Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
"We gladly serve gator because they would gladly serve you," says the menu, giving some attitude in its explanation for why a dish of fried alligator and french fries is on there. The Free Man is on Commerce, away from most of the Deep Ellum nightlife and music venues. That's for the best, as it doesn't really fit in with the rest of the neighborhood anyway. This quirky, fiercely independent lounge brings bluesy, New Orleans-style jazz and swing music to an otherwise quiet block every night. The drinks are strong, and the kitchen serves Cajun favorites such as gator, crawfish and jambalaya. At least two jazz bands play most nights, and regular performers include the The Free Loaders and the Savoy Swing Band. The lounge gets its name from an American libertarian journal, and the bar is decorated accordingly with anti-government posters and signs. It's not just a shtick: The lounge recently played host to Rocky Palmquist, the Libertarian candidate for Texas agriculture commissioner.
Nobody is putting on the caliber of up-and-coming or underground metal and punk that Three Links is. Since opening last year, it's found a groove that Dallas didn't even know it was missing, one that contains all the most interesting shows toward the louder end of the scale. While Trees down the street puts on the more predictable metal, Three Links isn't afraid to take a risk on booking acts that are great but may not necessarily sell out the relatively small venue. It's the most valuable addition to Deep Ellum in a while.
OK, we know we also named Three Links best metal bar, but what the hell. They're not all-metal all-the-time, and no one out there can compete with the consistent quality of rock shows hosted by Three Links these days — and that's no slight to other venues in North Texas. Helmed by the booking duo of Scott Beggs and Kris Youmans, who between them have logged more years in the music biz than they probably care to count, plus business partner Oliver Peck, Three Links rose from the ashes of La Grange less than 18 months ago, but all of that experience shows in the bands they land. Just in the past six months, they've brought in rowdy yung'uns like Diarrhea Planet, got a little weird with Bob Log, courted controversy with Perfect Pussy and snagged an almost-impossible-to-get name like British punk vets Sham 69. They also have the ska scene on lock-down. So step back, pretenders. Three Links is here to show us how rock music is done.
While it might not be a new bar, Twilite Lounge is the best up-and-coming new host of music in Deep Ellum. Stepping it up from hosting live music maybe once every week or so, now it's packed Wednesday through Sunday with DJs, live blues, jazz, folk, the best karaoke in town ... it's amazing what they can fit into such a small space, and the booking is impeccable. Also, it's always free to get in. Since it's started hosting so many concerts, Twilite Lounge has made everyone else around them up their game too.
It isn't often that "best" and "free" coincide, but in the case of Adair's, that's the winning combination that has turned this place into a Dallas institution. On any given night of the week, you'll hear up-and-coming or established artists from Texas and beyond who are trying to keep country music alive. It may not have thousands of square feet for two-stepping or a fancy reputation, but there's no disputing the place in history that Adair's holds for Texas country musicians. On the walls, you'll find photos of performers who have gone on to immense success, like the Dixie Chicks and up-and-comer William Clark Green. The staff is down-home friendly and the food is perfectly good for this kind of dive bar. Most important, there are plenty of cheap drinks that are perfect for both putting a tear in your beer and hanging out with all your rowdy friends.
You've only been here a minute — barely enough time to fork over your $3 daylight cover, pull out a Dos Equis from the arctic beer bin at the entrance and pull up at the bar. And yet, she's already pulling up next to you, Zora from Portugal, curvy and sweet. Annoying? Maybe, if you come to strip clubs to gawk from a safe distance. But you're at Baby Dolls, tucked off Northwest Highway in Dallas' industrial/boob district, for what makes strip clubs interesting — playful conversation heightened by the safest kind of sex: the not-sex kind. Zora does it right, just lingering, chatting, no mention of the lap dance(s) she needs to give to make rent. You don't mention it either, keeping the inevitable conversation at bay while you and Zora debate the merits of the bartender's newly purple hair, and you steal peeks at one of the 7,000 TVs, all locked to ESPN, all portending fantasy-football doom. Soon Zora will have to take the stage; you'll be right here when she gets done, right? Yes! Maybe. Maybe.
