If you've been to the little stucco building on Maple Avenue known as the Grapevine Bar, chances are you first heard about it through the ... well, through a friend. The beloved neighborhood dive has kept a low public profile over the last 20 years, which seems surprising, considering its rich and flamboyant inner life.

20 Year Anniversary Throw Down

Known for attracting a diverse and colorful crowd with its diamond-in-the-rough appeal, the Grapevine prides itself on a harmonious vibe and lack of pretension. On Saturday, the bar celebrates its first two decades with an all-day festival featuring food, live music, merchandise and its signature frozen cocktails, the Tangarita, Bellini and Pom Pom

Full disclosure: It would be impossible for me to write about the Grapevine with a complete lack of bias. I met my husband there just after Labor Day one year and, seeing as how that first 12-hour date on the rooftop patio went so well, we went back for a second one on the picnic tables under the big trees on the back patio a few days later. We celebrated our first Valentine's Day huddled in the warmth of the multicolored velour chairs in the front room with the renowned jukebox for company, and sleet fell on us as he proposed on the basketball court just after midnight one New Year's Day while the DJ spun, you guessed it, the U2 classic. The following summer, the pool table became a cake buffet for our wedding reception; and, yes, before you ask, we definitely put down a covering before serving food off of it. 

The bar features heavily in our personal history, but that hardly makes us unique. Just a glance at the "our bar stories" section of the Grapevine's website, and you'll quickly see others who've had wild dates, fell in love and even begun lives together there. Besides, our Grapevine story begins just a handful of years ago. 

For some folks, it's been a second-home, a haven, an altar to endless youth for half their lives.

One of those people is the Grapevine's co-owner, Michelle Honea, who runs the bar with her husband Ronny. You might be tempted to ask if she founded the place when she was just 10-years-old, but you wouldn't be the first to make the joking compliment. She wasn't quite that young, but not too far from it. 

Michelle was still an engineering student in college when she and her first husband, Richard Fiaschetti, began refurbishing the run-down building across the street from the Old Parkland. It was a rough neighborhood, a generous description the Honeas say, and the building previously housed another Dallas institution: Herrera's Mexican Cafe. You might have seen the now-famous photograph of patrons sitting outside on beer coolers from a 1984 National Geographic feature. 

Fiaschetti was 26 at the time, a kid himself, with experience as a restaurant manager and "spit and vinegar" in excess, Michelle says. With partners, he later developed other buzzy projects -- namely Kangaroo, a short-lived speakeasy-style club on Lovers Lane, and Kaoss, a now-shuttered restaurant in Deep Ellum -- before he passed away in 2003.

Left to right: The Grapevine's signature frozen drinks, the Bellini, Pom Pom and Tangarita.

Left to right: The Grapevine's signature frozen drinks, the Bellini, Pom Pom and Tangarita.

Yelp user Venus C. 

But, it was the Grapevine where the pair cut their teeth as bar owners. They opened it in 1996, Michelle says, with little fanfare and even less money. That explains in part why virtually nothing in the cozy 800-square-foot interior matches. From the eclectic glassware to the famous funky chairs, much of the Grapevine's distinct vibe emerged of necessity; most of those purchases were "gently used" items from thrift stores. 

"We begged, borrowed and ... well, not stole, but we sold and pawned everything of value and put it into the bar," Michelle says.  

The second-hand shopping continues to this day with regular trips to Goodwill stores and estate sales to replace broken or, ahem, "misplaced" glassware and to revamp the couches and chairs when they become a bit too worn. But, "necessity is the mother of invention," Michelle reminds us. One lucky find of 50 cases of glasses for $50 at a yard sale led to an early menu addition: the now-standard frozen Bellini.  

The less-polished style worked because "eclectic" was the concept from the beginning but, as the Grapevine's name suggests, it wasn't initially envisioned as a spot for cocktails and beer. 

"The original idea was that it would be a wine bar where you could listen to Alice in Chains," Michelle explains.

Intriguing as that may sound, particularly to a set who fondly recalls the mid-'90s, she says it became clear that the clientele really wanted something more like a neighborhood hangout. The late Fiaschetti described it best to Kendall Morgan, The Dallas Morning News' then-Club Scout, in an interview from October 1996: 

"We get the see-and-be-seen crowd, we get the gay crowd ... It's for everyone. I have an ad coming out that says it's like 'Cheers' on acid."

