You Can 8 a.m. Bar Crawl If You Want To.
Yes, there are bars that open up in this town as early as 8 a.m.
Before you start asking why, let it be known that there is a very simple answer to your query: Turns out there are indeed people in this town who want to to be drunk that early in the day.
Before we go any further, let's first get to the obvious. There's probably a certain mental picture you're forming in your head at this point of the people who inhabit these bars at these early morning hours. The truth is, that image probably isn't far off from what we saw this week as we embarked on a crawl of Dallas' earliest-opening bars.
To be sure, the spots we hit are the realest of Dallas' real dive bars. Few boast any windows at all. All are fairly depressing, at least visually. But there's also something charmingly real about these spots. A sort of salt-of-the-earth vibe that can't be recreated elsewhere.
And we simply wanted to see these spots up close and in their purest form firsthand.
We hatched the idea of embarking on an early morning bar crawl about a week ago. When we told people about it, we were usually met with an incredulous look. People openly questioned if we were serious about drinking that early in the morning.
And, sure, on paper it seemed like a really horrible idea. Would we even make it to lunchtime? People thought we were crazy. Maybe we were a little. It's certainly not the smartest idea we've ever had. But we were determined to try it out and see if we could have fun doing it.
We arrived a shortly after 8 o'clock at The Goat in Lakewood — not long after the doors had opened, fittingly.
The surprising thing? There were already a handful of cars parked in the lot, and a couple of others pulled up while we were mentally prepping ourselves to enter the bar. The thing is, there were a bunch of regulars already inside, rip-roaring and ready to booze at 8 in the morning. In retrospect, this fact probably shouldn't have surprised us as much as it did. Would a place open at these early hours if they didn't have business?
By the time we walked in, the regulars were already relaxing with their beer bottles on the patio out back or sitting at the end of the bar in a big group and carrying on a lively conversation.
One member of the group, Chad, stopped by our spot at the other end of the bar on his way to the jukebox. He just wanted to say hello, he said. And he made sure to find a way to interject himself into our conversation. When asked why he was awake and drinking at this ungodly hour, he responded by saying he was just out to have a good time.
He did his best to impress us with his jukebox plays. Noting that we weren't the usual sort to be boozing at The Goat at 8 a.m., he dialed up some Gotye and Black Keys songs — clearly, in our eyes, in an attempt to make us feel more comfortable.
It was a kind gesture, really.
His real coup d'etat, though, was when, right before the song he was most excited about was to come on, he made sure to come over and tell us the story of how he used to go to school with a guy named Rob Van Winkle.
He was surprised to find that we knew who he was talking about (Vanilla Ice) and that we definitely knew what song he was about to play. We can only assume that when he does this normally, it is more of a surprise when the song comes on.
He was a pretty nice guy, though. And, to his credit, he really did seem like he was having a good time as he and a buddy shot pool and yucked it up with the regulars. In general, everyone at our first stop was pretty friendly, actually.
Well, maybe not that one guy who stumbled in at around 9:30. He was barely able to cross the distance from the door to the bar without wavering considerably. He was drunkenly shuffling along, audibly mumbling to himself and generally making everyone in the bar nervous. It was no surprise, then, when he was promptly refused service and shambled back out the door. It was a pretty depressing moment — Gotye's “Somebody That I Used To Know” blaring from the house speakers didn't help matters — but, well, that's probably to be expected at that hour in a bar.
Soon as he left, the vibe in the bar was back to normal.
Our next stop was the infamous Starlight Lounge. This place has a certain mystique to it. Pretty much anyone who lives in East Dallas or Deep Ellum knows the place by sight. Few that we know have ever actually checked the place out.
The Starlight looks like it hasn't been updated since it was first built. And, worse, it appears to slowly be losing the battle against time.
That said, like any good dive bar, it's charming in its own way. Great handmade signage and old beer signs abounded. One caveat, though: The Starlight is a beer-, wine- and cash-only establishment.
Our group received a couple confused and/or sideways glances upon entering. But, then again, people might have just been squinting. It was pretty dark in there.
After ordering a round of beers, we headed out to the patio. One of the regulars struck up a conversation with us because of our cameras. He regaled us with stories about his friend who used to take photos at rock concerts, though only as a hobby. The guy was especially proud of some Fleetwood Mac photos that his friend had taken and given to him as a gift. Shortly after that, a trio of folks showed up — and also with cameras in tow. Immediate and eager introductions were made.
One of these new friends of ours, David, a retired photographer and karaoke emcee, just kept snapping photos the whole time. We talked to David and his friends Dennis (who also happened to be a hobby photographer) and Renee about all sorts of things we can no longer remember.
Gotta say, though: It was pretty fun being the center of attention at that bar. And, hey, much like the crowd at The Goat, the crowd at the Starlight was, in general, just really friendly. The beer was a buck more expensive than the brews at The Goat, though.
Things kind of dipped a bit after that. Our next stop, The Old Crow on Lower Greenville, was totally dead. The National Geographic Channel blared on the TV in lieu of conversation.
The bartender at the Crow was a piece of work, too. Jack Self, as he told us his name was, was a quiet talker. But he had plenty to say. He kept telling us about his years working at the Slip Inn — back when that place opened up early and before he moved over here to the Crow.
“I used to open up at 5:30 for the titty dancers,” he said without even trying to act like he was cracking a joke.
We had a hard time believing that Jack Self was his real name, but here's the important thing about this old man: He pours a mean shot. We ordered the shots to commemorate our making it to noon, and we were all feeling pretty proud about the fact that we weren't dead.
Jack recommended to us several other early morning bars worth trying out (Club Schmitz, Texas Star), but most were pretty far away and we were too scared to drive those distances.
After finishing another round of beer, we finally headed out to our final destination, Ships Lounge, which sits just a few blocks south of the Crow. And — wouldn't you know it! — we ran into some old friends at Ships.
David, Dennis and Renee, our pals from the Starlight, had also ended up here.
Let me tell you: There are few feelings as great as entering a bar at noon and being welcomed with cheers by a group of old, inebriated drunks.
Only adding to that great feeling is the fact that Ships is just an incredible dive bar. Like the Starlight, it's a beer-, wine- and cash-only establishment. But our bartender Louise was really awesome.
Whenever you bring up Ships in conversation, people usually bring up the old rule commonly associated with the place — that there's no cursing allowed and, if you drop any curse words, you'll be kicked out the door. When Louise was asked about the no cursing rule, though, she just laughed.
“Fuck if I care,” she said.
Then she told us about her day job working at a driving school. It was incredible.
All in all, the day was actually pretty great. Getting up early like that just to go drink is a bit of a task, sure. But we all know how much fun day drinking can be. And, aside from one or two shady characters at the Starlight and that one creepy drunk guy who was refused service at The Goat, everyone we met was awesome.
More awesome, perhaps? Yes, we did, in fact, make it to lunchtime.
Not much later, though.
I mean, c'mon, we'd been drinking for, like, six hours by then.