East Dallas Grime

Elbow Room aims to reclaim status as best little dive bar near Baylor

Elbow Room reclaims status as best little dive bar near Baylor

It closed, it re-opened – or did it really? It did. Elbow Room, the longtime dive bar with pizza on the side near Baylor Hospital, is open, with new owners and a beefed-up menu of pastas and salads.

Elbow Room opened in this part of deep East Dallas back when the area still felt a little dicey. Through many ups and downs, it clung to its profile as a reliable old-school dive with a cluster of regulars who appreciated its no-fuss vibe.

The place closed last year when the previous owner didn't pay his liquor taxes. With Baylor salivating to take over the property, new owners Joe and Rosie Nagy had to jump through hoops to convince the city to let them revive the space.

The Nagys don't have bar or restaurant experience, but they have a team that does. Chef Javier Velez is a graduate of Culinary Institute of America. Consulting chef Zack Neel worked with Patrick Stark at Sundown at Granada and at Sandbar Cantina. "We've been taking the time to iron out the creases and get our ducks in a row," Neel says.

He says they kept "all the greats" from the old menu, but are taking a more chef-like approach.

"Our hand-tossed pizza has been a staple, but now we're making our own sauces, dressings and doughs," Neel says. "We've moved it away from frozen and pre-prepared to from-scratch. Also, we have an Italian grill with burgers, pastas and a couple of appetizers. Our stuffed meatballs are fantastic."

Meatballs! That's a hot trend right now. They've also added salads and pasta dishes like angel hair with mushrooms, grape tomatoes, red onion and house-made pesto, which can also be spread on the pizza in place of tomato sauce. "We've added a few signature pizzas like one with a stuffed crust, and a white pizza," Neel says. "It's just more traditional Italian hearty bar food."

They've updated the bar by adding some local crafts including Deep Ellum and Peticolas. "We're hopping on that train," Neel says.

They're also reviving the separate restaurant entity, called Goodfellas, to re-brand it as a restaurant next to the bar, and to increase their catering business. But they haven't changed everything: Longtime bartender Derek Werman is still slinging beer, bringing a familiar face and sense of continuity. Other old-timers include bar-back Jordan Bolinger and servers Leslie Cash, Mary Jane Ellis and Lindsey Knodle. Manager is Marc Hooper, who came from Aw Shucks Sundown at Granada and was previously general manager at Shuck 'N Jive.

With chef Brian Luscher's new restaurant Luscher's opening across the street in the Big E's market space, Neel feels optimistic about their prospects. "We're going to have a party to celebrate our re-opening," he says. "We feel good about what's happening here."

Elbow Room in Dallas
Elbow Room is officially open for business with a crew that's ready to roll. Photo by Michael Cagle
Elbow Room
Elbow Room neon sign: like an oasis in the big city. Photo by Teresa Gubbins
Elbow Room
Baylor Hospital wanted the property but Elbow Room prevailed. Photo by Teresa Gubbins