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.
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 décor...it'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.
"It seems I will never sell these She-Hulk vs. Leon Spinks comics. Worst crossover ever!"
--Comic Book Guy, The Simpsons, "Days of Wine and D'oh'ses"
Guys who own record stores are cool. Just look at John Cusack in High Fidelity, the big-screen adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel; he's young, hip, able to score with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Lisa Bonet. Guys who own comic-book stores are, well, not cool. At all. Ever. They are punch lines and punching bags, dudes without dates--save for a copy of Batgirl. Look no further than The Simpsons, which is populated by Comic Book Guy--his gut dangling over his shorts, his limp ponytail poorly masquerading a bald head, his insults shooting blanks at kids too young to fight back. Comic Book Guy lives on the Internet, surfing his newsgroups--"alt.nerd.obsessive" being a prime fave. Actually, he lives in his mother's basement.
Jeremy Shorr, proprietor of Titan Comics near Bachman Lake, does not. Actually, he lives with his wife, Cecilia, and their two young children in their own home, thanks very much. He did not even pick up a comic till he was 18, primarily because he grew up overseas: His father was a civil engineer, a builder of oil wells, and moved the family from Finland to India to Venezuela before returning to the States in 1976. Though he will cop to looking the part--"I'll be the last to say I'm svelte and muscular, and I am balding in all the right places"--his entire existence seems geared toward demolishing the pale, pudgy stereotype.
"The wife and I have a conversation about this on a regular basis: 'What image do we want to project?'" Shorr says. "I wanted to make sure I didn't present the standard Comic Book Guy image--the ponytail, the beard, the T-shirt that was washed, oh, last month sometime. I bathed recently; I cut my hair on a regular basis. I do what I can given my body's archetype. I'm sorry, I've tried to lose weight--short of having amputations. On The Simpsons, the only thing he's interested in is whatever comic book you're talking about. My wife calls me the comic-book bartender. I know most of my customers by name, I know their favorite football team, take the time to find out what's going on with them."
Twenty-six years after his introduction to comics, Shorr runs the coolest comics shop in town--a fanboy's paradise, and not because fangirls have been known to work behind the counter. In June, Titan celebrated its 11th anniversary, though Cecilia Shorr's been in the comics biz since December 1985, when she opened Houston's Phoenix Comics, then the largest store of its kind in the 713. Jeremy was one of her first, and best, customers; he was spending $100 a week--a "ton of money back then," Jeremy says. "They were happy to see me."
So, too, was Cecilia: One night in 1987, Jeremy came in after a date stood him up, and Cecilia asked him out. Within two years they were married. Fifteen years and a move back to Dallas later--Cecilia's dad worked for EDS, where Jeremy collected a paycheck for a while as a systems engineer--they're still together and selling comics. This, despite the fact most comic-book retailers have long gone the way of Jack Kirby and Joe Shuster. (Those are comics references, and if you don't get them, dude, why are you still reading?)
When Titan opened in June 1991, there were 25 to 35 comics-related stores in the area--"from Rockwall to Weatherford," as Shorr defines it. Today, Shorr estimates there are probably 15, including the eight stores in the Lone Star Comics chain, two Keith's Comics locations and the mighty Zeus outlet in Oak Lawn. But most of these retailers carry baseball cards, Dungeons & Dragons dreck, stuffed dolls and other non-comics effluvia--junk food, in other words, intended to appeal to the dilettante and their fad-grabbing kids for whom Yugio's the hottest thing since Pokémon. Titan is for the fetishist who knows his (or her) Golden Age Green Lantern from his Silver Age counterpart. Shorr's the fanboy's pusherman, the guy you turn to for a quick fix of superhero kicks.
His store's overrun with old issues--some from the 1950s--long the bane of the comics retailer's existence. Though he still peddles T-shirts and collectible statues, usually handcrafted and hand-painted, Titan's packed with only the good stuff. Need an early Justice League of America, when Green Arrow didn't have the beard? An X-Men from the '60s? He will hook a brutha up.
"I have people come visit me every four, six months from out of town strictly because they know I have the books they want," Shorr says. "And now back-issue sales account for approximately 30 percent of my sales--and in the comic-book world, if you can break 5 percent, that's amazing. There's just a need for my kind of store. So many people come in here and the first words out of their mouths are, 'Thank God, I found a place that sells comic books.'" Count us among them.
If you're to be the best, preaches Dallas Lincoln High basketball coach Leonard Bishop, you must stand ready to prove it. Which is exactly what his undefeated state Class AAAA champions did last season. En route to a 40-0 record and the No. 1 spot in the nation in schoolboy rankings conducted by USA Today and Prep Sports, his Tigers defeated five schools that were judged among the nation's premier teams.
Invited to a tournament in St. Louis, they won the championship by defeating No. 6-ranked Midwest City High. In Lake Charles, Louisiana, they knocked off No. 23 Westbury Christian. Closer to home they scored wins over No. 6 Beaumont Ozen, No. 9 Cedar Hill (before a crowd of 17,995 in Reunion Arena at The Dallas Morning News Shootout ) and The Colony, which was ranked No. 14 in the country.
"I think the fact we were willing to go up against so many outstanding teams in non-district play," the 52-year-old Bishop says, "was the reason we were ultimately picked as the national champion."
Which is a pretty daring act for a man who looks more like a businessman at courtside, rarely displaying the emotional rants of many in his line of work; a coach who insists his primary job is to make sure his kids excel academically.
"Basically," says the former all-state guard who grew up in little Sexton, Missouri, "my job is that of a teacher. I spend most of my time trying to help students learn life skills that will be important to them long after they've played their last basketball game."
He says with pride that all 10 seniors who made the recent season so memorable are now on college campuses.
