The spacious ice rink in the center of downtown's Plaza of the Americas is the perfect escape for any middle-management yuppie who could use a cool break from that three-walled hell known as the cubicle. Located on the bottom floor of a building filled with law offices, real estate agencies, financial consolidation groups and Internet mortgage blabitty-blabitty-blahs, the rink generally will be filled with a mix of businesspeople, vacationers staying at the adjacent Westin City Center and local high-schoolers who make their way over via the Pearl Street DART station. Surrounding the ice rink is a plethora of shops and restaurants ready to provide you with a post-skate snack and some trinkets to bring home. Closer than the Galleria and better than hosing down the driveway on one of Texas' only subzero days, Americas Ice Garden Ice Rink is a chilly oasis in the middle of our concrete jungle.

Cowboys Red River
Thought it was going to be some techno club, huh? Well, hang on, because Red River has its share of mainstream and country music. Hear us out on our reasoning. The venue has a house band when it doesn't have a scheduled concert, dance lessons (because there's nothing worse than turning the wrong way, causing your new dance partner to lose an eye) or one incredibly entertaining mechanical bull. The joint has drink and cover specials most nights and the aforementioned lessons two nights a week. It's a bit like an amusement park for drinkers, really. Grab a Bud, slide out onto the hardwood dance floor, spin for a few, go for a ride--and on occasion the ladies can race and claw their way to cash, thanks to a balloon drop. Red River is chaos, it's country and it's fun. Give it a shot...after buying us one, of course.
Main Street Liquid Co
Ah, yes, the dreaded 972. Depending on the area and particular social circle, the three-digit prefix is anything but innocuous. Those who have chosen the manicured grass, SUVs and loooong exit ramps run a constant risk of being shunned by their Southern, city-slick brethren. After all, there's no way some "Yankee" can handle the nightlife of the real Dallas, right? On the contrary, roughnecks...the Main Street Liquid Co. in Richardson offers 214-esque carousing in the coziness of the suburbs and consequently presents an alternative to the suffocating blitzkrieg of corporate sports-bar hell. The no-frills environment is apparent even before you step into the warmly wooded interior of the tavern, as the identifying neon above the door succinctly (hence tastefully) reads "BAR." Once inside, a new patron must acquire a free card before that initial libation is poured, but don't let any notion of exclusiveness fool you; everyone willing to belly up to the well-stocked bar and engage in a game of billiards or traditional elbow rubbing is welcome. It has the dimly lit cramped charm, it has the regulars and it has the specials that translate to downtown drinking north of the "border."

There is no spot we know of where the soul (some would say soullessness) of Dallas is on display more than at the West Village on Saturday night. Young, toned bodies fitted into stretch-fabric outfits. Quick and quicker gaits. Grand entrances. Primo automobiles. If your Benz is in the shop and you're stuck for the night with the Aerostar van, you'd better park it three blocks away, maybe by the trash bin behind Texas Land & Cattle Co. Among the chic restaurants, bars and grown-up movie theater, there's a lot in this quarter to attract the attractive. Former Mayor Ron Kirk once famously said that nobody comes to Dallas for the scenery; people come here to get rich. He was dead right, with at least one qualification. People come here to at least look rich, and when that's on the agenda, this is definitely the place.

Dumplings in broth
Taylor Adams
Dumplings in broth
The last time we were there, Cosmo's was buzzing with so much chatter and laughter that it was hard to know where to begin our conversation. We watched another fellow on the other side of the bar checking out the waitress. He told us later that this was his nightspot after leaving work on Greenville Avenue. The waitress caught his eye because he was bedazzled by the "architecture of her ass." In the front of the room by the doors, a birthday party was in full motion. To the delight of that group and much of the bar, the birthday boy was doing his best to improvise new steps to "Billie Jean." Everybody still loves Michael Jackson. But a group of ladies in the back of the room made everyone's night by reminding us, in a jukebox sing-along, "What's Love Got to Do With It?" What better testament is there to the power of a juke?
There are busier happy hours; there are more tricked-up happy hours. But we're partial to this one because it's simply classy and smart--not unlike us. From 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., all draft beers are half-price. No muss, no fuss. The place is nice enough to bring a date or a client but not so stuffy that you can't walk right up to the bar and order a Bud Light, if you like your beer old-school. If you need to nosh while you sip, the appetizers are great, and the wood-fired pizza is delicious (the "M" gimmick they use on the menu, in which they come up with several clever names using the letter, is a bit much, but we'll let it slide). The waitstaff is attentive and friendly, the drinks cold, the bartenders knowledgeable. All of which makes us happy, happy.
Whether you're looking for a romantic escape or just a respite from the big-city traffic and street repairs, the Baroness Inn is only a 45-minute drive away. Host Evelyn Williams offers visitors a taste of yesteryear's peace and quiet with all the modern conveniences. For prices ranging from $100 to $160 per night, you can sleep in the comfort of billowy linens, soak in your in-room whirlpool, then lounge in the plush robe you'll be provided. Williams serves a gourmet breakfast, complete with fresh baked bread and buttermilk scones, at the civilized hour of 9:30 a.m. --and you're invited to raid the fridge for ice cream or dip into the always-filled cookie jar at any time. If you want to get out and about, bicycles are available. The pace is nice and slow, so plan to veg out.
Whether you've got a kid or just feel like one, the model trains at Children's Medical Center look really cool. More than a half-dozen trains run on an elaborate set of tracks complete with landscaping that includes mountains and a variety of scenery. There is no charge to view the trains, and if you don't spend more than an hour there, you can park for free.

It's not, strictly speaking, a scenic wonderland. But this is North Texas, so you probably already knew that. If you want your nature tamed, try the Dallas Arboretum. L.B. Houston offers a narrow dirt track winding roughly four miles through wooded Trinity River bottomland. What will you see? The backsides of a bunch of trees, the river, brush and the occasional squirrel, turtle or water moccasin. You know, nature. Don't worry about the snakes, though. Just keep your eyes open for the bicyclists, because this trail is popular with what we laughingly call "mountain" bike riders. In North Texas. Snort.
The Old Monk
There are several elements to a good bar. A good bar must have an outdoor sitting area to enjoy the six days of nice weather we have each year. (Check.) Inside, the bar must be dark, for ambience and illicit hookups. (Check.) The waitstaff must be friendly but not fake, knowledgeable but not pushy. (Check.) The beer selection must be ample. (Check.) The clientele must have a median age above 29 but have enough pieces of 21-year-old male and female eye candy to make the view pleasant. (Check.) It must have good food. (Oh, sweet heaven, is that ever a check. The calamari, the fish and chips, the mussels, the cheese board...) And it must have a pub-like, worn-in feel. (Check.) That is the Old Monk. That's why it rules.

Sense
Yeah, yeah, yeah. You have to be on some sort of list to get into the place, which seems like nothing more than an appeal to snobbery in the extreme. Yet the list is not based on the patrons' net worth, on the cars they lease or on more ephemeral measures--such as "cool." Any resourceful person can maneuver his way into the exclusive club by working connections, placing a few calls, befriending the right bartender. By limiting entry to those who really wish to hang out there, Sense ensures a vibe unique to Dallas nightlife. People on the inside mingle and talk and flirt without regard to real-world status. The setting is pleasant, with low-slung leather seating and a pulse that facilitates rather than dominates conversation. As a result, young and old, gold diggers and suburbanites, trend-followers and common folk rub shoulders and even (gasp!) communicate as equals. A good bar makes you feel comfortable, and Sense is just a good bar.

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