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How the 'Downtown SOBs' turned this Dallas area into a thriving neighborhood

A Downtown resident calls Steve, Oliver and Bill, “the best thing that ever happened” to the area.
Credit: Byron Harris
Steve Shepherd, Oliver Roberts, Bill McKnight

DALLAS — In Downtown Dallas, it seems, everybody knows the SOBs. As the three amble the sidewalks of Elm Street on Saturday afternoon, passersby greet them with hugs and selfies. Business owners, chefs, valets, barkeeps, and doormen give them waves and high fives.

The SOB’s, three gregarious musketeers, are the opposite of what their nickname implies. Steve Shepherd, Oliver Roberts and Bill McKnight (SOBs, get it?) were tagged with the moniker a decade ago by a neighbor who kept running into them downtown and couldn’t remember their names.

Today the Downtown SOBs are synonymous with charity, good will, and a sense of community in the core of the city.

There was no community when Steve, his now husband Oliver and their longtime friend Bill, moved into the same building downtown in 2005. 

“There were only about a thousand residents in the downtown area and there wasn’t much of a place for anybody to live,” said Steve Shepherd.

The three of them began hanging out at the City Tavern, then on Main Street. It became their favorite watering hole, where a table had their name on it every night. The bar patrons became what might now be called a squad of urban dwellers, among them a woman named Joanie Underwood. 

Credit: Byron Harris
Joanie Underwood, the SOB's first charity

Soon the SOBs discovered Joanie was losing her teeth and didn’t have the funds to fix them. So they developed ‘Smiles for Joanie,’ which turned out to be the first of many charities the SOBs sponsored downtown. 

‘Smiles’ raised more than $10,000 for Ms. Underwood’s dental work. It was followed by SOB fund drives for The Bridge homeless shelter, Café Momentum, and the Human Rights Campaign.

As the years passed, more apartments and condos opened up for urban dwellers. Steve became one of the first chairmen of the Downtown Residents Council. The council,  Bill McKnight said, “was really, really needed…and we wanted to make a neighborhood. And so Steve did that, worked hard at it, and we would have meetings every month….and that’s how we helped promote downtown.”

Credit: Byron Harris
Bill McKnight talks with Rudy Pena of Roodies Shack

A decade later, more than 10,000 people live downtown. 

SOB Onion Rings are on the menu at the City Tavern, now located on Elm Street. When AT&T appeared before the Dallas City Council to gain approval for the electronic mural that overlooks the new Discovery District downtown, the company appealed to the downtown SOB’s to testify in favor of it. They did.

Sitting in the courtyard of the Pegasus Brewery, munching a street taco, Bill Bitfreys, one of the countless squad members who hang with the SOBs now and again sums them up.

“These (people) are the best thing that ever happened to downtown.”