There's a fine line between artwork and undergarments.
In a tale as old as gentrified urban cores, Dallas’ Deep Ellum neighborhood is the once bustling, then forgotten, once again bustling Dallas district east of downtown. The area’s industrial path reaches back to 1888 and counts Henry Ford as one of its post-1900 tenants before transforming into a hotbed of live music during the 1920s. After a downturn in the 1970s, Deep Ellum is back and full of hipster-grade nightclubs and bars, making the presence of Reno’s Chop Shop Saloon a welcome sight, a Dallas dive bar oasis of sorts.
The Reno’s Chop Shop Saloon vibe is definitely biker dive bar, a remarkable accomplishment in its purity given the absolute transformation of the neighborhood around it over the last few decades. Deep roots have preserved the credibility and authenticity here, punctuated by the vibrant live music scene that continues to rotate through Reno’s on a semi-nightly basis. Artistic credibility is established here through the robust set of murals that cover every inch of the building’s exterior.
And because of those murals, finding the front door at first glance can be an issue depending on the angle of approach, murals drawing attention and foot traffic both toward and away from the Dallas dive bar’s front door. Each mural is worth exploring of course, ranging from giant-tongued demon heads to a pile of brains atop some kind of alien altar. Flames run the length of the building, across the back entrance protected by barbed wire, all the ay to the front door found along one of the corners of the building.
Needless to say, the vibe along the outside of the building matches the décor within, flaming skulls naturally guarding the entrance and stickers covering the door itself. Inside, the bar is front and center in a dense first room, made to feel that way by the low overhang of bras that drape over the rectangular bar in the center of the room. Dollar bills aren’t just stapled and interspersed among the bras, but rather attached to the bars, beads and anything else that hangs down, creating some pretty unique bar fringe overhead.
Every surface available to be painted is painted black, creating that nice dimly-lit dive bar feeling even though there are more than the dive bar standard minimal set of windows letting light into the space. PBR skateboards hang from the ceiling, Halloween decorations can be found scattered throughout the space and a set of vending machines offer all manner of unique items to provide just a glimpse into some of the visual stimulation in just this first stop along the dive bar tour. To the left of the entrance, a small set of tables and chairs provides a bit of seating tucked behind the bar area, a part of the bar that on this reviewer’s trip included a Christmas tree made out of Jaeger bottles.
Along Reno’s Chop Shop’s set of windows along the opposite bar wall, a few high top tables can be found, leading the way to a step up into a game area complete with a pair of pool tables that ultimately give way to a handful of dart boards and a Ms. Pac-Man machine, because why not. Beyond, the Dallas dive bar’s stage can be found, opened on nights with live music into a space that has been upgraded over the years to serve as a very capable, very lively location to see a show.
Taken together, while there are updates to be found throughout the space, the vibe here feels fairly unchanged over the years, a biker dive bar at its core that keeps that spirit alive. In a part of town that can quickly transform into a running string of more “traditional” night clubs, breweries and bars, Reno’s Chop Shop Saloon is authentically distinct, a Dallas dive bar that serves as a beacon for its neighborhood without being changed by its evolution.