Seven years ago, Dallas city council member Angela Hunt got a late-night email from a constituent upset about the noise in Lower Greenville, a neighborhood of modest single-family homes just northeast of downtown. Back then, the main thoroughfare was a daytime wasteland that morphed into the city’s sloppiest party scene when the sun went down. Having frequently fielded this complaint from members of her district, Hunt decided to throw on her sweatpants and check things out. A little after midnight, she confronted a group of college kids, loudly weaving down the street and smashing beer bottles. After being rounded up by a cop, one of the young men stopped long enough to gaze at the lawns trashed by yet another weekend of revelers before protesting, “What? There’s bottles everywhere else.”
The moment crystallized for Hunt what many already thought of when they thought of Lower Greenville. Once filled with mom-and-pop shops and watering holes, the twenties-era storefronts along Greenville Avenue had declined, fallen empty, and finally been given over to “gang-banger clubs and college puke bars,” as the Dallas Observer called them. “It was really uninviting to anyone who wasn’t prepared to get really drunk,” said Hunt. Every Friday and Saturday night, a SWAT-like team of police armed with pepper-ball guns, spotlights, and bullhorns would post up with their paddy wagons in preparation for closing time.
So Hunt, along with fellow council member Pauline Medrano, decided to do something about it. They muscled through a rezoning plan that effectively shut down a number of the worst offenders by making them close at midnight and tapped funds from the 2006 bond package to beautify a section of Greenville Avenue. By the summer of 2011, construction for a $1.9 million face-lift—which included narrowing the street from four lanes to two—was under way. But even before the jackhammer dust had cleared, there was a pivotal announcement: Trader Joe’s had chosen Lower Greenville—specifically the lot where the 1927 Arcadia Theater once stood (it burned down in 2006)—to be the site of its first Dallas outpost. By the time the California-based grocer opened last August, a small flood of specialty-food stores, chef-driven restaurants, and other daytime businesses, emboldened by Trader Joe’s, had decided to set up shop on the block too.
These days, the chatter about Lower Greenville has shifted from drink specials and drunken melees to gluten-free menus and grand openings. At the Green Grocer, an “intimate neighborhood market” lured here from Chicago, you can sip on freshly made juice as you load up on locally sourced organic produce. The beloved Granada Theater‘s adjoining restaurant, Sundown at Granada, has zipped to the forefront of the clean-eating movement, with a menu that claims to be 70 percent organic and 99 percent GMO-free. The recently opened dinner spot the Blind Butcher, though inclined toward carnivorous delights like pigs’ ears and duck pastrami, offers a meatless hot dog with tofu bacon. Even the long-standing Libertine Bar now offers vegan fried seitan. It’s almost comical how far the pendulum has swung.
In February I dropped in to see the turnaround for myself. The last time I was on Greenville Avenue was a decade ago, when I was home from college and reuniting with high school friends at J. Pepe’s, a Tex-Mex joint known for its margaritas and backyard pool (its death knell rang in February 2013). I parallel-parked outside Nora, a white-tablecloth Afghan restaurant with a sleek rooftop terrace, and marveled at the street’s rehabbed look. The double-wide sidewalks, the decorative lampposts, and the spindly, precisely spaced baby trees have returned the strip—or at least the two blocks between Bell Avenue and Alta Street—to its more walkable roots. These upgrades were, no doubt, an easy selling point for the real estate agent who was leading a trio of suited businessmen into a vacant storefront as I headed to meet a friend at Mudsmith. The roomy coffee shop, which sprang to life seven months before Trader Joe’s opened, is a weirdly perfect mash-up of communal office and hippie hunting lodge, with Avoca coffee from Fort Worth, local beers on tap, kombucha mimosas, bearded fellows galore, and open-mike nights. It’s the type of place that gives a friendly middle finger to the plastic-y Big D stereotypes perpetuated on so many “reality” shows.
At Truck Yard, a casual beer garden across the street, the atmosphere was similarly laid-back, even—dare I say it—Austin-esque. The place features a rotating cast of food trucks, three bars (one of which is up in a tree house), and a large, grassless patch strewed with lawn chairs and picnic tables and rusty pickups. Head honcho Jason Boso, of Twisted Root Burger Co. fame, has helped restore the equilibrium that Hunt and others wanted for the area by creating a place that beckons families and dog walkers during the day and drinking buddies at night. Even though this “adult playground,” which opened last September, must close at midnight, Boso isn’t complaining; the place is packed on the weekends. “We’ve finally gotten away from the stigma that Lower Greenville is just a shady, dangerous free-for-all,” he said before leading me into Truck Yard’s permanent kitchen, which cranks out nothing but Philly cheesesteaks.
The newcomers may be getting most of the praise (and press) in Lower Greenville’s post-club era, but there are still plenty of stalwarts around that have powered through the unst-unst nights and the city council meetings and the construction-ghost-town days. As I poked around some of the block’s freshest arrivals—including niche shops like Transit Bicycle Company, Stash Design (think rustic-industrial up-cycled tables and lamps), and Dude, Sweet Chocolate—conversations tended to morph into declarations of love for old standbys like the Melios Brothers Char Bar, the blue, peaked-roof diner that’s been serving three squares a day for four decades; the aforementioned Granada Theater, one of Dallas’s best live-music venues; and Good Records, a purveyor of fine vinyl that welcomes national acts to its tiny stage.
At HG Sply Co., a paleo-friendly restaurant that occupies the former Suede bar, the menu is a caveman’s bounty of grass-fed meats and fresh veggies. Oh, and it has a sister gym, Social Mechanics, next door, in what used to be the Pussycat Lounge. After co-owner Elias Pope took me to the roof to see his ultimate al fresco hangout, a corner of which is partitioned off for yoga classes, we went back down to the street and he led me inside a third storefront. He’s reconfiguring the narrow space, once the Public House bar, into a modern version of a Prohibition-era soda fountain that he envisions will serve lunch and homemade ice cream during the day and will turn boozy in the evening. As we stood among castoffs from previous tenants—the draft-beer dispenser from Gezellig, retro red-vinyl banquettes from the Pussycat Lounge—Pope thought back to the way Lower Greenville used to be: “This is where I was at when I was twenty-one, you know? There’s a lot of history, but I guess we’ve all grown up.” I pressed him for the name of his latest labor of love, which he estimates will open in May. It’ll be called Remedy, which seems more than fitting.