The historic building’s new operator OVG Hospitality spent $1 million in roof repairs, air-conditioning replacements, electrical and plumbing work, and a kitchen redux over the past few months.
“A lot of the money was spent on things people can’t see,” Julian Bowman, spokesman for Fair Park, said during a tour of the 87-year-old building.
The Old Mill looks largely the same — blue carpet on the floors and wooden shutters on the interior windows, a stone patio outside. The Old Mill Inn was formerly operated by longtime tenant Ed Campbell as a restaurant and a murder mystery dinner spot.
The new additions are the food and drink: hot sandwiches inside and grab ‘n go barbecue and Southern food outside, for 24 days of the fair.
Inside the facility is a full bar. Notably, it’s the only place in Fair Park where the public can buy liquor drinks. (It’s a fact not many know: All other adult beverages at the State Fair are wine-based — even the margaritas.)
Given the intense food-and-drink competition outside of the Old Mill Inn’s doors, the strategy was to “stay away from fried foods and then to offer some live music on the patio,” says Josh Pyle, district general manager for OVG Hospitality. The Old Mill Inn’s live concerts during the State Fair are scheduled for Wednesdays and Thursdays.
They hope fairgoers will walk inside the charming — if relatively empty — building because of the bar.
The Old Mill Inn is showing its age, with some stained ceiling tiles that were a residual effect of the burst pipes during the intensely cold winter storm in Dallas in February 2021. Parts of the roof were replaced because of that storm.
The building was created as a public attraction during the Texas Centennial Exposition in 1936. It was a replica of a flour mill, and, at the time, a modern marvel. The rustic building with a waterwheel sits in contrast to the neighboring art deco buildings, erected in the same decade.
What happens after the State Fair?
It’s clear that much will need to be done to the Old Mill Inn in future years. But how will it be used? As a restaurant? A private event space? As a catering facility?
It is, today, being used as a catering facility because the kitchen was recently redone. Turning it into a year-round dining room would be another project entirely.
Bowman and Pyle say their team hasn’t decided what comes next yet.
“The first thing was to be open for the State Fair of Texas,” Bowman says. “Then we’ll make our next plans.”
Food and drink for now
Visitors to the Old Mill Inn’s bar during the State Fair of Texas will find cocktails including a Texas Autumn Mule with vodka, ginger beer and apple bitters; a paloma; an Old Fashioned; and a Carajillo with mezcal, Licor 43 and cold brew coffee.
They’ll sell sandwiches inside, like pulled pork on focaccia and a steak sandwich with provolone.
Customers can pay for food and drinks with coupons or a credit card — a rarity, since most of the State Fair of Texas’ sales run off of coupon sales only.
Outside, the new food shed will sell loaded mac and cheese with chicken or barbecue on top; a hot dog; and smoked pulled chicken served with caramelized onions, coleslaw and mac and cheese.
We’re guessing the Bar-B-Cone will be popular. It’s a waffle cone folded into a cup, then stuffed with barbecued pork, mac and cheese, coleslaw and a mound of fried onion strings.
The Old Mill Inn is at 3611 Grand Ave., Dallas. Because it’s located within State Fair of Texas fairgrounds, visitors will need a ticket into the fair to get to the Old Mill Inn from Sept. 30, 2022 to Oct. 23, 2022.