By Renee Umsted|July 30th, 2023 ADVOCATE Lakewood/East Dallas

A decade ago, visitors to Lowest Greenville weren’t enjoying 12-course chef’s tasting menus and $17 cocktails in dimly lit, intimate, award-winning restaurants and bars.

They are now.

A decade ago, visitors to Lower Greenville could find institutions such as The Grape, Blue Goose Cantina, St. Martin’s Wine Bistro and San Francisco Rose.

They can’t now.

Over time, Greenville Avenue has developed into unique segments, each with its own personality. While Lowest Greenville landlords say their goals for the area have been met, it’s harder to make a similar assessment for commercial properties between Belmont and Mockingbird. That area, known as Lower Greenville, still seems to be evolving.

Lowest Greenville

Lowest Greenville, the area from Belmont Avenue to Ross Avenue, has changed radically since 2011.

Back then, there were a lot more bars and nightclubs — more violent crime and noise, too.

To address these issues, the community turned to zoning changes and streetscape improvements.

Andres Properties and Madison Partners, the primary landlords of Lowest Greenville who have owned property on the street for decades, supported a proposed planned development district and targeted specific-use permits, both of which were intended to lower crime in the area.

Under the new rules, businesses such as bars and nightclubs had to apply for a permit to stay open past midnight. Some of the places that tended to attract crime were denied permits, while others didn’t apply at all. 

“We thought on balance in those discussions that achieving the true potential of the neighborhood combined with the streetscape improvements was worth the price of giving up the property rights,” says Jon Hetzel, a partner at Madison Partners. “Now in hindsight, that paid off.”

Construction made sidewalks wider, street lanes narrower and traffic slower. But the changes caused almost every tenant to go out of business, brothers Marc and Roger Andres of Andres Properties say.

Still, Lowest Greenville bounced back.

Teppo, which ended a 27-year run in 2022, The Libertine Bar and Greenville Avenue Pizza Co. survived well past the construction. Newer businesses such as HG Sply Co., which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, have also seen success.

Now, Lowest Greenville tenants are more diverse. There are daytime retail stores, barber shops, fitness studios, dessert shops and a grocery store, in addition to bars and restaurants.

Those businesses are surrounded by apartments, single-family homes and townhomes, bringing in a range of customers.

“You see people of all colors on Greenville Avenue, all ages,” Marc says. “I really don’t think there’s another street like it in Dallas. You feel like you’re in a different city.”

About a decade removed from the major changes, the owners say their goals for the area have mostly been realized.

“Usually speaking, major long-term property owners can look at the area more strategically and make leasing decisions based on a bigger-picture view of what the area can become,” Hetzel says.

When selecting tenants, Andres Properties searches for proprietors who fill gaps in the neighborhood, Marc says. For example, Fortune House brought Chinese cuisine.

“It’s dramatically different than what you would have seen 10 years ago,” Marc says. “But that was all intentional. We all were pulling in the same direction. And the intent is not to have it as necessarily a regional draw. It can sustain itself by the neighborhood.”

In addition to selecting complementary tenants, Madison Partners and Andres Properties share parking lots. 

On the neighborhood side, residents do their best to make sure parking doesn’t infiltrate the residential surroundings. But Darren Dattalo, a Lower Greenville resident of 24 years, says parking only becomes an issue when businesses geared toward daytime uses want to operate during the night, when restaurants and bars are busiest. 

“The parking we have is enough for the mix of retail and restaurant we currently have,” Dattalo says. “If that mix starts skewing more toward restaurant, then it becomes a problem because it’s not enough.”

Lower Greenville’s lost 

North of Lowest Greenville, the neighborhood looks and feels different. Property ownership isn’t concentrated in a couple of firms, and excluding a handful of exceptions, the commercial tenants are primarily restaurants and bars.

The area also hasn’t seen the same level of city involvement. There are no planned development districts, and the city hasn’t invested in a major street-construction project.

But the area has changed. In recent years, several longtime Lower Greenville restaurants have closed.

Some, like St. Martin’s Wine BistroSociety Bakery and Blue Goose Cantina, are just moving to other places in East Dallas. But others are gone for good.

San Francisco Rose was first. Then came The Grape in 2019.

