Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
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's no secret why KERA called Punch Drunk Comedy one of Dallas' best-kept secrets. The quartet of comedians serves up funny and unpredictable shows every Thursday for four to six weeks at the Home Bar off of Greenville Avenue. It also takes the revues--often centering around a theme and involving costumes, music and more--one step beyond during the final week of the show, when the members try to sabotage one another by improvising and changing their lines during "The Stunt Show." But even during a normal--we use the term loosely--show when they're relying on scripts, the audience never knows what will happen next.
You're taking your early-morning jog with your pet dog Old Blue and desperately searching your headset for some music to run by. Frustrated, you are willing to settle for anything other than the mindless prattle of two self-absorbed DJs who laugh at their own canned jokes as if they were entertaining someone other than themselves. You stumble onto WRR, the sole classical music station in town, and listen to Road Rage Remedy or the March of the Day and suddenly believe there is a God. Even the news becomes more tolerable, particularly as the cool, smooth voice of Valerie Moore hits the airwaves, her news stylings taking on a peculiarly sexy quality. It's just the news, you remind yourself, but with Valerie it's so much more. She knows just when to pause before she anoints the last word of a sentence, when to drop her voice an octave for just the right amount of primal ooziness before going to a commercial break. She seduces you to keep listening, just so you can hear her deliver the weather and traffic..."next."
OK, we've got bronzed cattle-drive re-creations, statues of hard-throwing Nolan Ryan, Texas Rangers, mustangs, et al. around town, but if it's real art by master craftsmen you want to see, the Oakland Cemetery, established in 1891, will blow you away. Elaborate memorial sculptures in granite and marble, some done as far away as Florence, Italy, are shipped here to stand guard over Dallas' Who's Who of yesteryear. The cemetery is open until sundown daily and offers not only a magnificent art exhibit but a fascinating visit to the city's history. Don't forget to take a camera.
With Dallas being home to more than 200 ethnic communities, Dallas International sees its mission as attempting to harness their cultural diversity by providing a forum to express the richness of their heritage and thereby create a better understanding of each group to the rest of the city. We think. Each year (generally in June) the organization produces the Dallas International Festival, spearheaded by Anne Marie Weiss-Armush. Regrettably, the festival had to make do this year as funding cuts forced it out of its digs at Fair Park and cramped it into the Majestic Theatre, where Dallas' finest global arts groups performed. The festival's International Bazaar has been rescheduled for November and relocated to the St. Mark's School of Texas at 10600 Preston Road. The food court alone will be worth the price of admission, which is free. Honorable mention: the martinis at Terilli's. Drink three of these and everyone will be your friend.
Too bad we don't have a category for Best-looking City Council Member so she could win twice. Dr. Elba, a dentist, wins this one because we have a very simple criterion: Does the council member do more or less what her constituents want? Garcia attacks her job obsessively as if every single constituent complaint were a dental cavity. She parked on the desk of the director of animal control until he agreed to go catch more dogs. Then she rode in the vans with the dog catchers to make sure they got it done. The Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce loves her because she fixed the huge mess with the Texas Theatre restoration. She got all the city's myriad Cinco de Mayo and Diez y Seis parades combined into one. And when the council shot down her idea of having the new Latino Cultural Center named for a brand of tequila (bad idea), she got funding instead from a dairy (good idea). So if she's so smart, what's she doing on the city council? District 1 just lucked out, we guess.
Just as the stand-up comedy boom of the 1980s was fizzling out, comedian Rob Becker began his research into the oddities of human behavior. Do women carry a shopping gene? Do men have a territorial imperative when it comes to the remote? Becker took what he learned and wrote Defending the Caveman, an insightful, enlightening and hilarious two-hour monologue explaining the anthropological reasons for the quirks that occur in the male-female dynamic. He tried out the show on the road in the early '90s, including a long stint at the Addison Improv, and ended up taking Caveman to Broadway. He's now performed it for more than 2 million people in the United States and Canada, and there are offshoot productions on the boards in Iceland and South Africa. Clearly, he's on to something with a universal message. With every syllable polished, Becker's show returned to Dallas this spring for a double run at the Majestic, where it played to sold-out houses of couples (mostly) who laughed till they cried and repeatedly jabbed each other in the rib cage, whispering, "He's talking about yewwwww!"
Besides the free parking and free admission, the African American Museum in Fair Park contains some really cool stuff about African American history in Dallas that you are unlikely to find elsewhere. One of the current displays contains artifacts from Freedman's Town, a black enclave in old Dallas that was buried under a freeway until some local black-history buffs banded together to keep the memory and the history alive. Artifacts include parts of caskets and children's toys. Besides that exhibit, which is ongoing, the nearly 30-year-old museum claims to have "one of the largest African-American folk art collections in the United States." The Fair Park building has four galleries, a research library and a theater.
It doesn't matter where you are, Sekt has been there. Street corners, drains, rain gutters and brick walls. Our very own building has been graced with the tag of the elusive being. We have to wonder, is that a name, a statement, some sort of slang or just a favorite word-cum-identity? We counted 100 "Sekts" in a quarter-mile walk to lunch and back. When does the tagging happen? Late nights we endured here and no sign of a person, yet in the morning new tags appear. One person we mentioned the urban phenomenon to saw a tag on an overpass coming from Fort Worth--now that's dedication, not to mention spare time. Dallas begs to know who is behind Sekt, group or person, fish or fowl. For the love of Mike, who the hell are you?! Even if we never know, we acknowledge Sekt for the stamina and misspelling that drove the short tag to conversation status.
Talk about commitment to one's art. For the title role in Barbette, a new biographical play by Bill Lengfelder and David Goodwin performed at Kitchen Dog Theater in June, Joey Steakley spent nearly a year learning the art of the trapeze and perfecting the moves of the "Spanish web," a balletic circus act on a rope 30 feet in the air. His performance as the Texas-born transvestite circus star involved not just perfecting aerial stunts but delicately depicting the young "Barbette" (real name Vander Clyde) as a dreamy farm boy in Round Rock, Texas, and his subsequent journey to musical hall stardom in drag and his stormy affair with a great poet in Paris in the 1920s. Steakley's fine, subtle acting in the physically demanding role--he did that rope ballet wearing little more than satin shorts, pasties and a blond wig--made the stuntwork even more breathtaking and affecting. For a young actor (he earned his degree in drama in May), fearlessness is as important as talent. Steakley has more of both than most actors of any age.
Owen and Luke Wilson, this year's Hollywood It-Boys, make it back home to Dallas pretty often, and when they do, they inevitably drop in (with their handsome 'rents) at this pricey but delish Park Cities Mexican spot. The country-club crowd this restaurant attracts (need the valet parkers for the Rollses, doncha know) generally ignores the Wilson clan and lets them eat their Barra de Navidad and Filete Cantinflas (two Javier's specialties) in peace. Some of us just enjoy feasting on the sight of the Wilsons in the flesh.
Unlike its crosstown cousin, not much of Dallas resembles the days of cattle drives or cowboys, and maybe that was the idea behind this popular public sculpture. The large herd of longhorns and cowboys, which promoters say is the "biggest outdoor sculpture of longhorns and cowboys in the world," is a most impressive sight. Plopped down in the middle of a bustling city near the convention center, the longhorns are gaudy and cool, like the city they represent.