That newspaper clipping remains cherished in a frame to this day, as does a photo of Fiaschetti, which hangs on the bar wall in his honor. But his clever reference to the television bar where "everybody knows your name" isn't the only quote for which he is remembered. The bar's front entrance boasts the phrase "check your attitude at the door" posted in Scrabble tiles, a sentiment attributed too to its founding owner. 

Customers sidle up to the Grapevine's front bar. 

Customers sidle up to the Grapevine's front bar. 

Fractured Halo Productions

Nostalgic as those early years remain to those who lived them, Michelle is the first to tell you that the bar has changed since 1996. So has the neighborhood and the city and the world in general. But, the original technicolor dream evolved well.

"Some people have a concept and they stick to it no matter what because that's what they want," she says. "But, you have to listen to customers and what they want ... the culture and the landscape have changed, and I think that's why we've been successful. We've not just existed, but we've thrived." 

She's right. Few bars make it to the big 2-0. Even fewer can make one of the Grapevine's boldest claims: Some of its bartenders and bar-backs, most in fact, have been there over 15 years. These days, the drinks are poured by seasoned veterans Jon Bryan (18 years), Kevin Nicholson (17 years), Santiango Cantu (16 years off-and-on), Rob Morley (15 years off-and-on), and Morgan Purritz and Melissa Masterson (almost 8 years each). 

Such low turnover is virtually unheard of in the industry. Michelle says she can't answer for staff as to why they clearly love their jobs -- though Morley responded "because y'all are so awesome!" while pressure washing the outside of the building in preparation for the anniversary party -- but she does admit that she and Ronny treat their staff like family. The bar opens late twice per year for staff appreciation days, including an annual trip to the State Fair, and for the 10th anniversary, they took a "family vacation" to Las Vegas. Not only that, they grant each of the bartenders managerial status with responsibilities and privileges that come with it. Despite the fact that the Grapevine is known for fostering wild nights, it is purposefully staffed by consummate professionals, she says. 

Some rules exist for a reason... Like this one on the bathroom door.

Some rules exist for a reason... Like this one on the bathroom door.

A. Lee Designs

Respecting service industry workers has always been a key element of the Grapevine's success. In the earliest days, advertising wasn't their style, mainly because they didn't have the money for it. Instead, they took black-and-white printed fliers around to bars and restaurants offering free drinks to service industry workers on opening day. The philosophy behind it? When you're working by word-of-mouth, those are the folks you want most in your corner. They're the ones who make recommendations to thirsty patrons looking for an after dinner drink. Part of that tradition stands. The Grapevine's known as one of the few spots in town that offers happy hour seven days per week, and those specials last all day on Sunday through Tuesday -- the slower days when most service industry workers are able to go out, Ronny says. 

From there, the regular clientele grew to include those who live in the surrounding neighborhood, a fact that has undoubtedly contributed to the bar's diversity. It's been named "Best Straight Bar" by Dallas Voice and "Best Gay Bar" by the Dallas Observer. A callback to Fiaschetti's "Cheers on acid" remark, the patronage tends to stand out: 

On any given night, you'll see sequined drag queens from Cedar Springs and suit-and-tie working stiffs from Downtown drink harmoniously.

Ronny likens it to a green smoothie. You can mix together a lot of seemingly incongruous ingredients, even ones you don't think could possibly mesh well, and the end result is delicious.

In addition to attracting a number of "famous" -- or infamous -- regulars, the bar's low-key atmosphere has made it a sanctuary for celebrities as well. Among the many stars spotted over the years are actors Owen and Luke Wilson and Edward Norton; supermodel Rachel Hunter; sports legends Mike Modano and Steve Nash; and musicians like The Cult's Ian Astbury and members of the Reverend Horton Heat. In its first year, the bar hosted U2 guitarist The Edge and bassist Adam Clayton ("Bono doesn't drink," Michelle adds), who were tipped off by reporter Kendall Morgan when looking for a place without too many people to party after a local show. 

"We made it not only low key, we just closed it down at 11 and had a little festival that night," Ronny says. "We had a good ol' time. That was our first claim to fame, I think."

Michelle says she still regrets missing out due to a college exam the next morning. 

The bar has also seen famous folks on the rise. In 2005, comedian Chelsea Handler held a stand-up show on the basketball court before signing copies of her first book, and she came back for another signing when her second one was published in 2008. 

"By then she was a household name, so it's amazing to me that she chose to come back to us because we hosted her during her first tour," Michelle says. 