PegasusAblon purchased The Grape building from the restaurant’s founders. Soon, an interested party offered to buy it for $1 million over the purchase price, says Michael Ablon, a principal at the Dallas-based company. The person wanted to tear down the building and put in a drive-thru bank, Ablon says. PegasusAblon didn’t sell.

“What we tried to do was preserve the building,” Ablon says. “And you never put back in another Grape. What you do is you try to understand the mythology of The Grape that it had in the neighborhood and find something that, you don’t replace it, but rather you add the next chapter towards the legacy of it all.”

Now, the building has been overtaken by Duro Hospitality. The centerpiece is an Italian restaurant called Sister, which opened in 2021. Next door, there’s a coffee and wine shop called Cafe Duro, and upstairs, there’s Casa Duro, a three-unit rental property. 

PegasusAblon also owns the Blue Goose Cantina property. Earlier this year, the restaurant left its home on Greenville Avenue, where it stood since 1984, and began searching for another East Dallas location.

An American restaurant called Goodwin’s, named for Goodwin Avenue, along with a currently unnamed 22-seat bar will take the old Blue Goose space.

“We wanted to put something in the neighborhood that could be the neighborhood watering hole, but also, it’s fun and it’s dining,” Ablon says. “It’s something for the next 20 years.”

The team behind the new restaurant includes Austin Rogers, who owns Alamo Club and Mayer’s Garden; David Cash, who owns Smoky Rose; and Jeff Bekavac, who has worked as culinary director for Neighborhood Services and Cane Rosso, among others.

But neighbors have not always mourned the lost restaurants and bars. Last year’s news of the closure of OT Tavern, a bar at the corner of Greenville Avenue and Martel, was seen as a positive thing by neighbors who had long complained about the violent crime at or immediately surrounding the bar.

Foxtrot, a coffee shop and market, will replace OT Tavern and expects to open sometime later this year.

Another frequent target of neighborhood complaints is Bar 3606. Next door to the future Foxtrot, it’s operating while the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission processes its liquor license renewal documents.

But there’s a zoning case in review that could close Bar 3606. The owners of the building want to establish a new planned development district that would, among other things, limit operating hours and restrict alcoholic beverage establishments.

It would also change parking regulations to allow the number of existing parking spaces to be sufficient for the businesses that want to operate there.

Making the infrastructure work

Parking has been an issue for some Lower Greenville businesses. Val’s Cheesecakes doesn’t have enough spaces to allow it to set up tables for customers to eat some cake and drink some wine on site. Owner Valery Jean-Bart says that inability prevents him from earning more revenue, and after years of trying, he hasn’t found a solution.

Halcyon and Stan’s Blue Note, both located in a building owned by Madison Partners, share a parking lot — a lot with potholes that’ll go head-to-head with the neighborhood’s worst.

Because Halcyon and Stan’s are busy at different times, the coffee shop customers don’t generally have a problem finding a place to park, general manager Amanda Campbell says. Plus, there’s usually some street parking.

But the lot fills up quickly.

“I don’t like to park in it,” Campbell says. “It’s really tight, too.”

News of Goodwin’s has brought plenty of attention, and The New York Times already noticed Sister, calling it one of the 50 most-loved restaurants in the country.

It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that Lower Greenville becomes crowded — especially at night, and especially on the weekends. And it doesn’t take a genius to notice there’s not a whole lot of unused space to pave paradise and put up a parking lot in the area.

Finding the balance between what’s good for the residents and what’s good for the businesses is key, Ablon says. Too much parking, and it gets into the neighborhood fabric. Not enough, and businesses struggle.

But Ablon, who grew up in Dallas, says Lower Greenville has always attracted customers from outside the neighborhood, and any notoriety that the newer tenants have received hasn’t necessarily changed that.

“If you’re going to have a strip of restaurants and venues, like Lowest Greenville or Lower Greenville, you have to have a broader audience for the numbers to work,” Ablon says.

“For these restaurants to have that quality of food, that kind of vibe and that funness, you have to do a certain volume. And the neighborhood will support one, but it won’t support a lot of them.”

About the Author: Renee Umsted

Renee Umsted is a senior editor for the Advocate. Prior to joining the publication in 2021, she studied journalism at TCU. She lives in and covers East Dallas.