Best Alternative Club 2002 | Trees | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

Ash, Super Furry Animals, Spoon, Dieselboy, Deepsky, The Weakerthans, ALL, Pinback, Guided by Voices, Superdrag, South, James Hall, Supersuckers, Remy Zero, Chomsky, Clinic, The Apples in Stereo, The Vines, The Breeders, X-Ecutioners, The Coup, Blackalicious, Beulah, Sparta, Cranes, The Promise Ring, The Deathray Davies, My Morning Jacket, Nashville Pussy, Hank III, Dixie Witch, Bowling for Soup, Speedealer, The White Stripes, Trans Am, AK1200, DJ Dara, Bare Jr., Old 97's, Pleasant Grove, Bushwick Bill, Tomahawk, North Mississippi All-Stars, Reverend Horton Heat, Baboon. That's just naming a few, and that's just in the past year. Think that speaks for itself.

Yeah, we've given it to these guys before, but hey, this isn't your son's Little League team. We don't have to make sure everyone gets some playing time. If you suck, you ride the bench. Simple as that. So until someone comes along and does it better, we ain't changing the starting lineup. Look, we know there are plenty of other fine places to see live music--Muddy Waters, Trees, Liquid Lounge, Club Clearview, Barley House, Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios, Bar of Soap, even Curtain Club, Galaxy Club or Club Indigo if you catch 'em on the right nights--but none of them is as consistent as the Tea Room. You could never even go to another club in Deep Ellum or anywhere else and see the best in hip-hop (Jurassic 5, Common), rock (Wilco, Doves), soul (Erykah Badu, Musiq), country (Eleven Hundred Springs) or whatever (Earl Harvin Trio). We could go on, but I think you get the point. We'll just finish our thoughts next year at this time.

A well-known author whose name we cannot recall at the moment wrote something in one of those college anthologies--can't remember which--about the anonymity of a crowd. Or perhaps it was loneliness. Anyway, it was quite appropriate to the topic and would have conveyed the message in words far more powerful than those without which the entire meaning of this paragraph would be lost. There was also something in the book regarding form and function, another point of great significance in this context. To grope someone in an apparently inadvertent manner requires close quarters and the cloak of innocence. The uncomfortably tight maze of Central Market's aisles provides both, thanks to a combination of poor design and incredible popularity. It's impossible on a weekend to maneuver through Central Market without pressing flesh with dozens of strangers. Shoppers collide with great regularity, and foot traffic often crashes to a halt. A simple swing of the hips or twitch of the arm--tempered by a quick apology--provides hours of illicit adult fun.

Best Place to Watch Someone Score in a Non-sexual Way

Dallas Desperados games

Admit it, you and every other sports fan in this part of the world want to see tons of scoring. And not just with the cheerleaders. (Rim shot!) The bigger the blowout, the better. And not just with the cheerleaders. (Thank you, Dallas, goodnight!) Forget pitchers' duels and 1-0 hockey finals. Which is why the high-octane, indoor pinball game of Arena League Football has every chance of succeeding in Big D. Played on a 50-yard field in the American Airlines Center, the game produces long ball touchdowns faster than you can count 'em. It doesn't hurt that the new Dallas Desperados have record-setting veteran Andy Kelly at quarterback. Or that the once high-scoring Texas Rangers are staggering through the kind of nightmarish summer that makes everyone long for football of any kind. Fact is, we pay this much to watch such good-looking men score any time.

Really can't say much more than that...except that it failed. Obviously.

Let's put it this way: Most of the musicians in town swear by the steady hands of Mark Thompson and the rest of the artists at Trilogy. If it's good enough for rock and roll, it's good enough for you.

Well, yes, a 12-hour drive is as close as it gets, but Taos Ski Valley is well worth it, and far more interesting than a lot of places you can reach by plane. Taos is a family-owned, family-run, world-class ski mountain for serious skiers. The local lore is that Taos was initially thought to be too steep for most recreational skiers when it was built in the late 1950s, yet bull-headed Texans short on skill, but long on nerve, flocked there and said, "To hell with it, I'm going to the top." We've been rewarded with runs named Longhorn, a double-black diamond bump run that just doesn't quit and Lone Star, a more gentle intermediate run. On the "ridge," where one must hike, at more than 12,000 feet elevation, to catch the serious steeps and untracked powder, the runs are named after some of the German generals who schemed to assassinate Hitler. This blend of European ski traditions and the desert Southwest means great skiing by day and great dining by night. From the looks of things, the wet El Nino weather pattern, which produced bases of more than 100 inches last time it came through, should mean a helluva season this year.