Chelsea Handler performed a stand up set and signed books for fans at the Grapevine Bar in 2005 and again in 2008. 

Chelsea Handler performed a stand up set and signed books for fans at the Grapevine Bar in 2005 and again in 2008. 

Courtesy of the Grapevine Bar

Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Celebrity Apprentice star Brandi Glanville also held a book signing at the bar, but she's not its only brush with reality TV. Over the years, virtually every show that has filmed in Dallas -- from Cheaters to Elimidate and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy -- has filmed on-location at the Grapevine. That list excludes the city's current most infamous, The Real Housewives of Dallas, but with a rumored second season looming on the horizon, one never knows what to expect. 

True to the bar's nature, a "celebrity sighting" at the Grapevine isn't like coming across a camera-dodging pop star at a swanky club in Uptown. Pam Rogers-Garrett, a regular who says she discovered her second family at the bar in 2000, recalls one of her favorite memories, one cherished not simply because it involves someone famous, but because of the warmth and kindness behind it. 

Friends party on the back patio.

Friends party on the back patio.

Courtesy of the Grapevine Bar

One night when her now-grown son was still a teenager, she spotted Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban having drinks with friends. Not normally one to gush over celebrities, she says, a little bit of "liquid courage" inspired her to tell Cuban about how her son had responded to a few mouthy Spurs fans at a recent game. 

"Southwest has flights to San Antonio every 30 minutes," he'd informed them. 

"[Cuban] threw back his head and laughed and said, 'Get him on the phone!'" she says. 

She did, and though her son didn't believe her at first, Cuban took the cell and told him to grab a pen and write down his email address. A few days later, he set them up with tickets to three more games that year. 

That might have been a once-in-a-lifetime encounter, but it's not exactly rare to connect so deeply with a complete stranger at the bar. Those moments feel amplified by the intimate atmosphere. Rogers-Garrett says she met probably 80 percent of her friends there over the years, and you won't see any of the regulars at the Grapevine until after 10 p.m. on the Saturday before Thanksgiving because earlier in the evening they will all be celebrating with a pot-luck 'friendsgiving' in her Oak Cliff home. 

That tight-knit community bands together on somber occasions, too. Over the years it has mourned a few of its own who have passed away, and many note that the Honeas are quick to help out in times of need. They frequently hold charity fundraisers or help spread the word when tragedy strikes. 

Michelle Honea goes to great heights for her customers. Like the time she climbed a tree to hang a decoration for GuideLive writer Brentney Hamilton's wedding reception in 2015. 

Michelle Honea goes to great heights for her customers. Like the time she climbed a tree to hang a decoration for GuideLive writer Brentney Hamilton's wedding reception in 2015. 

A. Lee Designs

Regular patron Wayne Akard knows first-hand. He has been frequenting the bar for about 18 years and became close friends with its owners and bartenders in those early days; in fact, he's another who met a future spouse there. A carpenter by trade, Akard built the back patio's unique octagonal picnic tables, and he and Fiaschetti built the front bar together in his backyard when the original one was crushed after someone ran a car through the wall in 2000. Michelle says he acted as project manager to rebuild the wrecked exterior, too, and he built "countless other little things around the bar" over the years.

This spring, Akard was involved in a devastating motorcycle wreck that left him with a broken pelvis, knee and collar bone, among other injuries. He spent five weeks in the hospital and wasn't able to work for months due to the physicality of his job. The Grapevine held a fundraising day with a $5 cover, and 100 percent of it went toward helping get Akard back on his feet. He says he received a check from the Honeas for four months as he recovered. 

"The fundraising is never ending for Michelle; she's not going to let anyone down, and she's not going to let anyone be forgotten, like she didn't let me be forgotten," he says. For that reason, he counts the memorials the bar has held as some of his most cherished, if bittersweet, memories. 

"When you walk in you feel welcome, and you're not forgotten when you leave," Akard says.

The Grapevine Bar will hold its 20th anniversary party on Saturday, Sept. 24 from 3 p.m. until 2 a.m. It will feature Nosh Box food truck, live music by Jax Brothers band during the day, a caricature artist on the patio and tunes by DJ Tyrone Smiley in the evening. Guests will also hear the recorded version of what Michelle calls a "bluesy rap song" that regular patron Harley Shook wrote for the occasion, produced in partnership with inDvox. 

Another special treat: Saturday marks the return of the bar's highly-desired (and long sold-out) hats and shirts for sale.

Scroll through for more photos of the little bar that could:

What's Happening on GuideLive