Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
On March 14, a club full of gay men thundered with excitement after a long night's wait. It wasn't because the bartender replaced the kegs of cosmos. Lady Gaga had arrived. The night before her Monster Ball Tour hit the American Airlines Center with the Scissor Sisters, Twitter's rumor mill was spinning. She was there. She was at the jam-packed Round-Up Saloon on Oak Lawn. "Please don't rush the stage," the club's announcer said over the P.A, "or I'll kick you in the nuts." Someone nearby screamed, "Is she here?" Then it happened. Fast. Like a lightning strike, she stepped on the wooden dance floor, performed "Born This Way," and left. It was fast and furious, and something very special. There was a sense of genuine care, love and community in the air. There was a sense that we all caught the view of something fleeting and good. We all saw an artist at work, just for a moment. Whether you love or hate her, in that moment, she was great. It was an exciting moment in a city that pretends to have too few.
After opening with something of a whimper in the old Thin Room space amidst a flurry of other Deep Ellum bar openings back in early 2010, the Black Swan Saloon has since established itself as a go-to spot for patrons of all sorts — an especially impressive feat considering that the watering hole doesn't even so much as boast a sign alerting walkers-by of its existence. Credit much of the bar's success to owner and main barkeep Gabe Sanchez. Aside from maybe being the best bartender in town, he's always cooking up something new behind the bar, likely a new liquor infusion (try the strawberry-infused vodka or the apple- and cinnamon-infused Jim Beam). But where Sanchez really made his mark was in bringing the Brooklyn-born trend of offering pickle juice chasers for whiskey shots to Dallas. It's crazy how it works, immediately balancing out any burn or taste from your whiskey of choice. We think it's in the pH balance, maybe? Not sure. But we do know this: Shortly after the Swan started doing this, every other bar in town started offering the same thing, claiming that they'd always done it. Nope. We're calling bullshit. And ordering another round from Sanchez while we're at it.
Having a well-edited selection of reasonably priced wines is quite the challenge for a wine bar, but that's exactly what Vino 100 has achieved. With more than a hundred wines priced $25 or less, the wine bar makes the perfect spot for a weekend gathering with friends or a late business meeting with a finicky wine connoisseur. If you can't decide which varietal to pick or which cabernet is robust enough for your palate, just ask one of their trusty wine experts for advice. The staff won't steer you wrong. And don't skip on the cheese plate.
It's great that the cool shops and restaurants in the Bishop Arts District and the area around the Kessler Theater are drawing people to the neighborhood. Unfortunately, almost all of them close by 10 or 11 p.m., leaving little to do for night owls (like the people who work at those restaurants and shops) and giving the appearance that North Oak Cliff rolls up the sidewalks well before midnight. But if you want to keep the candle burning after the yuppies head back across the river to stop the babysitter meter from running, head to Tradewinds Social Club some night — any night, really, as it's open till 2 a.m. seven days a week. It's a dive and proud of it, with a ratty pool table, a possibly functional shuffleboard table and a diverse clientele that could charitably be called eclectic. You might witness a fight, you might hear bad music on the jukebox and you might cock an eyebrow at the mismatched glassware and furniture, or you might dance with hipsters and hear a great DJ set or live band. Either way, it beats going home.
Musicians, trust us on this. If you or your band can pull off a set that's even the least bit rootsy, folky or country, you owe yourself at least one show at the AllGood Cafe. Owner Mike Snider is a long-time supporter of Texas music, as the awesome collection of signed gig posters bedecking the place can attest, and he knows how to treat musicians right. That means not only a fair cut of the money from the door (as in, all of it) and a generous bar tab, but a meal as well. For everyone in the band. We're partial to the chicken-fried steak, which consistently pops up on best-of lists including this one, though the chicken nachos are great as well, and there are great options for non-carnivores too. The stage isn't the biggest in town and while the sound system is fine, you may have to tweak the levels yourself. But the experience can't be beat. Just be sure to put something in the servers' tip jar at the end of the night — they'll treat you like the most important guest in the house, whether your set merits it or not.