The relentless and tireless Preston Jones of DFW.com is literally everywhere. There must be about six of him. If you tried to keep up with him at SXSW, you'd have needed a teleporter. We have no idea how he gets into all the shows he does, but we're more than a little bit jealous. We can't even get up in the mornings, let alone take in that many musical events in one day. We'd be stuck in a line somewhere, check our phones, and Preston's hanging out with Kanye and Jay-Z. How do you do it, Preston? Are you magic?
If you interpret "best live music venue" as "best place to listen to live music," then the only winner in town has to be the Kessler Theater. Above all else it is a listening room: The acoustics and quality of the sound system are far beyond what anywhere else in Dallas has to offer. You'll be able to hear the smallest sound, the kind that gets lost in the mix in other places. That's not to say that other places don't know how to mix. They do. They're just not working on the same level as the Kessler, which is as good a place to listen as we've heard anywhere.
By their very nature, do-it-yourself venues tend to come and go quickly. Whether it's a house in East Dallas, a warehouse in Oak Cliff or some rotating combination of the two, staying off the radar is often integral to their survival — both from a standpoint of overexposure and trouble with the authorities. Yet these grassroots ventures are also aimed at cultivating a sense of community. These days, no one does that better in Dallas than Two Bronze Doors, which has been hosting poetry readings and living-room concerts since last April. Led by Natalie Jean Vaughn and her fiance, Jonathan Foisset, Two Bronze Doors was reportedly once the home of a psychic who did business out of the living room. Nowadays that living room is host to art exhibitions and, at quieter moments, the household dog. Located just a few hundred feet from the hustle and bustle of Lower Greenville, Two Bronze Doors aims to put down roots in the name of a thoughtful, expressive and locally driven way of life. Let's hope those roots are permanent ones.
Anyone with their finger on the pulse of North Texas hip-hop had been waiting for this one for a while. Brandon Blue, the beat-making mastermind behind local rap troupe the Brain Gang, had been carving out a fresh niche as a solo MC under the guise of Blue, the Misfit. Early in 2014, he dropped "Drugs on the Schoolyard," a murky mindfuck of a track that featured none other than Kendrick Lamar on the guest spot. But with Child in the Wild, Blue didn't need a blue-chip cameo to make a top-notch statement. These 15 tracks showcase the Misfit in all his weirdness and vivid imagination, with stuttering, restless beats that undercut the most outrageous flights of fancy and headstrong braggadocio. Blue, a natural introvert with a keen eye for storytelling, outwardly revels in the excesses of an all-night party while implicitly rejecting its cheap, hollow thrills. Blue's talents are too great to be wasted on merely being the life of the party, and Child in the Wild is proof.
Saying farewell to George Strait is bittersweet for any country music fan, but there could have been no more fitting end than the final performance of his The Cowboy Rides Away tour at AT&T Stadium. After a 30-year career and more success than almost any other artist in the genre, Strait said goodbye to life on the road in what will likely go down as one of the best country concerts of all time. In fact, he set a world record for the largest indoor concert and performed to more than 100,000 screaming fans. Joined by country legends such as Alan Jackson, Martina McBride, Faith Hill, Vince Gill and newcomers Jason Aldean and Miranda Lambert, Strait marathoned a great deal of his discography in the three-hour show before riding off into the sunset. If you weren't there, you're probably going to regret that decision.
Who says strip clubs are just for bachelor parties and tits? All night, every night, Dallas hunks are tearing off their trousers and shaking what their daddies gave them at one of the few all-male strip clubs dedicated to female clientele — men must be accompanied by a woman to enter. Slip through the black curtain and enter a masculine world of fire-breathing, strip-teasing hunks who smile and flirt as you and your girlfriends hoot and holler. It's like real-life Magic Mike, which may be why it inspired a former stripper to make a documentary about it earlier this year. But unlike watching the movie, you'll want to have dollar bills in hand.