Drink: Diving into the bar scene

(Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
(Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

This watering hole is a neighborhood melting pot

Our neighborhood is synonymous with fancy cocktails and fine dining. But our oldest — and possibly most beloved — watering hole prides itself on its grungy vibe and quirky clientele.

Inwood Tavern’s patrons aren’t easy to pigeonhole, even for owner Len Critcher. The 53-year-old dive bar attracts college students donning T-shirts, overdressed soccer moms eager for a girls’ night out and trendy couples grabbing an after-dinner drink on any given weekend.

The eclectic crowd is why Critcher, a former regular, fell in love with the tavern. It could be packed with wall-to-wall people, smoke may waft through the patio, but it’s never intimidating.

“I have regulars that are very successful lawyers all the way to the local mechanics who work off Lemmon to the service industry workers,” he says. “It’s really wild, because they all talk to each other. If you go there a few times, it’s probably one of the few places in Dallas you can show up and find somebody you know.”

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The establishment is the site of many longtime neighbors’ favorite stories. People have met their soon-to-be spouses or best friends at the bar, Critcher says.

He’s often reminded that there’s not as much grime as decades passed, when it opened at 7 a.m. and hosted a lingerie show on the shuffleboard table.

“I think everybody who comes to the bar has their own personal perception of it,” he says. “When I acquired the bar, I didn’t create it, so I’m really a steward. It’s my job to continue its legacy.”

Critcher did gut the bar, constructing the back patio and adding brick to the walls after he purchased the tavern in 2013. The updates were necessary, but they didn’t quell his anxiety that he might give the bar an identity crisis.

“I was most nervous about, ‘I don’t want to screw up.’ How do I improve upon something without disturbing the heritage?”

The reinvented tavern didn’t disappoint its most frequent regulars, who seek the bar out during holidays and bad weather.

An ice storm in 2014 left the tavern, which was standing room only, without any power. Instead of ushering people out, a longtime patron grabbed two generators from his garage to power music and construction lighting. Since bartenders couldn’t charge people’s cards, they went for the honor system and wrote down what customers owed.

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They never recouped the entire cost, but moments like that define the bar’s sense of community, Critcher says.

“It’s an anomaly. It’s something that’s so hard to recreate.”


Bars of a feather

Velvet Elvis
3720 Walnut Hill Lane
Stickers with sayings like “Will not dance when sober” and “Without our families, alcohol wouldn’t be necessary” cover the bar, while tacky paintings line the walls. This local dive is where neighbors hang out to play pool, listen to live music, sing karaoke or just have a drink in peace.

The Cockpit
9454 Marsh Lane
The aviation-themed bar’s undergone a few reincarnations since it opened in 1986, but it’s still where regulars hang out to throw darts, watch the game or snack on cheese puffs.


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