While the neighborhood around it has changed dramatically over the years, Strangeways largely persevered due to its unwavering simplicity. Good drinks, good food and good company were the tenets. But an arrangement to buy the building couldn’t be worked out, and Strangeways’ owners felt it was time to move on.
“We tried different angles to get it from [the landlord], and it didn’t work,” Strangeways owner Eric Sanchez said. “So, it was meant to be, unfortunately. I didn’t want this. I didn’t want it. None of us wanted [to close].”
Eric and his sister and co-owner, Rosie, say they built a good relationship with their landlord in the 13 years they rented from her. They had an understanding that if she were ever to sell the building, it would be to them. Then, everything changed. Last February, she informed them that she had an offer from a family member to buy the property for $2 million and intended to sell it. However, she was open to a counteroffer.
“I’m not a drug dealer. I’m not a trust fund kid,” Eric said. “This isn’t a passion project where I’m a millionaire who just hangs out here because I like good beer, cool spirits and the music I play. This always needed to pay its bills. I can’t counter with that.”
The sale never materialized, and the building owner instead asked them to pay a little more rent, which Sanchez says wasn’t unreasonable. But the entire situation shifted the tone of their relationship with the landlord. And in August, she listed the building without letting Eric or Rosie know it was on the market.
“When they listed the building for sale in August, which was August 3 of this year, we had no idea,” Rosie said. “I get a text message from the [landlord’s] granddaughter on August 6. So, for three days, it had already been listed, and we didn’t get the notice like, ‘We’re honoring your first right [of refusal]. Here’s what we want.’ I get a text message from a little teenage girl saying, ‘We’ve listed the building if you’re interested. This is the number for the agent.’”
Eric said that if the landlord had listed the property appropriately — it was initially listed as residential rather than commercial — there probably would have been a bidding war. Still, the two sides attempted to come to an agreement. Eric and Rosie worked with their accountant, got bank backing and presented an offer.
For a time, it looked like they might be rewarded for their efforts. Then, the days began to pass without any word from the landlord. A week went by. Finally, Eric got a text from Rosie about the sale. It wasn’t the news he was hoping for.
“The building sold,” Eric said. “That’s the end of our story here. There was no way. We tried. We really did try. We’re not walking away because we’re petty. We’re not walking away because we’re angry. We’re walking away. We have to. … We’re gutted. There is no more hope for this. We were here for 12 years with the hope that we were going to be The Old Monk of the underdog.”
He says the building’s new owners, who Eric and Rosie said have asked to remain anonymous for now, are fans of the bar he and his sister developed and grew for more than a decade. But he knows they just couldn’t keep up with a higher rent rate based on the sale price.
“We’re not leaving because of [the new owners],” Rosie said. “We’re excited that it’s them if it’s not us. We’re happy that it’s them. We were also afraid that if it wasn’t us, someone would come and level the building and scrap it and make some cookie cutter with no soul. But I am confident that this group [won’t]. They love the structure, they love the facade, they love the brick. And I am happy that it’s someone who will at least love the space the way we have. So that’s good.”
Strangeways stood out in Dallas, not just for its overt references to The Smiths and walls lined with vinyl Kaws figures. In a bar scene dominated by segregated experiences — great cocktails or cold beer — Strangeways had something for everyone. Patrons could enjoy a cocktail mixed from a vast selection of hand-selected spirits, drink imported beers rarely found in Dallas and Fort Worth, or kick back with a can of Frio Light, Goldmine Lager or whatever lowbrow beer they had in the cooler.
The intentional appeal to a broad audience helped make Strangeways a cross-cultural hub. Any night, there could be a table of artists and musicians sitting next to a table of off-the-clock physicians from Baylor. At the same time, neighborhood regulars drink Modelo, and service industry staff smoke cigarettes on the front patio. Everyone who walked in the door was welcome, even NBA All-Star Blake Griffin, who famously visited the bar in its early days.
“We just always said we’re going to be a neighborhood bar where everyone is welcome,” Rosie said. “Like a classic [bar]. In other cities around the world, the bar is your living room where you hang out with your friends. In most cities, they’re so cramped and tight that you see your friends out in pubs or bars. You don’t hang out on porches or in houses or front lawns. They don’t have that out there. And so that was this vibe, and that’s what we wanted. And I loved that. I love that.”
Eric admits that the summer was difficult for the bar. “We aren’t shiny and new,” he says. In recent years, the bar hosted numerous DJ nights, a one-off appearance by Mr. Pookie and pop-ups from the Picadera Group, which served Dominican street food. The events continued to be a draw, but he never wanted Strangeways to become more of an event venue than a bar.
More than the spirits, beer and events, Strangeways was about family and the people who helped make it a welcoming space. Eric, Rosie, Jose and the other bartenders greeted guests like old friends — many were. Eric and Rosie’s mother worked in the kitchen, dishing up yucca fries, elotes and tortas. It was the backdrop for countless meetings, birthdays, reunions and first dates. It was a place where you spent valuable time with people who did care if you lived or died.
“[It’s] very rewarding to see what was built here and those that found us, accepted us, and said, ‘This is my spot. This is where I go to,’” Eric said. “We were never ringing the Henderson numbers, but the reward was always looking at the people we brought in. We couldn’t have asked for a better crowd. Ever. It was always good.”