Dallas History

A tale of money, women, liquor, and a one-sided gunfight

The Rise and Fall of the Million Dollar Saloon

Allegedly, the Million Dollar Saloon was the world’s first “gentleman’s club.” That may be a bit of a boast, but it certainly was the first and most famous topless bar to serve mixed drinks in Dallas. Though it had a good run, as with all wild rides, it couldn’t last. For a decade the peach-​colored monolith on Greenville Avenue, across from The Shops at Park Lane, has slumped into oblivion. Finally fed up with complaints from neighbors about vagrancy, the city of Dallas in June filed a lawsuit against Furrh Inc., the owner of record, and Nick Mehmeti, the company’s president and director, seeking to force them to secure or dispose of what has become a hazardous site of exposed wires, human waste, and filth. Here’s how it came to that.

1950

Nina, the 14-year-old middle child of a religious Oak Cliff family, meets Don Furrh, a high-school football star and eventual dropout. They get married after Nina’s graduation from Adamson High School, and Don gets a job running a private club.

1968

Don opens his first topless bar. By the middle of the next decade, he’ll own 21 bars in Dallas and Fort Worth. Nina doesn’t realize her husband is in the strip club business.

1976

After running into trouble with the Dallas vice squad, Don announces he’s getting out of the biz and putting his clubs on the market. While hanging out in the back of Geno’s on Harry Hines, a guy makes him an offer on a cardboard coaster to buy The Fare and The Huddle Club. The guy is a jewelry distributor named John Harrison Woodruff. Don starts selling his clubs to Woodruff and Michael Jay Murphy, who form MJR Corp. Law enforcement speculates that MJR Corp. might be just a front.

1978

Don and Nina separate. The couple never get divorced.

1982

Furrh Inc. purchases the land at 6826 Greenville Ave. for $10 cash, plus a promissory note for $350,000. This is where Don builds his mecca, the Million Dollar Saloon. Don intends it to be the pinnacle of his career, and it is. There’s a dress code, a DJ, multiple stages, and a VIP room. There’s a sort of Italian theme to the decor. In its heyday, waitresses said, they could earn as much as $5,000 per month in tips; dancers could make double that. They also had access to on-site tanning beds and a hair and makeup expert.

1986

Dallas passes its first comprehensive zoning ordinance for sexually oriented businesses, or SOBs, targeting Greenville Avenue and Bachman Lake. The city blamed the blighted neighborhoods on the topless bars, but others argued they were already obsolete, after young professionals moved north for better housing and young flight attendants moved west from Love Field to DFW Airport. The SOB resolution stops short of an all-out ban, instead barring strip clubs from operating within 1,000 feet of homes, churches, and schools. Hospitals will be added later. Club owners are faced with two options: move out or cover up. Dancers start using flesh-colored latex pasties that are painted to look like nipples.

1987

Million Dollar Saloon is incorporated in Nevada and becomes a publicly traded company.

1988

Two weeks before Christmas, Don is found shot to death in his home. No one is ever charged, but there’s reason to believe he knew his killer. He was wearing boxer shorts, and the security alarm had been turned off. Nina inherits the Million Dollar Saloon, and she decides to keep it a family-run business.

1990

A challenge to the city’s SOB ordinance reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, and it is deemed constitutional. After the ruling, three clubs—Million Dollar Saloon being one—persuade the Permit and License Appeal Board to grant an exemption because of the amount of tax revenue they generate. Less profitable clubs turn into bikini bars.

1995

A federal judge decides the city’s revised SOB ordinance is unconstitutional and orders the city to pay strip club owners $77,000 in attorneys fees. Over the next several years, there will be more ordinance revisions, more studies to show tangible harm caused by topless bars, and lots more lawsuits.

1998

The Washington Post suggests “livening up” your portfolio with Million Dollar Saloon stock, noting that it has issued dividends for the past 11 quarters and netted $420,000 on $3.6 million in revenue.

1999

Nina resigns as president and CEO and sells her portion of the company to W-W Investments, which in turn sells it the following year to Nick Mehmeti and Duncan Burch for $3.8 million.

2000

Mehmeti becomes company president and CEO, Burch becomes VP, and Nina dies.

2002

In an attempt to resolve 16 years of litigation with the city, 11 topless clubs make a settlement offer: everyone will move or close as long as the city agrees not to fight the new locations, and Million Dollar Saloon will be allowed to stay on Greenville through 2009. In return for being granted the only “non-conforming” exemption, Million Dollar Saloon agrees to pay $1 million to several of the other clubs.

2003

In anticipation of a move, Million Dollar Saloon buys 6.7 acres of undeveloped property on North Stemmons Freeway for $2.6 million. The land is currently vacant and appraised at $424,680.

2009

Million Dollar Saloon closes with a whimper. It will sit vacant for the next 11 years, some say simply to spit in the city’s eye.

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