Black Forest Theater

Two words: Prince afterparty. Two more words: Snoop afterparty. Get the idea? When the baddest muthas come to Dallas, the real happening is at Erykah Badu's South Dallas club. A 1960s movie house that had fallen into disrepair, the Black Forest has been reimagined as a thriving cultural spot, with hand-painted murals, checkerboard floors, lush green walls, and good sound and lighting. This is all thanks to Ms. Badu, who uses the space as ground zero for a South Dallas revitalization project called Beautiful Love Incorporated Non Profit Development (or BLIND). Semi-regular entertainment comes from Mizz B herself, along with soul, R&B, hip-hop and rock acts from around the community. Notice that word: community. 'Cause even though Black Forest may host some of the biggest names in music, ain't no question whose home this really is. Prince may be on the marquee and Erykah Badu may be on the lease, but this place belongs to South Dallas.

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Velvet Curtain

www.velvetcurtain.net

Ask anyone in town for the name of the premier political consultant in Dallas and you'll get two names: Carol Reed and Rob Allyn. Since their offices are on separate floors of the same building on McKinney Avenue, and since they often find themselves in competition, you might assume that there's a war going on in the stairwell. Your assumption would prove false, at least most of the time.

We've all heard much about political consultants, but what do they actually do? "I consider myself a general contractor," Reed says. "I help design the blueprint and then take that blueprint and make sure that everything gets done on time and according to plan. I set the budget, hire the subcontractors and then make sure that they do their jobs well and according to budget.

"I may be the one who makes the trains run on time, but Rob's great gift is his ability to translate a plan into a message and then deliver that message in the most effective and motivating way."

The two may be competitors, but they often hire each other for big projects, and while their relationship stops well short of that of James Carville and Mary Matalin, there appears to be a genuine friendship behind the scheming, bare-knuckle intensity that attends big-time politics. There's also mutual respect, collegiality and, at times, just the faintest whiff of Oedipal drama between the one-time mentor and her former protégé.

"In politics, truth is always one of the alternatives," Allyn deadpans. "And one of the things that I admire most about Carol is that she tells the truth to her clients." Here's what Reed has to say about Allyn: "As gifted and creative a writer as Rob may be, his biggest strength is his focus, his ability to stay on message for his clients."

Most of these clients are Republicans, and the same can be said of most of Reed's clients as well. Two notable exceptions: Reed handled Democrat Ron Kirk's mayoral campaigns as well as his run for the U.S. Senate, while Allyn helped Laura Miller become and remain mayor, defeating Reed's client Tom Dunning in the race to complete Kirk's term. Allyn also helped the mayor best Mary Poss (not Reed's client) in the election for a full term in the nominally non-partisan office. Aside from these walks on the political wild side, the two consultants have, between them over the last 20 years, worked for virtually every major Republican office holder in the state, as well as the two Presidents Bush and President Reagan.

Reed and Allyn are now working together to help pass the bond issue that would move the Dallas Cowboys to Arlington, a campaign spearheaded by Allyn. "I fought as long and as hard as I could to bring the Cowboys to the Cotton Bowl," says Reed, a former president of Friends of Fair Park. "After we lost that fight, I decided that I might as well take the money." Both predictably but probably accurately express optimism that the bond issue will pass.

The Dallas Cowboys campaign is emblematic of the consultants' involvement with lucrative clients and causes that are political but only quasi-governmental in nature: bond issues. The two have worked together successfully on referendum campaigns for the American Airlines Center and DART. Reed's solo victories include the Trinity River project, the 2002 DISD bond campaign and many bond campaigns for Dallas County, while Allyn's résumé boasts of successful campaigns on behalf of the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts and the Houston Metro.

One distinction between the two is that while Reed does business in other cities, her heart seems to be in Dallas, while Allyn casts a broader net, with offices in Austin, Phoenix and Mexico City. Allyn's international clients have included Mexican President Vicente Fox and Prime Minister Perry Christie of the Bahamas, as well as political parties and causes in Asia and the Middle East. Reed, on the other hand, has been extremely active in Dallas civic affairs, serving, among many other offices, as chair of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, president of the Dallas Rotary Club and on more than two dozen civic and charitable boards.

"A genuine difference between us is that while I certainly do work outside of Dallas, my community involvement keeps me focused here, while Rob actively seeks more national and international projects," Reed says.

Allyn, who sold his company in 2002 to Fleishman-Hillard, a public relations firm with offices in more than 100 countries, agrees. "We've always treated politics like a business," he says. "By definition, this approach also works for corporate clients. Our new affiliation gives us leverage and support to pursue business all over the world."

Meanwhile and for both, as long as there are elections, they plan to plan them.

"Corporate clients offer a challenge and pay the bills, but once politics is in your blood it remains your passion," Reed says. "You can go to rehab, but you're hooked forever."

