Over the Rump

Why doesn't anyone go to the West End?

Check out this assessment of the West End, gleaned from a self-described elitist, liberal, over-educated aging punk rocker whose name we somehow failed to catch: "It attracts and retains those people that I hate to be around, making them easier to avoid."

Hmm. Why must cultural groups bicker so? After all, there's nothing really wrong with Okies, Arkies, Eurotrash, Pinkos, Krauts...

The Burning Question crew respects all less fortunate people.

Closed Location

Still, it sounds to us like a complete vindication of that oft-scorned tourist trap. Assuming the statement carries some validity, West End plays a central role in Dallas nightlife. Very clearly hotspots such as Candle Room, Lush, Dragonfly or even The Grapevine couldn't exist without the lure of old brick buildings and chain restaurants. They'd be teeming with the masses, and no self-consciously hip club crawler hangs with hoi polloi.

Of course, that's just one person's opinion. "West End sucks"--that's another and more typical response. Indeed, for the most part, when we asked random folks about the historic district, we heard angry outbursts, vague threats and cultural insults. One particularly irate Swiss Avenue denizen even recommended torching the area with napalm.

It's as if Dallas residents consider the place a personal affront.

So what is it about this refurbished district that annoys Dallas area residents? Man about town Todd Wright says "there just seems to be little to no excitement or originality," and many people agree. The shops in West End Marketplace include such stellar attractions (last time we checked) as Destination Dallas, Little Taste of Texas, a Dallas Cowboys Pro Shop and Wild Bill's Western Store. Yee-haw. No wonder visitors think of the city as a frontier outpost. Restaurants include TGI Friday's, On the Border and similar establishments synonymous with mundane.

"If you just look at it, what restaurants are unique to the West End?" asks Robert Smalley of the Tobacco Gallery. "Why are they going to the West End to go to Friday's?"

Ah, but here's an interesting thing: Smalley's place, on Elm Street next to Morton's, is one of those few singular places. He sells cigars and pipe tobacco--hence the name--but, tucked in one corner is a small bar. On Wednesdays, pop in for a cigar and a drink; the booze is free. Otherwise, bring your own and hobnob with an educated, multicultural group. Then there's The Palm, a 20-year-plus veteran of the area. Morton's, well, that's been around for 18 years. The Spaghetti Warehouse? A chain bearing an unfortunate name, certainly, but it's the original. Plus, says Bob Allen of West End Pub, when Dick's Last Resort moves to its new and larger location, "We'll have the world's biggest Dick's and the world's largest Hooters."

Geez.

So the Burning Question crew headed down to West End and spent some time whooping it up with Mary Kay reps, tried to ignore some guy waiting for a bus back to Hokiemola who jabbered on about grandpappy's time in prison and about whether Bass counted as a dark beer and opined that George W. kicks ass--that sort of thing. As Karl Rove reminds the prez, appeal to your base. We popped in somewhere for a sickeningly sweet margarita, ordered some mediocre something or other at Hoffbrau Steakhouse and whiled away a few quiet hours at Morton's. While there we pushed one of the Morton's staffers into an Abbott and Costello bit--every time we said "West End," she countered with "historic district" until the end of our second drink, when she finally relented.

Good thing we didn't ask if she lived in Irving or Las Colinas.

So if businesses in the area refuse to accept the honor of a West End residency, why should local residents stop in? "We need the locals," Allen says, "but the locals have the perception that it's all tourists and there's nothing to do. And perception is reality."

Well, Gator's or any of those other places serve the same beer as Dragonfly or Medici. But standards and service levels vary. "West End contains a mixture of middle-of-the-road OK services"--the extra qualifier really clarifies it--"with a mini state fair feel," says Dallasite Anthony Fang. "There is nothing to do there that I can't do in West Village," adds Melissa Anderson, an Uptown type. Besides, she continues, "West Village is more upscale. Or Knox-Henderson--hell, Mockingbird Station has more to offer than West End."

Perception is part of the answer, of course, but as local resident Marissa Seim points out, "women attract men [to a destination] and what attracts women--it sounds so shallow to say it--is money." The West End doesn't pull in $30,000 millionaires, just guys who are quite satisfied with $30,000 a year and can't justify Armani and a Beemer.

So what will attract Dallas hipsters to the old downtown stomping ground? Smalley suggests free parking and a PR blitz. According to Allen, the West End Association plans the latter. "We're going to focus on what's only in the West End," he says, "The Palm, Landry's, Cadillac Bar, The Butcher Shop--and you can't sit on a patio and watch horse-drawn carriages anywhere else."

Unless Dallas has an Amish community tucked away somewhere.

Folks we spoke with, however, demand a more radical overhaul. Unanimously they urged landlords to ditch chain restaurants and bring in trendy lounges, unique dining destinations, upscale retail spots and interesting galleries.

And that's about it. Dallas residents spurn the place because it lacks the sort of trendy character so critical to a city with little self-esteem. Yet, as we've learned, it keeps unfashionable sorts away from hotspots. West End also serves one other vital function.

It's the perfect spot, Wright explains, "to take a date who you don't want to be seen with but who keeps bugging you to take her out."

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