Best Urban Rain Forest 2003 | Dallas World Aquarium | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer
Fear Factor? No, thanks! We'll take our life-affirming adventures in the safety of a dark movie theater or in a fake, Disneyland-style environment. Even Dallas' risk-averse will get off on the re-created Orinoco River basin rain forest at the Dallas World Aquarium. Just inside the door, a walkway spirals down through the South American jungle facsimile, where you quickly get used to the warm humidity. Enveloped in sights and smells, you'll see and hear birds overhead, spiral down through exotic plants, fish and turtles, and nary a poisonous snake or malaria-carrying mosquito will cross your path. The rain forest ends where the aquarium begins, and we recommend that, too. The DWA isn't a huge facility, but that's appealing; animals are well cared for, and the place is virtually stench-free. On top of all that, you can step outside and drink too much, eat too much and spend too much money at the touristy West End. Perfect Sunday afternoon.

Is there really any doubt? Since 1992, The Ginger Man pub has been introducing Dallas drinkers to the best array of barley and hops in town. The Dallas location (there are two others in Texas) has more than 60 brews on draft (including Moretti, for you Italians) and about a hundred bottled brands (try Fuller's London Porter if it's stocked; good cold, even better as it approaches room temperature). If the scene is too fratish downstairs, try the quieter sitting area and balcony upstairs, one of our favorite retreats from the real world even as you taste the best the globe has to offer.
This answer to the West Village club Nikita was bumpin' the night we were there. The packed house and good service were nice to see at Mockingbird Station, but what we were most pleased with was the cocktail selection. Great specialty martinis seemed to be their, um, specialty. We particularly liked the apple-pear martini, for its slices of fruit and attention to subtlety. As a bonus, they didn't flinch when we ordered a Campari and soda--most bartenders stare back at you and look confused when you ask for this Italian staple. Now, they just need to arrange the drinks on the menu by type, instead of alphabetically, and we'll call it cocktail heaven.

This popular picnic spot is a great place for kids--even better than the zillionth viewing of Jungle Book 2. The plaza provides a sweeping view of airport operations, with takeoffs and landings close enough to smell the burning rubber. The big jets sometimes taxi and stop right in front of the plaza, where kids can wave at the pilots--and they usually wave back. A sound system at the back section of the plaza relays conversations between airplane crews and air traffic controllers. Pretty thrilling stuff for a kid. And free, too.

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.

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.
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.

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 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.

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