You old-timers need to quit it with your Trees-was-better-back-in-the-day horse manure. Just stop it. Right now. Yes, Radiohead played there once upon a time. Sure, Nirvana too. Others as well, we're told. News flash: Radiohead is not going to be playing a 600-capacity venue again any time soon. The next Radiohead? Just maybe, if we're lucky. But here's the thing: If such an up-and-coming act does play Trees this time around, they'll sound way better now than they ever possibly could have back then. Why? Because Trees' sound system is way better now than it ever was. Owners Clint and Whitney Barlow have the place set up with the same exact sound system as the House of Blues' — only in a venue a third of the size. You literally shake when the bass comes in. It's glorious. There's a reason why the best hip-hop, electronic and metal shows all happen here. Just be sure to bring some earplugs — it's definitely loud. Loud enough to drown out the haters, if you think about it.
The term "jam session" usually elicits a groan from most live-music fanatics. But the one that takes place every Wednesday night at The Prophet Bar is like nothing you'll see in town. Hosted by Grammy-winning R&B singer Shaun Martin, the night of improvisational neo-soul and R&B sees the Prophet Bar crowded with people each week — sometimes well after the 2 a.m. curfew. And with good reason: Erykah Badu musical director R.C. Williams and his band The Gritz make The Prophet Bar feel like it belongs in another city in a different era. DJ Jay Clipp starts things off with a bass-heavy mix of hip-hop and R&B.
Truthfully, patio-dwelling in Dallas is only comfortable for a few weeks out of the year. The rest of the time, you're either sweating it out or freezing. But the patio at Bar Belmont, located at North Oak Cliff's The Belmont Hotel, is pleasant all year round. Half of it is covered and the other half is open to the elements, and the entire thing offers a spectacular view of downtown Dallas from the vintage hotel's spot perched on a hill. As added bonuses, if you get hungry, you can order award-winning barbecue from Smoke, and if you drink too much, you can stay the night.
The Cedars Social crowd is a hard one to define. It's a melting pot of sorts, consisting of young artist types, aging hipsters, trendy Uptowners and folks from the neighborhood, which is huge considering that the nearest adjacent building is South Side on Lamar. The commonality of all the patrons is the desire for well-made, refreshing beverages, which The Cedars Social has in abundance. Riding the wave of the Prohibition-era cocktail trend, the drink menu is divided into turn-of-the-century time periods, while, oddly enough, the decor is something from a 1970s den.
Yes, it's right across the street from the Dallas Observer office. But that it's within walking (OK, sprinting sometimes, after editorial staff meetings in which both infrastructure and the Trinity River project are discussed) distance accounts for only, oh, 60 percent or so of why it's our favorite happy hour. There's the newly added bar food, which even our food critic applauds. There's the colorful, cheerful and welcoming crowd of regulars, a mix that seems to be split pretty evenly between straight and LGBT. There's the outdoor basketball half-court. And there's the patio screen, great for game watching when you want to be part of a raucous crowd but can't stand bro-tastic sports bar crowds. But mostly it's the duration and discount of the drink specials. Wells are just $2, and almost everything else (excluding super-premium drinks — just ask your bartender) is $3, and happy hour runs from open to close Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. The rest of the week, the specials last until 7 p.m.
Athletes go to Nick & Sam's when they're hungry. They flitter over to Dragonfly at Hotel ZaZa when they want to get their drink on. But when rich and famous athletes want to hunker down and watch sports over a cold beer in a hot spot, they congregate at Ten. At the corner of Main and Field, the downtown sports bar has hosted such celebs as Steve Nash (who stopped by to watch some English soccer), Charles Barkley (who stopped by to watch some NBA playoffs) and Shaquille O'Neal (who stopped by because he knew he'd be recognized, but not mobbed). Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard, Eduardo Najera and even the band Puddle of Mudd have been known to pop in. SMU hoops coach Matt Doherty is a regular. With nine hi-def plasma televisions, a prime location adjacent to Hotel Adolphus and just the right dash of ambiance and anonymity, Ten has become the Bo Derek of Dallas sports scenes.
The team keeping things in line and the crowds in check at the Granada Theater? They're no rent-a-cops. And that's the idea, the reason why they're called "serenity" guards, not "security" guards. A little cheesy? Sure, but so is the "Love Yourself" sign above the stage. Oh, well. That's just how it is over at the Granada, a spirit that trickles down from owner Mike Schoder's days spent traveling the country as a fan recording live Widespread Panic bootlegs back in the day. The guy doesn't just love music; he loves it, talks about it the way a college freshman does after smoking his first joint and "finally really listening" to The Wall. The whole vibe is friendly, encouraging and docile, a setting that inspires a relaxed concert-going experience. In turn, it takes all the pressure off of the should-be "security" guards. Making them, y'know, serene. It's a beautiful thing.