Jambo’s BBQ restaurant celebrates Arlington’s gambling past

Jambo’s Barbeque Shack’s Arlington location is in a 90-year-old former steakhouse and gambling den.

Jambo’s Barbeque Shack’s Arlington location is in a 90-year-old former steakhouse and gambling den.

Courtesy photo

Arlington’s hidden, high-rolling past as a gambling haven is back in the spotlight.

A 1930s and ‘40s steakhouse and gaming hall is celebrating its 90th anniversary, now as Jambo’s Barbeque Shack.

“It was very busy — they played ‘quiet’ games upstairs, for less money than at the casino,” said Arlington real estate agent Gloria Van Zandt, a young girl when the West Division Street landmark was still named Triangle Inn.


Yes, Arlington had a Binion family gambling casino 3 miles west at Top O’ Hill Terrace, now a museum that draws tourists to a surrounding small college campus.

“The customers here have regaled us with stories,” said Paul Lovato, owner for two years of the Arlington Jambo’s, 1724 W. Division St.

“One guy said his grandfather would go upstairs and place sports bets. His grandfather would be going down when the Texas Rangers [law officers] were going up.”

Until 1947, west Arlington was a gamblers’ hangout.

Van Zandt quotes gambling czar Benny Binion: “It was Vegas before Vegas.”

While Binion and the Browning family ran the high-dollar casino, restaurant manager Tommy Potts’ Triangle Inn hosted smaller games in the upstairs card room, with a view both directions on Division Street.

Prominent movie stars, touring big bands and big-name gamblers would stop on their way across Texas to drink illicit whiskey over the poker and roulette tables.

When gaming ended, the restaurant continued as a steakhouse known for serving rib-eyes and T-bones on a sizzling metal platter, and for chicken-fried steak with yellow cream gravy (flavored with chicken broth).

The ownership changed, and the name switched to Arlington Steak House. But the fluffy yeast rolls never changed.

In 2015, Jambo’s moved in, bringing its “Jambo Texan” stacked sandwich.

The restaurant recently added smoked chicken wings to a menu that includes brisket, ribs and house-made sausage.

“It feels really good to keep this old place going,” Lovato said.

Jambo’s is open for lunch and dinner daily; 817-275-7881, jambosbbq.com.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and has moved on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 15 Texas Legislature sessions. Since 1985, he has also written more than 2,000 “Eats Beat” columns about Texas dining, restaurants and food.

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