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.
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.
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.

On any given summer weekend, a couple hundred boats show up at the cove with occupants who are there to party. There is usually plenty of booze, and bikinis become optional as the day wears on. One of the larger boats that usually shows up has a stripper's pole mounted on the back deck for any of the bikini-clad women at the cove to use at will and perhaps become un-bikini-clad. The lake water is warm and not all that refreshing, so it's a good idea to bring an ice chest filled with your favorite beverage.

Your 3-year-old could attend any Texas state university for one year for about the same tuition as that of a quality preschool in Dallas. We would win the argument that your money is better spent on your 3-year-old, who is a curious sponge just waiting for experiences to generate his or her love of learning and encourage successful socialization skills with other rug rats. Quite the opposite of the college freshman's experience, if memory serves. Dallas families eagerly pay the price for their 18-month- to 5-year-olds at The da Vinci School, an excellent preschool with a science-driven curriculum and an emphasis on nurturing individuality in every child. Founding director Mary Ann Greene says science is a jumping-off point for other areas of learning. "If we begin by looking at the solar system, for example," she says, "we can easily explore the stories of mythology and music from The Planets." Social studies is a secondary area of emphasis, and Greene says since the school opened in 1987, its students enjoy a fun, creative, stimulating, ability-appropriate, fulfilling and successful introduction to lifelong learning.

Best Bet to (Shockingly) Still be in Business by Next Year's Best of Dallas Issue

Blue

A ton of money went into this gi-normous downtown nightspot, and you can definitely tell. Huge dance floor, great sound system, a beautiful stage backed by the biggest LED screen not in use on a U2 world tour--and that's just for a start. No expense was spared, which is the main reason we wagered that Blue would be boarded up in six months, 12 tops. But hey, word is they're bringing in record crowds. Way to go, guys, even though we're most likely out 20 bucks.

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