ARLINGTON — Except for the faded yellow Austin-Healey Sprite perched atop the roof, little evidence of the long-closed Skippy’s Mistake Bar and Playground remains visible along Division Street in downtown Arlington.Skippy’s Mistake, known for its sand volleyball tournaments and live music, has been closed for 17 years now, but that doesn’t stop the bar’s fans from gathering each year to remember the good old days. At the 10th annual reunion Saturday, former owner Skippy Brown was on hand to sign copies of his new tell-all book, featuring humorous short storiesabout the bar’s 14-year run and the regulars who haunted it.“The statute of limitations has run out. The truth will come out,” Brown, 61, joked about the collection of stories, which are peppered with quotes, jokes, vulgar language, drunken debauchery and other sordid details. “If you’ve been there, you get to reminisce. If you’ve never been there, you would say, ‘That could never happen.’”Skippy’s Mistake, which operated at 900 W. Division St. from 1982 to 1996, is now known as Caves Lounge. Longtime friend James Newton helped write the 250-page book, which also includes tales of Brown’s unsuccessful run for Arlington City Council and his hijinks with the “Politically Incorrect Party.” One story tells how Brown, who opposed the new taxpayer-funded Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, commissioned a banner with the city’s logo and the message “There’s no government like no government” and had it towed behind a plane over the ballpark on the first Opening Day in 1994.Another tells of his ventriloquist dummy, “Yippie I.O. Brown,” who was registered to vote as a joke. The story of the dummy with a valid voter registration card made the local news, including the front page of the Star-Telegram, after Brown received a jury summons for his wooden friend in the mail. It was only after his interviews with the media that Brown said one of his friends fessed up that “Yippie” had actually cast a vote for him during his City Council campaign.‘A rec center that sold beer’With popcorn and sand covering the floor and all kinds of crazy decorations nailed to the walls and ceiling, Skippy’s Mistake was described by fans like Sherry Diehr as eclectic and cluttered but comfortable. Diehr, who was a single mother of five when she discovered the Arlington dive in the late 1980s, said Brown and several other bar patrons became like her extended family over the years. “It was just outrageous fun we had in there. We made friendships,” said Diehr, who helped organize the reunion. “I’ve had such a fondness for Skippy and the folks up there. They surrounded me and took care of me. It’s got a bad reputation for people who don’t know it.”Brown, who played volleyball during and after college and later became a college volleyball coach after his bar closed, said Skippy’s Mistake was the first inland bar in Texas to feature a sand volleyball court. On most weekends, Brown said, the bar was packed with 200 to 250 people. “It was like a rec center that sold beer,” Brown said. “We had some really fine tournaments there.”The white sand is mostly gone now, but Brown still enjoys seeing his friend Marvin Woody’s yellow sports car up on the roof of his former club. In the early 1980s, Woody handed over the car to Brown with two stipulations — that he couldn’t sell it and he couldn’t restore it. Not sure what else to do with it, Brown said he and friends spontaneously decided to park the car over the bar’s front door using a large forklift. The car plummeted to ground on the first try. The second attempt was successful.“I got in the car and sat behind the wheel and said, ‘It’s here for good,’” Brown said.And it still is. The city later made Brown hire an engineer to stabilize the unusual decoration with cables.A sad ending When the drinking age changed from 19 to 21, Brown started bringing in live bands to draw bigger crowds.Friend Mike Hinshaw said the bar quickly developed a reputation as “the place to catch hot bands,” such as The Sultans, Torpedo X and Quazi and the Motos.“Many great players came through the doors, playing on either the inside or outside stages, or both,” Hinshaw said.For years Brown has told people that he named the bar Skippy’s Mistake because family members warned him it would be a mistake to sink his inheritance into the venture. But these days, Brown admits he really named the bar in honor of his No. 1 mentor, his father.“My father told me when I was a teenager that I learned from other people’s mistakes better than anyone he had ever seen. I did it for him,” Brown said. “It was never a mistake. I was 99 percent sure I would make it.”For years he did. Then a lawsuit brought against the bar over an alcohol-related traffic collision where the driver told police he had been drinking at Skippy’s brought the party to an end.“It sunk me. It’s not against the law to sell one beer. But that’s all it took, and then Skippy’s went to hell,” Brown said. “I didn’t get over that for years.”Very little of the book touches on the bar’s final days, choosing instead to focus on happier memories. Brown said he and Newton are already gathering material from regulars to write a sequel.“There is at least three more books if we live long enough,” Brown said.
Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639 Twitter: @susanschrock