Man the firepits!

Groovy sandbox Sandbar Cantina in Exposition Park is not your average volleyball bar

Groovy sandbox Sandbar Cantina in Exposition Park is not your average volleyball bar

Sandbar Cantina, Exposition Park
Sandbar Cantina & Grill brings beachy vibe to Deep Ellum. Photo by Teresa Gubbins
Sandbar Cantina, Exposition Park
Palm trees ring the sand pit; downtown skyline forms backdrop. Photo by Teresa Gubbins
Sandbar Cantina, Exposition Park
Sandbar signs, made from surfboards. Photo by Teresa Gubbins
Sandbar Cantina, Exposition Park
Sandbar's patio includes a fire pit. Photo by Teresa Gubbins
Sandbar Cantina, Exposition Park
The backwall of the bar at Sandbar is made from recycled wood. Photo by Teresa Gubbins
Sandbar Cantina, Exposition Park
Sandbar has six volleyball courts and a view of downtown Dallas. Photo by Teresa Gubbins
Sandbar Cantina, Exposition Park
Sandbar imported some fancy sand whose provenance they will not reveal, but it's about as soft and fine as sand gets. Photo by Teresa Gubbins
Sandbar Cantina, Exposition Park
Sandbar Cantina, Exposition Park
Sandbar Cantina, Exposition Park
Sandbar Cantina, Exposition Park
Sandbar Cantina, Exposition Park
Sandbar Cantina, Exposition Park
Sandbar Cantina, Exposition Park

The oh-so beachy Sandbar Cantina opened at the beginning of the summer, but without much fanfare outside of the volleyball world. That's about to change, as this groovy sandbox in the middle of the city is branching out into games, food and a full bar.

The Sandbar comes from five volleyball fanatics, including a couple of ex-pros, who decided that Dallas needed a bar with a serious volleyball facility. So they built one on an unpredictable site: a former parking lot between Deep Ellum and Exposition Park.

They imported some fine white sand — from where, they will not say — planted palm trees, constructed six tournament-quality volleyball courts, and erected a beach shack whose entire backside overlooks a brilliant sand-filled patio.

 "We just like the idea of  having people out there cooking s'mores, conversing," says chef Zack Neel. "We call it 'Beach Ellum.'"

All summer long, they hosted volleyball games and did their volleyball thing. Then, a month ago, chef Zack Neel joined the team, and now they're out to step things up, with more activities and a menu that matches the ambience.

The owner team includes Dale Davis and Jeff Meyers, who both played on the professional volleyball circuit and wanted to host tournaments. But Neel emphasizes that there's more to the Sandbar than volleyball.

"It's not just a volleyball bar. It's a beach," he says, half kidding. "We had league games from Sunday through Thursday, and every court was packed. Now that we're in the winter season, we're moving toward being a more legitimate restaurant with a nightlife component."

To that end, they've installed a couple firepits in the courtyard, as well as an HD projector and 10-foot screen for movie nights, NFL ticket and all the games. They're also initiating a slew of kitschy games, including a dodgeball league and beanbag toss.

"We're selling s'mores kits with the graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate bar, but our twist is that we hand out the skewers and you do your own," Neel says. "We just like the idea of  having people out there cooking s'mores, conversing. We call it 'Beach Ellum.'"

Sitting out on that patio is pretty spectacular. That sand with the mystery provenance is the best kind: white and finely pulverized so that it feels cool and silky on your feet.

Neel, who previously worked at the Granada Theater and the Coffeehouse Cafe, joins chef Mike Schultz, formerly of Bread Winners. They offer a daily chef's special and a house-made soup of the day.

"We're adding a surf and turf and a seared tilapia filet — higher-end menu items," Neel says. "We're striving for 'Texas beach fusion.' We have fajita and Baja tacos, turkey burgers and a beer-and-chorizo queso."

They're installed a draft beer system, with 16-24 beers on tap, focused heavily on local brews like Peticolas and Four Corners, and they'll have six liquors on tap, as well. They're also doing a seasonal drink. This fall, it's hot cider, with or without alcohol, and they'll do an egg nog at Christmas.

And when all else fails, there's always the volleyball.

"The Backyard Beach Bar, which closed, was similar in that they had a volleyball league, and there's the Yucatan Beach Club in Coppell," Neel says. "You'd be surprised at the volleyball community here. We created a spot for all those people, but with a Dallas signature: We can watch the sunset on the downtown skyline."