the days of pictures on licenses). Naturally, we imagined we were doing something daring when we went into the It’ll Do, but actually it was never a dangerous place, and still isn’t. Attracts a lot of lonely singles to the big dark room where they sway to and fro to Country & Western tunes. Maybe it’s the sleazy neighborhood that made the place look bad.
Clip joints are a special breed and must be considered separately. The clip joints are all lumped together, because the bulk of them are owned by the same people. A group of brothers and their mother own Chez Pussycat, 3217 Northwest Highway; Wild Hare, 3007 Lemmon; Playgirl Show Lounge, 3221 W. Mockingbird Lane and the Tamlo Show Lounge, 2846 Samuell Blvd. One man owns Fox’s Lair, McKinney and Lemmon; and the Striptease Club, Streakers & Peekers, Dixie Dolls and the Orant Modeling Studio, all located in the 2200 block of Cedar Springs. Except for the Dixie Dolls, none of these places have liquor licenses, so they serve near-beer or phony champagne at inflated prices. The “clip” seems to be basically the same in many of these clubs. When a customer enters, they ask for his driver’s license and his credit card. The license is to be sure he’s not a cop. The credit card is stamped, and unbelievably exorbitant charges are placed on his tab.
These places are dark enough to allow the girls and the customers to fondle. For customers who ante up 100 bucks per bottle of phony bubbly, the girls will perform special “favors.” If a customer refuses to pay his inflated bill, the club managers threaten to expose him to his family and friends. If he still refuses, they usually threaten to call the cops-a ploy which works. (The cops say they probably wouldn’t even bother to answer a call if one of these places really did make a complaint over non-payment of a tab.) Finally, in some instances physical intimidation and some assaults have been used. The bouncers and bartenders tend to be large in stature. The police have been unable to close them down because most customers who get taken are so embarrassed they won’t file a report. It’s not unusual for a customer to be skinned of as much as $2600.
If You Gotta Go…
If your curiosity has been aroused rather than satisfied, and you’ve just got to see for yourself, we feel obliged to help. There are two clubs you could go to and be safe.
The Busy Bee Lounge, 1114 N.Industrial, is an old-time stripteasehouse that features some of the best-looking exotic dancers in the city.There’s no cover, and the dancers arereally attractive. Some of them caneven dance. The Patch, 3118 OakLawn is a little more expensive. There’sa $2.50 cover charge, and the perfumeon the girls is more expensive. So arethe drinks, and the place is so darkyou can just barely see the gals. Thenoise level is shattering. Be on yourbest behavior.