Burning Question: Is Dallas Becoming More Casual?

So what if our t-shirts pay homage to this guy?
So what if our t-shirts pay homage to this guy?

Last evening we ended up at Nick & Sam's Grill for happy hour, largely because we heard a certain prominent DWI lawyer would be there and, well, we need friends in that particular occupation.

Just a precaution, mind you--but a wise one.

As a new place, the junior Nick & Sam's can expect a wave of folks eager to bask in its just opened-ness. But crowds nudging their way into the former Martini Ranch, Stolik, Strong's Everyday Tavern and something else we can't remember (although for some reason we do remember going to what's-its-name with Megan Henderson, late of Fox 4) have been almost unmanageably large.

Spillover from the steakhouse can't account for much of this. The city's famous "fickle 500" probably can--to some extent.

But there's bound to be something else attracting folks to the hard-luck location. Perhaps it's the dressed down, cut-rate venue. Could it be that a city known for pretentious, designer-draped, Mercedes-leasing lounge hoppers has become more casual?

"I think it is," says Devin Jacobson, bartender at Candleroom. "I don't know if it's because of the economy, but I see a lot more jeans and T-shirts--the good T-shirts."

He had to add the qualifier. One member of the Burning Question crew was wearing a vodka soaked circa 1994 Ernie Irvan tee featuring a fading image of the great race car driver's bushy face. But Sherry Maddox of Mantis and Blue Collar Bar agrees with the "good" part. "T-shirts are becoming big ever since Ed Hardy"--not a race car driver, we suspect--"started pricing them at $100."

Geez, people pay the equivalent of one night's bar tab for a shirt?

Yet dressed down dining seems to be the new thing in Dallas since someone ran the economy into the ground. Blue Collar Bar and Kent Rathbun's new spot link back to the depression-era blue plate specials--the former more than the latter. Nick Badovinus opened Neighborhood Services as a jeans type of place. The $8 cocktails at Victor Tangos have become a draw. DiTerra Urban Italian on Lower Greenville welcomes everyone from families worn out potheads. Meanwhile planned upscale communities like Victory Park rot away.

"It may be a trend in general, especially with the 20-something crowd," Jacobson continues. "Even at the grocery store you see sweat pants."

Well, maybe. Folks from Austin do come up to visit once in awhile.

Despite the $100 designer tees and the continued popularity of places like Suite, there's plenty of evidence the economy is grinding away at Dallas' cherished attitude. Action at The Ritz has slowed, according to word on the street--we're not going back to find out; rich women expect you to pay for certain things, apparently. Bottle service is limited to a few venues. Wait staff around the city report either a dip in the percentage guests are willing to tip or that people just spend less on food...which amounts to smaller paychecks, either way.

On the other hand, fine dining, valet parking, $12 martinis--all of that continues apace.

So who knows? Before the economy tanked, there were mixed signals. Economists warned of fast approaching trouble, on the one hand, while George W stuck to his "fundamentally sound" routine on the other.

All we can say for certain is this: we can walk into the real Nick & Sam's in our 1990s souvenir trailer purchases and no one casts a discouraging glance our way. No more than the usual, anyway.

We still pay too much for drinks. And probably for lawyer fees, too.

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