Best Of :: People & Places
Nothing incites more painful cringing than watching someone really go out on a limb, make four times the required effort and fail miserably. This is simultaneously one of the best and worst things about live stand-up comedy, depending on your propensity for schadenfreude. Comics and comedy venues alike are prone to the sad fate of trying too hard to cater to everyone, which is why the Backdoor Comedy Club is such a relief from the same old shtick. Intimate and unassuming, Backdoor is run by two of the funniest women in town, Linda Stogner and Jan Norton. Each weekend, eight or more comics are featured per night, from local favorites to new faces trying out material in the tiny theater. The crowd's always appreciative and manageable for the waitstaff, which means prompt service and less of a chance you'll want to pummel the heckler in the front row. For a city prone to taking itself far too seriously, Dallas is lucky to have had Stogner and Norton's weekly doses of funny for 15 years running.
There is a place in Dallas called Redmansor The Redmans or Redmans Lodge or a host of other monikersthat is legendary amongst poker players. It is not terribly hard to find, should you know its general location, which we would not presume to give away here lest Dallas police read this. No, once a years quite enough for poker players, about 80 of whom were arrested or cited in June when the cast of A&Es reality show Dallas SWAT wham-bammed down the door at Aces on Irving Boulevard. They showed up well prepared that night, with full diagrams of the jointdown to the number of tables and the seat positions at each, to better keep track of the players popped for playing Texas Hold Em. The raid even received mention from the Cato Institutes Web site, which referred to the bust and others like it across the country as examples of frightening militarism. All that force used on people playing cards. Bret Maverick would not have approved.
So we will leave Redmans alone, save to say its hallowed ground for would-be rounders and wanna-be pros whove heard tales of T.J. Cloutier, Doyle Brunson, Amarillo Slim Preston, David Williams and other players shoving big stacks across the famous felt. Redmans has been around forever and feels like itsmells like it, actually, its aroma that of a locker room used as an ashtray. Its as much an essential and vital piece of Dallas history as any of the citys few remaining landmarks, yet it cant be celebrated out in the open because what happens in therepeople playing cards for money, just like they do on TV seemingly 24 hours a dayremains illegal in the state.
As Kinky Friedman puts it, We invented Texas Hold Em, and we cant play it, which is true: In Texas, any game in which the house takes a cut of a winning pota rakeis considered to be breaking the law, which is why places such as Redmans exist beneath ground, its low rumble audible only to those tuned in to the frequency of the clinking of chips being stacked between flops and folds. Aces got popped because it was too out in the open, advertising its doings on the Internet. Says a friend who once sat at a table there, It was asking for it.
Yet not so long ago, many of Dallas underground poker rooms played the same loose-aggressive game. By some counts, there were about 200 card rooms in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, with almost a quarter of those in the 214 or 972, and many of them posted their schedules on the Web, begging you to come buy into their low-stakes games. Now comes word that but a fraction of a fraction of them remainthree or four, says Dan Michalski, whose Pokerati blog has for several years detailed the rise and fall of poker rooms in the area. (Michalski also now runs PokerBlog.com, and for a long time he ran the Sunday-afternoon free-roll tournaments at The Lodge.)
Which means Dallas has lost some of its best roomsplaces such as the Murfield, the Platinum Room and Stagecoach, the latter of which was in northwest Dallas and boasted the big-screen sheen of any decent casino, served up a decent meal, allowed no booze, sent smokers to a private room and boasted stellar players keeping polite company (except for the son of a bitch who called my $10 raise holding nothing more than 9-2 off-suit and hit two pair on the flop). Thats not to say Dallas still doesnt have a scene; far from it. In fact, in his new book Hunting Fish: A Cross-Country Search for Americas Worst Poker Players, Jay Greenspan writes, Dallas is said to have the best underground poker scene in the country, and he visited a few spots that did little to disabuse him of that notion.
But Michalski, who was Greenspans tour guide of Dallas poker joints and receives copious mentions in the book, says theyve been replaced by underground games that are well above-groundwhich is to say, in apartment complexes and office buildings and other far-outta-the-way places that hold only two or three tables and fewer players than the old-fashioned card rooms populated by rounders up to their asses in cards and other rounders.
The scene is clearly back, Michalski says. The games still exist, theyve just gone more underground, and theyve gone small. You have a lot of three-table rooms where someones rented out a loft. I just got an e-mail today that says the Platinum Room is back. It doesnt say where the location is, and thats because theres also a tougher screening process. Indeed, only a year ago all you needed was to know a places location to buy into a game; today, youre invited by e-mail, given a contact number and usually only if you know somebody connected to the game.
Theyre calling them home games now, Michalski says. The truth is, theyre still taking rakes and making money. But theyre treating them like home games, as opposed to these people who were actively promoting and throwing big tournaments. Trust me, the scene is fine and dandy.
So, somebody deal me in, already. Robert Wilonsky
Kids these days. Always listening to that goldurned rap music. Drinking their mojitos and wearing them dee-signer jeans. Getting "crunk." Back in our day, there weren't no "crunk." There was two-steppin' and Wranglers and ice-cold Lone Star. That's why we like Cowboys Red River. You could call an over-decorated, under-air-conditioned room filled with 20-somethings rubbing together butt-to-crotch a dance club. But you'd be wrong, pardner. You'd do better to call a place where people go to dance a dance club. Cowboys Dance Hall is just such a place. There's just nothing like a giant warehouse with an expansive, round dance floor and a live honky-tonk band to get our boot heels a-tappin'. We'll go round and round with the "Cotton-Eyed Joe" or wow our lady friend with a mean schottische. Then, we'll do her right and buy her a beer and a shot o' whiskey from the bar. After that she'll be ready for a go on Cowboys' mechanical bull. And then, if we're lucky, a ride of a different kind. You know how the saying goes, right? Save a horse...
