After decades as the go-to hangout for University of Dallas students and professors, Club Schmitz will be closing its doors for good on May 31. We asked some UD staff and students to reflect on their personal experiences with this hallowed establishment.
Dr. John Norris
I began frequenting Club Schmitz as a freshman in 1980, since our RAs (thanks, Pete Blute ’82) introduced us to the trinity of drinking establishments in the near vicinity, which also included Diamond H’s, the country-music dance hall and Luke’s Outhouse, a pool hall. The drinking age in Texas was 18 at the time, so most freshmen were already of age and enthusiastic to imbibe new experiences.
These three bars were a baptism into Texas culture for us out-of-staters. The jukebox contained many a song that needed to be learned and memorized and shouted out loud late in the evening: “London Homesick Blues” (“I wanna go home with the armadillo”), “Luckenbach, Texas,” “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” etc. One had to distinguish between boots: ropers for everyday wear, but fancy, pointed-toe cowboy boots for dancing, made from bullskin, snakeskin or even ostrich. Pearl and Lone Star beer were local favorites (perhaps more for price than for quality). Club Schmitz offered both a pool table and a shuffleboard. Friends from school mingled with locals, forming teams to compete at both, though the dexterity waned as the pitchers emptied. UD students also often worked as waitresses; for example, Sarah Merdian and Deb Coombs both worked there in the early 1980s.
Club Schmitz has not changed much since then. The wood has soaked in the smells of the grease from the grill and the beer spilled on the floor. The cheeseburgers and onion rings are as delicious as ever. Better still, the owners, the Schmitz brothers, and the staff (Sylvia is still working there after 33 years) offer the same family-friendly, down-home hospitality that has made Club Schmitz a UD tradition. UD students, faculty and alumni have made many a pilgrimage there to cement their friendships. Alumni weekend has always included an unofficial get-together there. Club Schmitz will be sorely missed.
Dr. Richard Olenick
In a world where everything is marketed by hype and glitz, Club Schmitz stands out, not so much as a pariah, but as a symbol of the unchanging change. I can recall my first impression of Club Schmitz as a new assistant professor when I dined there with a few faculty members. I was there this past weekend and my first impression is unchanged, although now it is also my last: Nothing has ever been updated except for the flat-screen TV and electronic jukebox. The paneling, the ’50s-era chairs and the lopsided tables remain — and fortunately, so do the great-tasting burgers, the friendly staff and most of all, the best friends with whom you share the experience.
Over the years, I have tried every semester to take a class there for lunch and a lecture. I’ve even brought my own whiteboard to write on. And I must admit I geekily enjoyed the puzzled looks from patrons when I’ve scribbled integrals and wave functions on the board.
Club Schmitz was always a place to catch up with alumni, to discuss world or university issues with friends, and to show out-of-town guests the Texas of a bygone era. Upon this last visit, I noticed a UD banner still glued to a wall. Funny, the SFA
and A&M banners were gone. Just maybe UD means as much to Club Schmitz as it does to us.
Mrs. Sybil Novinski
My memories go back to the fall of 1960, to the very first weeks when we were in Dallas; Lyle had accepted a contract to help develop the art department at UD. He had been in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with a young Cistercian who was assigned to come to UD to start an art department. They agreed then that Lyle would come. Of course, in the intervening year or so we had met and married, and he was teaching somewhere else. But the call to Dallas came and so we came! Our first house was a small apartment near Bachman Lake. Soon, we discovered Club Schmitz — a bar very like all the bars in small towns in Wisconsin — and we felt at home. Of course, a few weeks later we moved to Irving, not knowing that it was “dry.”
Ah, Club Schmitz. I was first introduced to Dallas’ humble burger abode in the spring of 2006 when my family took my older brother to visit UD.
For my parents, who are UD grads, it was a sentimental return to a beloved, old watering hole. For me, it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
After we parked our car in the parking lot (or lack thereof), we walked up to the little shack’s front entrance. We marveled at the once-transparent door, now fogged over by the relentless labor of the establishment’s loyal smokers. Sadly, by 2006 Dallas had put into place its neo-puritanical anti-smoking policies, which forbade the burger joint from allowing such enjoyment in life.
Inside, we were waited on by a tall, tough old woman who sported a classic big Texas hairdo. My parents laughed in disbelief at how she had not changed one bit since they were regulars in the ’80s. This, of course, was Sylvia, the goddess of Club Schmitz. She, like the bar, seemed to have eluded time’s grasp. But now her Club Schmitz has little less than a month left to shine.
At the time of my first Schmitz experience, the establishment was celebrating its 60th year (it’s a shame it didn’t make it to 70), and my parents bought me an official shirt commemorating the achievement. I still have that shirt, but after a few inches of growth and a few too many of Club Schmitz’s burgers and pitchers of beer, it seems to fit just a tad bit tighter.
I wish for nothing more than for freshmen and anyone else at UD (student, professor or university employee) who has not been to Club Schmitz to hop onto to the DART, get off at the first stop (Bachman Station) and head on down to that bungalow of a burger bar to grab a beer, a meal and a T-shirt commemorating its 68th year before it closes at the end of May.