Thunderbird Station, now open, is the oldest new bar-restaurant in Dallas
The new Deep Ellum Bar-Restaurant Thunderbird Station is only one day old and full of “Do you remember when?”. Moments.
Do you remember push ups? Bar owner Kim Finch talks about our youth’s orange-flavored push-up popsicles that mom would buy in the summer. Finch’s signature cocktail tastes like a dream and feels at home in the former gas station from 1922. But it’s 2020, so the drink, called The Peel Out, is mixed with vodka and made dairy-free with almond milk.
Thunderbird Station owner Kim Finch also operates two other bars in Dallas, Double Wide and Single Wide.(Smiley N. Pool / Employee Photographer)
Finch made this new bar feel alive. It’s Finch’s specialty. She owns one of Dallas’s best-known pubs, Double Wide, a place with wood-paneled walls, drab curtains, and toilets for bar seats.
Double Wide is right across from Thunderbird Station and close enough for bargoers to walk over.
“I’ve drooled over it since I’ve been with Double Wide,” says Finch of the property, which was Maynard Riegel’s gas station from 1954 to 2002. The building underwent a major overhaul this year, although it still looks like a gas station with stacks of green tires.
Stephanie Welch fills a beer at Thunderbird Station, which opened in Deep Ellum on September 17, 2020.(Smiley N. Pool / Employee Photographer)
One of the selling points of the diamond-shaped property is the front terrace, which was very popular with Dallasites but became indispensable after the coronavirus outbreak. Patios can be 100% busy, according to Governor Greg Abbott, although bars remain closed. Abbott’s Executive Order means Finch’s other two stores, the nearby Double Wide and the smaller Single Wide bar on Greenville Avenue, are still closed. However, the Thunderbird Station can be opened as it is classified as a restaurant.
Finch is hoping she can prepackage groceries from Thunderbird Station and sell it at her other two bars, potentially opening a path for business to resume with the blessing of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC).
Gone Fishin’s cold Bologna sandwich is served here with the RattleTrap cocktail. The menu describes the cocktail as follows: “Inspired by nuttier times when seat belts were optional and there were no cup holders, this peanut butter whiskey cocktail brings you back and starts the tradition of throwing peanuts in a can of Texas’ ‘coke’ ( aka, Dr. Pepper). So buckle up (or not). ”
(Smiley N. Pool / Employee Photographer)
Finch was one of the many bar owners who were shocked when the bars closed on June 26th. “It’s just amazing,” Finch said at the time.
She also said in late June: “Every day we make a plan. And every day it changes ”- a feeling that remains true when she opens Thunderbird Station in the middle of a pandemic.
Unlike their bars, Thunderbird has a full kitchen. The menu has more of the ones you remember when? Moments like the bologna sandwich are served two ways: cold or hot. The sloppy joe sandwich can be ordered as the sloppy jolene – a vegetarian version.
A trio of dips offer “church versions” of snacks from Finch’s Oklahoma upbringing: bean dip with fritos, spring onion dip with frills, and cucumber dip with lay’s. Finch calls the nostalgic menu “stuff that makes you happy”.
One of her favorite dishes is a frito cake served with a spork.
“I’ve always wanted to find a great frito cake in town,” she says.
The Thunderbird Station Frito Cake comes with a biodegradable spork.(Smiley N. Pool / Employee Photographer)
Those who made Rice Krispies treats with their parents may well appreciate the restaurant’s honkin slice of dessert, which is cut much larger than mom would ever allow.
The cook Jeana Johnson (from the former Good 2 Go Taco) is temporarily in the kitchen during the start of the Thunderbird Station.
The Gulf Service bar in Deep Ellum, which closed in 2002, reopened as the Thunderbird Station in 2020. In this file photo, Maynard Riegel begins work on one of several vintage pickups that he is offering for sale when another customer for inspection stickers comes by on the right. (Guy Reynolds)
We called Thunderbird Station one of “the most exciting restaurants and bars to open in Dallas in 2020” before the pandemic ruined the plans of many restaurateurs. Finch planned to open her throwback gas station restaurant in February, but it finally opened more than six months later, on September 17th.
The extra time allowed her to tend to the menu and expand her collection of flea market finds, such as the mismatched swivel chairs on the bar inside.
Despite a few coats of blue and yellow paint, Finch hopes her work will honor Riegel’s longstanding business. There’s added kitsch, like the rear of a retro Thunderbird car hanging over the bar. Most of the brick walls inside are original, as is the white “icebox style” exterior that has been around since the 1950s.
Finch wanted to add an extra touch to remember the previous owner. Look at the door handle on the way out of the bar and a small sticker says, “Later, Maynard!”
The Thunderbird Station is located at 3400 Commerce St., Dallas. It opened on September 17, 2020.
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A sign on the front door of Thunderbird Station pays homage to Maynard Riegel’s old Deep Ellum gas station.(Smiley N. Pool / Employee Photographer)