I had seen the sign on the nondescript shopping center wall on lowest Greenville Avenue at Ross Avenue many times. The place is located right next to a Mexican food joint across the road more or less from a CVS Pharmacy, a taco stand and a U-Haul rental business.
The neon lights are simply five letters in red and blue, S-H-I-P-S. Ships. The neon emits a song that has long tried to lure me to Ships Lounge.
I'd driven by the place for the last couple of years after I moved to the downtown Dallas area. Yet, I had never stopped. Frankly, I wasn't even sure the place was still in business.
On this particular weekend I had a buddy of mine with me. We had just gorged ourselves on oysters and crawfish at Dodies up the way on Greenville and we were driving back to my place when the neon lights of Ships Lounge beckoned.
I said, "You know I've always been afraid to go in there by myself. What do you say we check it out?"
Seconds later we are in the parking lot approaching the front door. I look at my friend and say, "Here we go."
He pushed open the well-weathered door and as we entered an older gentleman seated next to the entrance turned and proclaimed, "Welcome to Ships Lounge!" I knew this was going to be good.
There were maybe eight people in the place. They were all silver-haired and looked to have been seated at their respective spots at the bar since the 1970's. And although my buddy and I were the youngest in the room by at least a decade, we were cheerfully welcomed into the Ships fold.
Ships is a beer bar. They have Shiner and Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap and bottles and cans of other beers. They also have wine in a box. If you want the hard stuff you'll need to bring it yourself. Jennifer behind the bar will sell you the set-ups.
I've seen plenty of these faux-old dive bars. They are made to look old. Character is forced. Formulas are followed. Not Ships.
This place was decorated in dark wood, dimly-lit with dusty neon beer signs. A half-sized pool table takes up the area between the bar and the restrooms. And those restrooms, nestled behind a cigarette machine, are so small that there's a community sink outside between the men's and ladie's room. So if you don't wash your hand everybody will see. By the way, you can buy cigs from that machine, but you have to take them outside to the parking lot to smoke them.
There's a juke box along the dingy wall across from the bar. On it you'll pay two bucks to hear seven songs from the likes of Marty Robbins and Glen Campbell and Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash. You won't find Taylor Swift or Keith Urban on this thing. And don't worry if you don't have any money. The bartender will quickly put in some cash and play her favorite tunes if the songs run out.
If you ever go to Ships Lounge, bring cash. They don't take any form of plastic money. A beer will set you back four and a quarter. It's cheaper during happy hour. And Wednesday night is free hot dog night. The barkeep said it's a huge hit. I'll have to check it out myself one of these times.
There's tinsel and twinkle lights from some Christmas past hanging above the mirrorer bar backstop. One of the signs reads, "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone."
The bartender tells me that a guy named Charley owns the place. Apparently he's been the boss for more than thirty years.
Charley doesn't come around too much anymore. Seems he enjoyed his own libations too much one night and fell in the parking lot, suffering a debilitating injury. Too bad. Seems like the kind of guy I'd like to meet.
The regulars are friendly. The beer is cold. The atmosphere is authentic and country. It reminded me of some of the places my old man would take me that always instructed me to never tell my mom about.
Ships Lounge brought back old memories and created new ones. It's a little stale beer-smelling and cigarette smoke-stained relic worthy of a visit if you ever happen to be in the neighborhood, have some cash and have a thirst for nostalgia with a beer chaser.
That's what I'm thinking.