Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
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'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.