Though we generally prefer eBay or craigslist when it comes to purchasing our axes, we do venture to Guitar Center on Central from time to time for the little things--strings, tuners, cables, etc. Without fail we always see: A) at least one complete emo band loitering in the parking lot, B) at least one past or present member of [DARYL] or the Deathray Davies, and C) some dude playing a slightly off-kilter rendition of a riff from either a Stevie Ray Vaughan or a Red Hot Chili Peppers song--sometimes we can't even tell which one; we only know that it's most likely one of the two.
For more than a quarter-century The Round-Up Saloon has been one of Dallas' premier purveyors of country and western music, dancing and good times for good folks. Although classified as a gay bar, this popular watering hole welcomes those of all genders and persuasions, and any given night will give testimony that all types are present and all feel welcome. The Round-Up features all genres of country music, including old country, new/old remakes, young country and even crossover country. In short, the range of music offers styles, speeds and tastes to satisfy all. Nearly as rangy as the Ponderosa, this large club features six different bars and areas certain to provide the desired atmosphere to comfortably lip a long-neck (read that however you like). New shows and special events are scheduled frequently to ensure things keep hopping and hooting. Regular beer busts (50 cent draft!), karaoke, free dance lessons and Friday and Saturday Howdy Hour are popular mainstays here.
Every night we dine at this Oak Cliff institution we're treated to the best atmosphere of any Mexican joint in Dallas, complete with a roster of the city's finest mariachis. The fervent strumming of guitars, voices raised in perfect harmony, the sound of twin trumpets ringing off the tile--it's the next best thing to San Antonio, only you don't have to drive five hours and fight the River Walk crowds. On our last visit we even caught a touring act, an amplified band complete with twin saxophones, keyboard bass and a guy who had the sole responsibility of playing the hi-hat on the offbeat--with his hand.
Tired of Deep Ellum and Lower Greenville? Sick of getting hit up for change, paying eight bucks to park and constantly watching for muggers? Then head up Interstate 35 a piece and enjoy a night on the Denton town square, where the parking's free and the streets are considerably safer. For starters, we'd suggest a slice or two of delicious J&J's pizza (118 W. Oak St.). Follow that up with a shake at Beth Marie's Old Fashioned Ice Cream and Soda Fountain (117 W. Hickory St.), which you can work off with a stroll on the grounds of the picturesque courthouse. Finally, take in a show at Hailey's, Dan's or the basement of J&J's; there's bound to be a good one somewhere. If all else fails, keep your eyes peeled for a kid or two busking on the sidewalk.
If you're driving on Lower Greenville and notice you're being tailed, head for the corner of Skillman and Live Oak streets, where you'll find the Lakewood Texaco, favored on-duty pit stop of the East Dallas cops. Owners Issa and Lena Boeuri have firmly entrenched their station in the hearts of the local community, in the process creating a virtual Shangri-la for cops--full of doughnuts, coffee, magazines and good conversation. If your night ever goes bad, you'll probably be glad they're there--we might, however, suggest you think twice before purchasing that newly stocked issue of High Times in their presence.
One of the few good things about working near Uptown is the people-watching, and restaurant employees are no exception. Judging by the waitstaff, the interview process at the Uptown Jake's must include a visit to Tigger's tattoos--we haven't seen this many dolphins, rainbows and butterflies since we caught that IMAX movie with the Sting soundtrack. If you'd like to see what these comely young ladies might look like after 10 years and three kids, we direct you to the former Jake's (now Jakk's) on Garland Road.
Some moms may go for Kenny G., but ours is way cooler than that, a veteran of more kick-ass concerts than you youngsters can even dream of. Unfortunately, Mom just can't party like she used to. Luckily for her there's the Granada Theater, booked solid with mom-friendly acts and shows that end by midnight. It's also non-smoking, which, let's be honest, is really a plus for everyone. Throw in reserved seating, easy parking and some cleverly named menu items and you have a recipe for a middle-aged woman dancing in the aisles.
As you pass over the traffic on Dallas' clogged freeways, lower your paper for a second and just look at them down there, sitting in their cars, spasmodically inching along as you zoom past overhead. Then thank us for telling you to take the Trinity Railway Express from Dallas to Fort Worth's gleaming T&P station. The ever-growing popularity of this line may be linked to the blossoming appeal of downtown living; downtown Fort Worth, that is. It also may be that the trains are invariably on time to the minute, 65 of them from Union Station to the heart of Fort Worth's vibrant central district. And at $4.50 a ticket, not only is it faster than driving, it's also cheaper.
Dallas is famous for its abundance of surgically enhanced beauty, and most Uptown lunch spots offer plenty of reassurance that the reputation is well-deserved. But among narcissists there are also purists, those willing to spend their lunch hour at the gym in pursuit of the perfect body. So where do those die-hards line up for healthy takeout after their workout? Eatzi's phenomenal gourmet salad bar, that's where. It's worth eating at the tables outside to see the dizzying array of pulchritude flouncing in and out. Is that hunger that's making you feel faint, or lack of blood to the head?