The next best thing to getting drunk on a submarine.
Driving up to Ships Lounge feels a bit like a dive bar adventure gone awry, the location seemingly out of place to find a truly divey drinking spot. But I suppose the term should have been coined by now to never read a dive bar by its cover, but this cover is little more than mirrored glass in a pretty standard looking strip mall in northeast Dallas. Sure, there’s some nice neon over the front door to serve as a good first clue, but as far as vintage dive bar signs go, “Ships” in red neon lettering fails to prepare for the narrow dive bar within.
Of course, things weren’t always this way for Ships Lounge and its strip mall location, recent renovations to the building matching a 2016 reopening of Ships Lounge itself. Character along some of the store fronts on either side of Ships Lounge faded with a standard, reflective glass revision to the building, creating uniformity where there was once compelling difference. Gone are painted signs on either side of the Ships Lounge front door, blue ships atop glass windows (the artwork has been relocated inside), but the signature blue awning and padded blue front door remain intact.
Hidden beneath some of these updates is the Greenville neighborhood’s signature dive bar doubles as one of the oldest in Dallas, an atmosphere cultivated at this location since 1947. And with that long history comes one of Ships Lounge’s quirks, a tradition of BYO-liquor, a concept that one doesn’t run into all that often, at least at a reputable drinking establishment, but arrived as a symptom of permits over the dive bar’s many decades. With the closing and reopening of Ships Lounge under new management in 2016, liquor made its glorious entrance to Ships Lounge, adding a little convenience to a night’s proceedings even if some regulars reminisce about the good old days of bringing a bottle of choice through the door.
With all of that history out of the way, today’s incarnation of Ships Lounge is a bit like a dive bar inhabiting an extended hallway in a submarine, a mashup of Christmas lights, anchors and Budweiser that feels like you could probably touch both walls with your hands at the same time. The layout is simple, a long bar taking up most of the space with skinny, one-person-a-side booths running along the opposite wall. The Christmas light game here is strong, draped lights extending almost the entire length of the space, providing densely packed light throughout. Updates are clear throughout, but the bar itself saw little of that, the fabric lining the surface of the bar worn and torn away in spots.
Blacked out windows preserve the dimly lit tradition here, the pervasive Christmas lights doing most of the work, bouncing off of a mirrored Budwesier-themed crown atop the shelving behind the bar. And though updates are pervasive, so too is the preservation, numerous original murals and artifacts from Ships Lounge days gone by collected and distributed throughout the space. A wall of photos of regulars across the years adds a personal touch to the decoration, the attire in the photos changing as the years rolled by. The ceiling is no doubt secure but at least gives off the vibe that it could probably sink in at any moment, a blue textured surface that sags in a way that it feels almost like an optical illusion.
Further into the space, a pool table sits beneath an upside-down Christmas tree suspended from the ceiling (like I said, the Christmas light game here is strong). This area has been renovated, clearly, over the years as this pool table alcove gives way to fresh flooring and new furniture in a small sitting area just outside of the dive bar’s bathrooms. What looks to be original wall paneling has been placed here to add a little authenticity to the nook, a classic cigarette vending machine doing its part as well.
A short staircase leads up to an entirely renovated space not part of the previous incarnations of Ships Lounge, an area that looks a bit like a captain’s quarters in keeping with the dive bar’s nautical theme. This part of Ships Lounge feels a bit removed from the proceedings on the main floor, which is good for the sake of serenity but probably a bad use of time spent in a 1947 dive bar in northeast Dallas.
As with any renovated dive bar, preservation is always appreciated and held in high regard. Ships Lounge looks to have done a decent job in balancing the clear structural needs of a building given a pretty profound face lift with post-Prohibition history seen through the dive bar’s signage, murals and artifacts within. Generally speaking, those elements are still on display and the vibe preserves the underwater dive bar appeal that has made Ships Lounge a Greenville neighborhood staple for many a decade.