A longtime Uptown Dallas staple has been felled by the coronavirus: Christies Sports Bar & Grill, which has been on McKinney Avenue for nearly 30 years, is closing its doors.
Owner Ashton Christie said in a statement that "We will not be reopening due to COVID-19 and lack of cooperation from our landlord. We love you, Dallas. Stay tuned."
For decades, Christies served as Uptown's quintessential sports bar, describing itself as "a staple of the neighborhood where patrons know there's always a stool with their name on it, and the draft beer's cold and cheap."
They also welcomed any sports team affiliation, with enough TVs to accommodate Cowboys, Mavs, and Rangers fans, plus pool tables, pinball, and friendly service. "What really makes us who we are is that we're a place for everybody — always have been, always will be," Christie says.
One minor miracle is the way Christies prevailed as Uptown ebbed and flowed: During the 90s, when the neighborhood was not yet hip, they stood out as a place that was both comfortable and a little aspirational. And then when the wave of quintessential Uptown bars opened during the '00s, they were an unpretentious alternative.
"How does a sports bar stay open in Uptown for more than 20 years?" asked Jonathan Rienstra, CultureMap's former bar writer back in 2013. "By throwing a TV on just about every available inch of wall space and not getting too cute about anything else. The ability to play billiards on two tables makes it worth seeking out as you hit up the bars on McKinney Avenue. There’s also Big Buck Hunter and Golden Tee, as there should be."
"If there was a picture next to the term 'sports bar' in the dictionary, it would look something like Christies," he wrote. "Sure, that's a cliché, but so is Christies, and we mean that in a good way. What would come off as forced and kitschy at most places works here. Maybe it's that this place has been around since ’91 and has survived all the McKinney Avenue madness. The no-fuss interior is full of dark wood paneling and tons of TVs. Enough said."
They did file for bankruptcy in 2017, but they were able to emerge from that successfully.
But the coronavirus was a challenge they were unable to surmount.
In May, owner Ashton Christie, whose father Richard first opened the bar in 1991, told NBC 5 that the financial burden of being closed during the coronavirus was "staggering," citing expenses of more $100,000 with rent, taxes "and your normal everyday stuff."
Christie says that the combination of the virus, the protests, repeated shutdowns, and a landlord unwilling or unable to offer incentives combined to deal the fatal blow.
"After the first three months, we got a chance to reopen but then the protests shut us down for another week," Christie says. "We tried to reopen and then the state shut us down again on June 26. Meanwhile, the landlord wanted their rent. Landlords want their money, but we had no money coming in to give them."
Christie calls it a "devastating time" for bars. "A lot of my friends who own bars are having to do the same thing," he says.
He's had to let go of employees who'd been there for decades. "My cook has been with us for 25 years and my bartender has been behind the bar for more 10 years," he says.
He's also heard from hundreds of customers and regulars.
"People I haven't seen in years, it's definitely overwhelming the response we've received and how many lives our bar touched," he says. "We were the Cheers of Uptown. We did a lot for businesses in our area, who held their company gatherings and holiday parties, and we never charged them, we just appreciated them coming in. At the end of the day, we always wanted to be friends with everyone."