Best Of :: People & Places
If necessity is the mother of invention, then needing a cold beer must be the mother of all necessities. Because that was essentially the spark behind the Entertainment Collaborative, a klatch of successful formula-repellent entertainment and hospitality concepts hunkered down in Deep Ellum and downtown. The thirsty parent of this collaboration is 34-year-old Brady Wood, who as an SMU student back in 1988 was flustered that he couldn't hip-check his way through the hordes stacked 10 deep at the bar in the Rhythm Room to get a beer. He complained. The owner snapped back that he should buy the place if he didn't like it. "Within two weeks we sold our cars," says Brady's brother Brandt, 36, who directs marketing and concept development for the EC. "I think there were some neckties in the transaction, too."
But it would take a lot more than just the Rhythm Room to yank Brandt Wood from his New Orleans home to join his brother's bar venture. Brandt was set to join the family business, a marine contracting venture that builds levees, deepens waterways and assembles docks. "I grew up with the idea that Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest and all this great food in New Orleans was the way life was supposed to be," he admits. "I came to Dallas to visit Brady...and as I got to know the city more, I realized there was really something different about Dallas." Most notably Brandt realized that New Orleans is long on culture but has no money, while Dallas is long on capital but has a cultural depth of windshield dew. "So you have this contrast," he explains.
This chasm became a mission for the Wood brothers, and they sought to close it in perhaps the only way college-bar entrepreneurs could: by creating really cool places to drink. In 1990, they opened the Green Elephant, a "'60s hippie concept" bar and restaurant that took its name from an EZ Haul travel-trailer logo featuring a family of elephants (the Green Elephant was sold to its managers in 1996). In 1991, the brothers picked up Trees, a Deep Ellum live music venue, through some fancy legal footwork by assuming the befuddled owner's debts and tax obligations.
Trees was a success. And soon the brothers noticed their Trees patrons and performers were scooting off to Deep Ellum Café to eat before and after shows. So they decided to vie for a share of that belly space by formulating a restaurant that was both street-smart and refined. And a little daffy. "I lived on one of the banquettes there for two months, decorating it at night," Brandt says. "If you ever wonder why it's such a strange mix of décor...it's because it all made a lot of sense in the middle of the night." Brandt says he thought Green Room represented one thing Dallas didn't have, but needed: a gourmet restaurant in a funky neighborhood that didn't take itself too seriously. "We never planned a menu, much less a wine list," he admits. "But we knew how to make a place look cool." People told the Woods they were nuts, that no self-respecting "foodie" would trek down to Deep Ellum to nosh. But the Woods saw a mode of convergence in their little Green gourmet adventure: an opportunity to drive a generational transition; to take their bar crowds and bump them up to the next step in culture, all without their even knowing it. It worked.
They parlayed this intuitive know-how into the husks of downtown. Brandt Wood long had his eye on the ground floor of the Kirby building for a downtown brasserie. But the landlord was keen on pursuing some of the city's better-known, more established operators to create a street restaurant. "The response was, 'I think these guys are too young,'" Brandt says. Turned out those more established operators were too skittish to take a downtown fine-dining plunge.
Through Brady's negotiating footwork, the space was secured and Jeroboam was born. And Jeroboam boomed. "Jeroboam was a vision that conceptually we knew Dallas needed," Brandt says. "We saw downtown progressing before it was a news item." This insight was accrued through EC's efforts to cobble together participants and backers for Dallas 2000 and Dallas 2001, a pair of downtown New Year's Eve events. This work also inadvertently led to Umlaut, a subterranean New York-London modern lounge the EC opened in 2001 after discovering the space during the production of these parties.
Now the EC is gambling on an even further divergence from its club core: retailing. Armed with a portfolio of Deep Ellum real estate gathered over the years, the EC is banking that Deep Ellum can be successfully morphed into a gritty urban shopping mecca, with both national nameplates and local upstarts. But nobody wants to be first out of the chute. So the EC will chop the shopping path through the Deep Ellum weeds.
It's a small boutique called Star Cat, set to open in early October in the space across from Trees. This hip grit shop will sell apparel, shoes, handbags and concert tickets. Brandt Wood admits he's no retail wizard (he was no food and wine wizard either, he says). But he insists he's never been afraid to pull the trigger, adding that the only concepts the EC has ever lost money on are the ones that never made it off the drawing board. The Woods prove that it is perhaps best to reconquer established ground with ideas that seem daffy at first blush. Then again, nothing seems daffy after a cold beer.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day, we gather defenses, pool resources and try our damnedest to beat the heat. And, though we may win a few battles along the way, the heat always wins the war. You can't beat it, so why not--as the cliché goes--join it. Revel in it. Bake in it. And the best place to do it is Hurricane Harbor, which opens just as the heat kicks into gear and closes as it begins to peter out into fall. The water park offers respite in the form of dozens of slides for the novice and the cowardly to the experienced and the brave, along with a lazy river for floating, pools and a pirate's ship play area for the kids. Though the lines twist up and up for popular rides such as the Black Hole, most of the waiting area is shaded and, with a 500-foot drop into a pool, the payoff is worth the wait.
The large, renovated ballroom upstairs at Sons of Hermann Hall is the perfect venue for swing-dance nights, which it hosts every Wednesday. There's a refinished hardwood floor, smooth enough for twirling without friction but with enough traction that you can stay on your feet. There are tables and chairs for those who need to take a breather, and a bar for those who need some liquid incentive to strut their stuff. With the air conditioner cranked and music blaring from the sound booth or from the bandstand, it's easy to feel as if you've stepped back in time, since Sons was around decades before swing was popular the first time.
On the weekends you can't stir the bicycles with a stick. Mom and Dad are there with their trail bikes, and the kiddies, some still maneuvering with training wheels, tag right along. There's a maze of off-road cycling for all ages and all levels of expertise. The park's most popular trail is a collection of three single-track routes that wind through woods and a tall grass prairie with a nice, cooling view of Joe Pool Lake. If it has rained recently, you might want to call and check on trail conditions before loading up and heading out.
Little kids who like airplanes, trucks and other big stuff (which means all of them, natch) will truly be thrilled to spend an hour watching the jets come and go from this busy airport. The plaza overlooks main runways and provides a clear view of takeoffs and landings. Voices of air-traffic controllers and pilots can be heard over a speaker on the plaza. There is room to walk around on grass around the plaza, but parking is also plentiful from places where you can see the big beasts soar.
A true hidden paradise for local anglers, this Turtle Creek estuary is home to 1- to 2-pound bass. On a recent summer day, a single fisherman was casting his line (a light-action pole with an open cast reel), relishing the solitude away from the city traffic just a few yards away. Besides the bass, there are also some nice-sized bluegills and carp around here, according to the University Park Wildlife Department. All are edible, say the park officials. Ready to be fried up on one of those $5,000 Viking stoves in the mansions nearby.