It's not exactly Halloween. It's more of a cross between American Halloween and Mexican Day of the Dead, a sort of strange, wonderful, sometimes nettlesome, mainly joyous commingling of immigrant culture from surrounding East Dallas neighborhoods with the grand home traditions of Swiss Avenue. Tens of thousands of kids are brought here in the backs of pickup trucks, in vans and on motorcycles to make the pilgrimage of the candy-seekers up and down Swiss on Halloween night. Most of the Swiss people are cool: They put on a show and hand out bales of candy. Some new residents don't get it and hire security guards. A quintessential Dallas scene you won't see anywhere else.

Double Wide
Matt Nager
If the XPO Lounge and the (late, great) Orbit Room had a drunken one-night stand followed by a shotgun wedding, Double Wide would be the result. Or where the reception would be held, at any rate. Open since June, the bar is already a low-culture landmark, thanks to its white-trash environs and white-gold lineup of bands, a comfort-food combination that goes down as smooth as the cheap beer they serve here. (In cans, no less, a fact that is strangely fascinating to many of its visitors, less so to those of us experienced at drinking beer outside of a bar. Say, at 11 on a Saturday morning maybe. OK, a Monday morning. And it's usually more like 9.) Since trucker's caps are what the cool kids are wearing these days, it's the right time for a joint that extrapolates the headgear into an entire shabby-chic world.
The Balcony Club
courtesy Lorena Davey
If we know anything at the Observer, it's where to take a date on the cheap and still make a good impression. The Balcony Club is such a place. Located above the Lakewood Theater, The Balcony Club is a smooth little gin joint complete with cozy, dark booths and wood-grained décor. Candlelight gives the bar just the right mood, and jazz music is always wafting through the air. The drinks are strong, good and cheap, and the waitstaff is courteous. If you can't score after taking someone to The Balcony Club, you may as well give up altogether, because, well, you're a lost cause, friend.

The Loon
Some nights you're not feeling hip. Some nights you don't feel pretty. The whole West Village, Mock-Station, Deep Ellum, downtown, Greenville Avenue scene just sounds like such a friggin' beat-down. What you need, friend, is simple: a stiff drink. No frills, no fuss. Just several jiggers of something brown to make you feel better about your pitiful lot in life, if only for the evening. That's when you go to The Loon. Because they pour drinks so stiff you could iron your pants on them.

Club Schmitz
Club Schmitz is one of those places where about the only things that have changed since 1953 are the prices on the menu of great and greasy Texas burgers, fries and onion rings. The joint was founded in 1946 when two cousins named Schmitz returned from World War II. The original building burned in 1953, and it was rebuilt that same year. Now it's run by their sons, two cousins named Schmitz, who have no intention of messing with a good thing. Small bar (if that bar could talk, how it would slur its words), cash only (the only plastic permitted are the red booths and chair backs), down-home waitresses, country juke, pool table, shuffleboard and beer only. What separates Club Schmitz from newer places that try too hard is that it doesn't try at all. Check out the variety of vehicles in the parking lot--and those greasy burgers.

Wilco. Erykah Badu. Catherine D'Lish. Sub Oslo. Interpol. Earl Harvin Trio. Shabazz Three. What do these have in common? Performers, carbon-based life forms. OK, but the main point is they've all played Gypsy Tea Room. Rock. Hip-hop. Jazz. Striptease. Hot new thing. Old guy with guitar and harmonica. Gypsy Tea Room has it all. Not only that, but this venue actually makes going to Deep Ellum worth it. Good sound, reasonable prices, close parking, clean and tucked-away-from-the-stage bathrooms and a bar in the back so you can yell for a vodka-and-tonic without getting a beer bottle thrown at your loud ass in return. The staff also knows how to move people in the doors, out the doors and away from the bar with drink in hand. So you can be close enough to the stage to count the beads of sweat on Jeff Tweedy's upper lip or hang out in the back and still be able to see everything onstage.
Fair Park
Some parents turn up their noses at the old, somewhat dark and dank Dallas Aquarium, but the kids enjoy it. It's entirely gimmick-free--no cutesy exhibits, no corporate sponsors, no gift shop and only the purest form of "interactive" display: a station where children can pick up and feel starfish, crabs, sea anemones and other such creatures. The staff is knowledgeable, patient and friendly. Best of all is the price: $3 for adults and children 12 and up, $1.50 for kids 3 to 11. It's open seven days a week, so carve out an hour to visit and know you won't end up with a $50 gift-shop bill.

This is a tough category for a city such as Dallas, where most restaurant patios and decks overlook parking lots or city streets. What the city lacks are more public spaces, the kinds of courtyards and plazas found in Europe. The West Village has accomplished this plaza feel (although the traffic is still an issue), particularly outside the Magnolia Theatre, where al fresco dining can be had beside Taco Diner, Paciugo, Paris Vendome and Nikita. All form a kind of faux courtyard, and diners, some with their leashed dogs in tow, can engage friends and loved ones as they make their way to the movies. Although cars can obstruct the view, the venue is an attractive meet-and-greet for the see-and-be-seen set, and it lends itself to that sense of community so sorely lacking in modern times. Or at the very least, a beer.
The party place can be the Ponies & Pals Hickory Creek barnyard or your own back yard, but the cool thing about this party for kids is that it comes with live animals and pony rides. A party can be arranged to include goats, sheep, rabbits and potbellied pigs for petting, and ponies for riding. Operators will also provide a birthday cake, ice cream and more for the junior party-goers and can take the show just about anywhere in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Attendants constantly monitor the children as they interact with the animals.
Texas Discovery Gardens
Sit on the natural stone ledge and peer into the pondering pool at the base of the two-story waterfall, and you'll forget you're in a building at Fair Park in Dallas. Best of all, you'll forget the three hot checks that beat your direct deposit to the bank last week, your boss' bullshit, your never-ending "to-do" list and the unsavory state of the world. In the glass-walled conservatory at Texas Discovery Gardens, you'll discover a tranquil, tropical paradise--a cross between Blue Lagoon and Gilligan's Island. Lush, exotic foliage frames the rushing waterfall, including real banana trees with ripening bunches of fruit. The waterfall is the centerpiece among a collection of tropical plants, native and adapted and clearly labeled, cultivated by TDG's crack staff of horticulturists, who are available to answer questions--if you can or want to hear them over the sound of clear, rushing water.

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