For countless centuries, humans performed every personal activity--No. 1, No. 2, No. 69--in full view of their neighbors. Nowadays, the undeniable pleasure of relieving your bladder when and where it demands is circumscribed and carries considerable risk. If you insist on establishing some sort of kinship with humans past and wish to lessen the risk of prosecution, the aforementioned area offers relative safety and anonymity. It's an area of dark parking lots trapped behind restaurants and office buildings, with patches of foliage for extra protection. First, of course, you must douse your kidneys with beer, and Duke's Original Roadhouse and The Londoner will oblige in this. And the legendary rusticity of The Londoner's johns makes outdoor urination a necessity.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then needing a cold beer must be the mother of all necessities. Because that was essentially the spark behind the Entertainment Collaborative, a klatch of successful formula-repellent entertainment and hospitality concepts hunkered down in Deep Ellum and downtown. The thirsty parent of this collaboration is 34-year-old Brady Wood, who as an SMU student back in 1988 was flustered that he couldn't hip-check his way through the hordes stacked 10 deep at the bar in the Rhythm Room to get a beer. He complained. The owner snapped back that he should buy the place if he didn't like it. "Within two weeks we sold our cars," says Brady's brother Brandt, 36, who directs marketing and concept development for the EC. "I think there were some neckties in the transaction, too."

But it would take a lot more than just the Rhythm Room to yank Brandt Wood from his New Orleans home to join his brother's bar venture. Brandt was set to join the family business, a marine contracting venture that builds levees, deepens waterways and assembles docks. "I grew up with the idea that Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest and all this great food in New Orleans was the way life was supposed to be," he admits. "I came to Dallas to visit Brady...and as I got to know the city more, I realized there was really something different about Dallas." Most notably Brandt realized that New Orleans is long on culture but has no money, while Dallas is long on capital but has a cultural depth of windshield dew. "So you have this contrast," he explains.

This chasm became a mission for the Wood brothers, and they sought to close it in perhaps the only way college-bar entrepreneurs could: by creating really cool places to drink. In 1990, they opened the Green Elephant, a "'60s hippie concept" bar and restaurant that took its name from an EZ Haul travel-trailer logo featuring a family of elephants (the Green Elephant was sold to its managers in 1996). In 1991, the brothers picked up Trees, a Deep Ellum live music venue, through some fancy legal footwork by assuming the befuddled owner's debts and tax obligations.

Trees was a success. And soon the brothers noticed their Trees patrons and performers were scooting off to Deep Ellum Café to eat before and after shows. So they decided to vie for a share of that belly space by formulating a restaurant that was both street-smart and refined. And a little daffy. "I lived on one of the banquettes there for two months, decorating it at night," Brandt says. "If you ever wonder why it's such a strange mix of dé's because it all made a lot of sense in the middle of the night." Brandt says he thought Green Room represented one thing Dallas didn't have, but needed: a gourmet restaurant in a funky neighborhood that didn't take itself too seriously. "We never planned a menu, much less a wine list," he admits. "But we knew how to make a place look cool." People told the Woods they were nuts, that no self-respecting "foodie" would trek down to Deep Ellum to nosh. But the Woods saw a mode of convergence in their little Green gourmet adventure: an opportunity to drive a generational transition; to take their bar crowds and bump them up to the next step in culture, all without their even knowing it. It worked.

They parlayed this intuitive know-how into the husks of downtown. Brandt Wood long had his eye on the ground floor of the Kirby building for a downtown brasserie. But the landlord was keen on pursuing some of the city's better-known, more established operators to create a street restaurant. "The response was, 'I think these guys are too young,'" Brandt says. Turned out those more established operators were too skittish to take a downtown fine-dining plunge.

Through Brady's negotiating footwork, the space was secured and Jeroboam was born. And Jeroboam boomed. "Jeroboam was a vision that conceptually we knew Dallas needed," Brandt says. "We saw downtown progressing before it was a news item." This insight was accrued through EC's efforts to cobble together participants and backers for Dallas 2000 and Dallas 2001, a pair of downtown New Year's Eve events. This work also inadvertently led to Umlaut, a subterranean New York-London modern lounge the EC opened in 2001 after discovering the space during the production of these parties.

Now the EC is gambling on an even further divergence from its club core: retailing. Armed with a portfolio of Deep Ellum real estate gathered over the years, the EC is banking that Deep Ellum can be successfully morphed into a gritty urban shopping mecca, with both national nameplates and local upstarts. But nobody wants to be first out of the chute. So the EC will chop the shopping path through the Deep Ellum weeds.

