Early Morning Rounds

D&W Lounge: The Shifting Shift Bar

Despite shrinking third shift crowds, the iconic Eastwood dive bar continues its early wake-up call.

By Jeanne Lyons Davis August 29, 2016

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D&W Lounge opens at 7 a.m., seven days a week.

It’s five minutes after 7 o’clock on Monday morning. I knock on the heavy steel door of an Eastwood building on Milby that looks, at least to outsiders, abandoned.

From within, a smiling Debbie Carson unlocks the bolted door and welcomes us inside. While the exterior of D&W Lounge is industrial, the interior resembles a cozy ’70s rec room, charmingly cluttered with various taxidermied animals, neon signs ("Still Crazy After All These Beers") and an ornate portrait of Marilyn Monroe.

The 63-year-old Carson has worked the 7-to-1 shift for a decade, catering to the atypical schedules of blue collar employees for whom 7 a.m. is the end of an eight-hour “day.” But today, we are alone save for one other regular, a 63-year-old private investigator who comes in each morning to order a Coke. Ten years ago, Carson says, it would have been packed.

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“Nearly 15 people would file in every morning, whether it was a group getting off work or about to start their shifts,” says Carson. But after the looming, 16-story coffee plant across the street was sold, she says, “cuts came, and so did a lot of our early customers.”

D&W Lounge (formerly D&D) has been a Second Ward staple since the early 1940s, when it was jack-of-all-trades convenience store and ice house. After decades of changing hands, Keith Weyel purchased the bar in 2009 and updated its name.

Carson, a lifelong Eastwood neighborhood resident, remembers coming to the store as a child. “We’d walk over to buy cokes and pickles,” she says. “People would be drinking beers and sipping coffee. It was like a community center.”

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At 8 a.m., a knock comes from outside. “There’s Luther, right on time,” Carson says as she opens the door, kept locked now that she works the increasingly quiet shift alone. Back behind the bar, Carson slides a longneck PBR to Luther Leblanc, spry for a man in his 80s, who has stopped by for two beers every Monday for as long as Carson has worked her morning shift. When he doesn’t show up, she gets worried, calling his wife to make sure Luther’s okay.

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Leblanc understands D&W’s situation intimately—and not only because he’s one of the few remaining morning regulars. The Louisiana native owned the Sage and Shamrock bars, long since shuttered, which also offered early-morning hours. “They were always a meeting place for workers before and after shifts,” he says.

These days, however, that’s all changing: Eastwood is becoming less industrial and more gentrified. While the late night crowd grows with a new guard of hipsters, students and young professionals flocking to the colorful dive for novelty Miller High Lifes and karaoke night, fewer workers stop by for their 7 a.m. happy hour.

After 50 years of Monday beers, Leblanc knows that places like D&W are anachronistic relics of another time, though he’s determined to enjoy his morning PBRs while he still can, sighing as he regards the familiar clutter of the erstwhile community center: “It’s one of the last places of its kind left.”

D&W Lounge. Open seven days a week; 7–2 a.m. 911 Milby St. 713-226-8777.

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