About 20 years ago, two business partners were counting bricks of drugs and money in an empty bar on Fitzhugh Avenue. Two officers from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission walked into the run-down shopping center and interrupted the drug deal. The counters eyeballed each other, then pulled their guns on the TABC officers. They yell in broken English: GET THE F— OUT RIGHT NOW.
The officers complied, the story goes, and never returned. In the late 90s and early 2000s, scenes like this were unfolding regularly east of Central Expressway on Fitzhugh. The street was marked by clubs and bars that frequently made news for violence and drug busts.
If the dealers knew then that the present-day street value of queso and guacamole a few blocks down at Joe Leo Fine Tex Mex was easily moving at $14.49 a serving, they might have decided to trade crime for real estate.
Today, this stretch of Fitzhugh is home to an Australian coffee shop chain with no wi-fi and flanked by a growing number of mid-rise apartments with rent paid by people who probably would never imagine such scenes playing out steps away from their espressos.
Eric Sanchez is one of the keepers of this history. One recent afternoon, the co-owner of the 12-year-old bar Strangeways is impersonating those TABC officers, Foghorn Leghorn style, plucking at invisible suspenders. He is sitting outside of his business, which he opened with his family in August 2011.
He’s discussing the past because this beloved neighborhood bar is closing, the result of the landlord choosing to sell the building to another owner. A link to the former East Dallas and its future is going away with the closing of the bar. Swankier businesses at much higher price points threaten to swoop in and take its place. All the work the Strangeways family has put in could become part of the same mythology that defines old Fitzhugh, another tale told by the next loquacious barkeeps. If they know the story.