To be honest, most (OK, fine, all) of what we know about how our city works--or doesn't, usually--comes from what we hear star columnist Jim Schutze say in staff meetings. Before we started paying attention, and even for a while after, when we heard someone talk about Victory or Palladium, we thought only of a sadly neglected Sylvester Stallone vehicle (soccer! World War II!) and the pool we used to swim at in West, Texas, respectively. That has changed.
Now, unfortunately, we understand part of the reason why downtown Dallas is the way it is: dead, decaying, dilapidated, a bunch of other words that start with D. (That doesn't make it any easier to stomach; knowing what kind of poison you're swallowing doesn't change the fact that it's poison.) There's nothing down there in downtown: It's a movie set, a façade, a shell. And that's during the day, when there are buildings full of people around. At night? Let's just say Waco and Dallas have roughly the same number of entertainment options. Lubbock is more fun after dark. Maybe even Lewisville. You wanna buy a pack of cigarettes or a 40, or even a bootleg copy of Spider-man? You're set. Anything else? Try Lower Greenville.
We're not talking about the West End. We're never talking about the West End, and unless you're 15 or 55, you shouldn't be either. Face it: Any place our parents would deem "neat" is, no offense, off the table. No, we're referring to the broad expanse of concrete and glass between Stemmons Freeway and Central Expressway, the area populated only by the homeless after lights-out. Should be the heart of the city, but it barely qualifies as a vein. Everyone seems to be looking for a handout (from the city council, from someone who just bought a pack of cigarettes or a 40, or even a bootleg copy of Spider-man), and nothing's getting done. Developers and panhandlers are pretty much the same: They both want your money, and most of them are lying about what they want it for.
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It's changing, sure, but so imperceptibly, you'd need a time-lapse camera to document the transformation. The Entertainment Collaborative's Brandt and Brady Wood opened Jeroboam on Main Street in June 2000, crossing the imaginary Mason-Dixon line that Central Expressway has become, separating Deep Ellum from downtown. Following the success of the restaurant, the Woods launched Umlaut, a bar that features a revolving lineup of DJs almost every night of the week, across the street from Jeroboam. Now Richard Winfield, who owns two of the best venues in town, Barley House and Muddy Waters, is joining in, setting up a new restaurant (Metropolitan) up the street from Jeroboam. According to Winfield, Metropolitan will also feature live music. So downtown is starting to get a pulse, however faint. After all, it is only one block on one street.
That, too, may change in the next few months. In case you've missed it, and you probably have, at least one other part of downtown is on the verge of revitalization, and it has nothing to do with tax breaks or murky city council dealings or anything like that. Well, we don't think it does. Maybe revitalization is, perhaps, too strong a word, since it's too early in the game to be pointing at the scoreboard. At any rate, here's the beauty part: We can keep up with the progress by simply going to the roof of the Observer office on Commerce Street and having a smoke. Nice when you can mix business and pleasure.
First up: Purgatory, situated on Main Street, just west of Deep Ellum. Purgatory will supposedly open later this year, as soon as August or September, from what we hear, and from the sound of it, it will be somewhat of a GameWorks for people who like nightlife that doesn't come with tokens. The spot will be split into three distinct levels--Heaven, Hell and, of course, Purgatory--featuring a dance club, a stage for live music and, apparently, some sort of sports bar. (Decide among yourselves which of those is Heaven, Hell or Purgatory.) The owners are also trying to affiliate themselves with one of the area's top shelves to cater private parties in one of its numerous VIP rooms. Sounds good in theory, but it would be best to temper your enthusiasm: Purgatory could be the anchor for a series of similar nightspots in the area or a costly belly flop. Too soon to call it.
Just about a block away is a much smaller enterprise: Divan, located in a bright blue building on Commerce Street, the home of a former copy shop. (The paint on the outside is the first sign Divan may not be long for this world.) We've poked our heads in a few times but still can't figure out exactly what will become of the club whenever it opens its doors to the public. We're just happy someone has decided to open a bar within stumbling distance of the office. And that someone is trying to kick-start downtown Dallas. In six months, we may be talking about the unrealized potential of Divan and Purgatory. For now, let's hold onto a little hope.