It's a small boutique called Star Cat, set to open in early October in the space across from Trees. This hip grit shop will sell apparel, shoes, handbags and concert tickets. Brandt Wood admits he's no retail wizard (he was no food and wine wizard either, he says). But he insists he's never been afraid to pull the trigger, adding that the only concepts the EC has ever lost money on are the ones that never made it off the drawing board. The Woods prove that it is perhaps best to reconquer established ground with ideas that seem daffy at first blush. Then again, nothing seems daffy after a cold beer.

It wasn't much of a party to begin with, but it looked as if the Barley House had gotten there when the last guests were putting on their coats and saying their goodbyes. When the Barley House opened almost 10 years ago, there weren't many other bars or restaurants in the Knox-Henderson area, and the ones that were there wouldn't be for much longer. Then, if Knox-Henderson was known for anything, it was the antique stores hanging around like a cobweb in the corner. It was a gamble, but to Joe Tillotson and his investors (including Richard Winfield and Scott Cecil), anything would be better than what they were doing before: They were stuck in boring grown-up jobs, working at a consulting firm, practicing law, actually using their degrees. They figured if they hung in there long enough, bluffed a little bit, they'd take home the pot.

They were right. Ten years later, the Barley House is a success, and so is Knox-Henderson, bars, restaurants and upscale retail crowded shoulder to shoulder on each block. While Tillotson, Winfield and Cecil (the latter two bought out the other investors long ago) aren't responsible for all of that growth, of course, they still deserve a thank-you note or two. Especially from the musicians who have played at Barley House (and Muddy Waters, the bar on Lowest Greenville they also own and operate); in the decade it's been around, a separate local music community has come to life at Barley and Muddy Waters, one that's much different from the one in Deep Ellum. Bands play there once and never leave.

"The Old 97's, the Cartwrights, Lone Star Trio--even back then, those kind of bands liked to hang out there and also play there," says Winfield, whose main role in the partnership is working with the bands. "You'll see guys from Slobberbone, Sorta and Sparrows, Little Grizzly, Pleasant Grove, Chomsky, Deathray Davies; they'll come in there to drink as much as to play. It sorta just happened, but it sorta keeps happening, as old bands go away or move on."

Despite their prosperity, Tillotson, Winfield and Cecil haven't worn themselves out patting each other on the back. They're staying in the game, still gambling. The trio dealt themselves another hand a couple of months ago when they opened the Metropolitan, a classy eatery situated in Stone Street Gardens, a downtown pedestrian mall on Main Street. Since the partners are trying to grow a garden among a patch of weeds, it's pretty much the same situation as it was a decade ago, only this time it's on a much grander scale; developers have tried and failed to revitalize downtown Dallas a dozen times over. But just as they did with the Barley House, Tillotson and his partners are willing to wait.

"When we signed a lease down there, we wanted a long lease, not because we were trying to lock ourselves in at a low rate for a long time, but really, we knew we needed to be there for a long time to really reap the benefits of being downtown," Tillotson says. "I think downtown won't be fully mature, even in our little two-block area, for about five years."

Downtown may have a ways to go, but the Metropolitan has already paid off for Tillotson, Winfield and Cecil--much better than they thought it would at this point. "When we first opened, we didn't advertise," Winfield says. "We just kinda opened the doors, see what's gonna happen. We've been pretty busy every night, getting a pretty good reaction as far as the food, the décor, whatever. People, they're in downtown, they expect for there to be places downtown. If you're from pretty much any other major metropolitan area besides Dallas"--he laughs--"there's something to do downtown. These guys will be walking down the street and they'll find us."

And they're raising the stakes: In the fairly near future, they may also find another bar-restaurant the trio is talking about opening farther down Main Street, a casual place that will be more along the lines of the Barley House. They know it would be easier to stake out a new spot in a more happening part of town or expand into safer markets--they've had opportunities to open a Barley House in Denton and Addison--but that's not the point.

"We're all from Dallas," Tillotson says. "We grew up here. Our families are from here. It's a lot more interesting and exciting for us to be in an area like downtown, to see that revitalizing. We didn't conceive of the Metropolitan and say, 'Where are we gonna put this?' We put what we thought was needed at that location. We think that fits that corner, fits downtown, fits what downtown is supposed to be like. We wanted to create a place that, you know, people thought, if it hadn't already been in downtown Dallas for 10 years or 20 years or 40 years, it deserved to be there."

Tillotson, Winfield and Cecil deserve to be there, too.

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