"Every player on our team," he says, "grasped the fact that playing basketball wasn't the only reason they were coming to school every day. They were a group that recognized that hard work--in the classroom, at home, at practice and on game day--was essential to reaching the goals we had set before the season began. They realized that to be successful you have to apply yourself fully every day.
"What these kids accomplished," Bishop continues, "is something they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. I've done some research in an attempt to see if there has ever been any other high school basketball team that has gone undefeated, won state and been ranked No. 1 in the same year and haven't found one."
For the Southeast Missouri graduate who entered his 30th year of coaching when practice for the new season opened in October, the magical 2001-'02 season was not something he'd foreseen. Even getting a job at a school with a celebrated athletic history like that of Lincoln's seemed out of reach when he launched his career back in New Madrid, Missouri. From there he came to Seagoville, where he served three years as coach of middle school basketball before working his way up to the high school job he held from 1984 to 1999.
Then, three years ago, Lincoln High came calling. In his first season as head coach of the Tigers, his team made it to the regional finals. In the second year, they advanced to the state tournament. Then last year, Bishop and his team rang all the bells, turning away all opposition with a controlled fast break offense that averaged 78 points per game and an aggressive defense.
Where does one go from perfection? Despite the fact only two players return from last year's varsity, there are great expectations. Last year's junior varsity went 16-2, and the freshman team lost only one game, in overtime. Back from last year's championship team are junior forward Cedric Griffin and the coach's son, Leonard Bishop Jr., a senior guard. A 5-foot-10 sophomore, Byron Eaton, has already been ranked by one preseason publication as the No. 2 point guard in the United States. "One of the things we try to do," Bishop says, "is develop talent on our lower-level teams. We had kids playing jayvee ball who were good enough to be on the varsity had we not had so many good seniors. Now, it's their turn."
Not only to add to the school's string of victories but to benefit from the lessons coach Bishop will teach.
Local wine publications haven't shown much resilience in Dallas. At least two upstart carcasses litter the landscape, testaments to the absurdity of attempting to translate Big D's thirst for cork-finished juice into an urge to read about it through a local lens. The Dallas Food & Wine Journal, a food-and-wine rag launched by entrepreneur Harvey Jury in 1995, lasted just two issues. Even the considerable heft of Belo couldn't get Dallas' sipper denizens to think local. The Dallas Morning News' quarterly insert magazine Wine and Food, launched in 1998, was scuttled after just a couple of issues.
So what makes former computer parts broker Paul Evans think he can conquer a market that has bloodied others with better armaments? Mental instability. "You have to be a crazy person to do this," says the 30-year old publisher of Vine Texas. "But you also have to be very passionate."
It's that passion--a term so often tossed around with respect to wine it has become as tiresome as road tar metaphors in tasting notes--Evans thinks will drive him to publishing success with Vine Texas, an upstart four-color glossy with wine personality profiles, reviews, beer and cigar jabber, as well as tips on wine acquisition.
So what? Aren't there enough glossies from New York packed with cherry-berry-leather-tar-tropical fruit-cream-grass-gooseberry notes of the latest bottlings? Sure. But Evans says Vine Texas is different. It's dedicated to the whims of the Texas wine enthusiast (the July/August issue even argues that those tasting descriptors are obsolete, as much of young America has never tasted raw fruit or unprocessed veggies--are Fruit Roll-Ups that pervasive?). "You're not going to see articles about wines that are hard to find in Texas," Evans insists. "We're not going to stick our noses in the air and brag about how we tasted this 1989 bottle of Petrus that you can't find except in some restaurant for $2,000."
Not that Vine Texas has a nose-in-the-air pedigree. Originally launched as Vine Dallas earlier this year, Vine Texas was dreamed up by Evans and entrepreneur Mike Whitaker after Evans lost his job as a sales manager at The Met following its purchase and erasure by Dallas Observer parent New Times in late 2000. Whitaker, publisher of the free Dallas nightlife/lifestyle magazine called The Link, brought Evans on to breathe some life into the rag.
But Evans says it was quickly obvious The Link was not long for this world. "The Link was very stressful, near the end, money-wise," he laments. "To tell you the truth, Mike and I both, we got sick of club and bar owners. They never pay on time, and when you're running a company off revenue from advertising, you have to rely on being paid."
So the pair sought to unearth a niche stocked not only with a panting audience, but also a cache of vendors willing to open their checkbooks. They decided to focus on wine because it was the preoccupation of several Link staffers. Evans and his cronies met with jeers. But they also had some cheerleaders among Dallas' restaurant heavies, including Al Biernat of Al Biernat's, Judd Fruia of Pappas Bros., Alessio Franceschetti (formerly of eccolo) and Efisio Farris of Arcodoro Pomodoro.
With virtually no seed money, Evans assembled a magazine prototype on the cheap and printed 1,000 copies, dispersing them to potential advertisers. "Next thing you know, I have people all over the place calling me," he boasts. "It was passed around like the plague."
Smitten by the interest the prototype generated, Evans and Whitaker shut down The Link last January after a two-year run and flushed all their energy into Vine Dallas, which turned out a January and a March issue. The original plan was to secure the Dallas market and then customize the magazine for other Texas markets, distributing titles such as Vine Houston and Vine Austin. But national advertisers balked at the move.
Vine Texas was the upshot. Evans and Whitaker pumped 80,000 copies of the first bimonthly (July/August) issue through a number of outlets, including Barnes & Noble, Winn-Dixie, Albertson's and selected fine wine shops. They hope to publish monthly by next summer.
Evans snickers when he thinks about all the people who told him he was crazy--or worse--for launching a Dallas wine magazine. "They said, 'If you have a third issue, I'll pat you on the back.' Well, pat me on the back. Number three has arrived."