It wasn't so long ago that Dallas blues had fallen on hard times. Once the signature sound of Deep Ellum, back when Blind Lemon Jefferson busked the streets and the blues poured out of every bar and brothel, by early 2004 the blues had all but disappeared from the downtown area. That changed with the February opening of Deep Ellum Blues. With a central location (painted all in blue) and an expansive seating area, the club can accommodate both intimate local shows and national touring acts. In its six months, Deep Ellum Blues has played host to such acts as George Thorogood, hometown hero Hash Brown and Austin heartthrob Guy Forsyth. But the club's real coup is owner Jim Suhler, longtime guitarist for Thorogood and nominee for Best Blues in the 2004 Dallas Observer Music Awards for Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat. He not only knows the blues; he plays them just as well.

Readers' Pick

Deep Ellum Blues

Sambuca Uptown

We smoke cigars about twice a year or so. The last time was during a fancy birthday dinner for a friend at Sambuca Uptown (which is actually between Uptown and downtown). We retired to the smoking room there, which is a glass-walled patio complete with all manner of plush seating options. It was the middle of summer, but the area was cool, the stars were bright, and the rich, hot blasting pleasure of sweet cancerous tobacco filled our lungs. Couple this with a glass of vino or a fine cocktail from Sambuca, pipe in some of the best jazz in town (you can see the stage clearly while you smoke it up), and you have a fine place in which to pump your lungs full of the good stuff.

Fossil Rim Wildlife Center

OK, the rabid sheep turned out not to be rabid, all right? Buy a bag of feed pellets and cruise through Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, where you're so close to the animals they drool on you. Or stare menacingly into your car window, occasionally tapping it with a huge beak, like the ostriches and emus. Everybody loves Fossil Rim Wildlife Center--even our friend from Nigeria, who talked on his cell phone the whole time (we didn't even know you could get a signal out here) but admitted he'd never seen any of these animals in his own country. At Fossil Rim, just south of Glen Rose--90 minutes southwest of Dallas down Highway 67--you drive in your own car through 10 miles of habitats that simulate the African savannah and other wildlife-rich regions. Along the way, you see gazelles boinging in the fields; seemingly every species of deer known to man; zebras; giraffes; cheetahs; rare black rhinos and much more. If it doesn't seem too weird to dine on animal flesh, have a delicious Black Angus burger at the cafe halfway through the safari drive and get a penny squished in the gift shop. You won't be out too many bucks, and what you do spend helps support Fossil Rim's internationally recognized breeding and wildlife preservation efforts.

White Rock Lake Dog Park

Dog park folk are a different breed. Parents who put down a bowl of cool water in a dog park don't expect their dog to be the only one privy to it. They may put it down in front of little Oliver, but they're happy for Skids, Blue and Gracie to partake. Moms and dads of canines who think enough of their pup to take her to the park are flat-out considerate, and at the White Rock Lake park, that consideration is evident as humans watch out for their own pals and everyone else's. We've seen at least seven humans bolt to help keep a dog from sneaking past the first of two gates. The dog park is a more intimate setting than regular parks where kids are on alert for strangers and parents generally cut the conversation with "Hi, is this your sippy cup?" Www.dallasdogparks.org actually has a pet bio section where owners can look up other dogs they meet and find out when they usually go, you know, so Fido can play with his buddy again. Though, it's nice if it helps the parents make human friends, too.

The Bone

Who says people aren't going to Deep Ellum? We're up here on the roof of The Bone, overlooking Main and Crowdus and Commerce and Elm and Malcolm X and downtown and Uptown and East Dallas and South Dallas and Fair Park, and the view's great and there's a band up here and the party's jumpin' and this waitress just put another beer in our hand and we are, in the words of .38 Special, rock-in in-to the night--rockinintothenight!

If this hasn't happened to you yet, it will. Happy, bubbling parents of happy, bubbling young children are mutually astounded, we think, when somewhere between ages 10 and 15, the children wake up prepubescent. They are suddenly foul-mouthed; they hate your #$%^%$ guts; they won't talk to you; they won't go anywhere with you; they never make eye contact with you. These--your precious babes for whom you've done anything and everything for a decade--are aliens. Grin and try to get through it; it probably won't last long. Keep trying to bond, or re-bond, experts say, and create opportunities for communication and fun. The best place for this, we think, is the Science Place. It has enough stuff to do and enough interesting exhibits to get your potty-mouthed pouter to almost have a good time, although he or she will never admit it. More than 200 exhibits come and go, but the cool IMAX theater and the planetarium are always on. Light shows, soundscapes, films and interactive displays focus not too blatantly on science, math and technology.

Before a restaurant or bar opens, experts descend on the place offering all manner of opinion regarding décor, furnishings and so on. To hear them tell it, this stuff means something. The wall of Billy Bass plaques at Flying Fish reinforces the harmony between all beings, for instance. The faded frescoes at Tramontana echo Donald Rumsfeld's remarks about the demise of old Europe. OK, we're guessing. It's just too easy to overstate the influence of design on behavior--although, honestly, no one wants the layout of an establishment to upset their delicate chi. Vermilion Cajun Seafood & Grill, a new spot at Knox and Central Expressway, provides a welcome respite from feng shui and other ridiculous design trends. Almost nothing adorns the walls--besides a spot of color--except behind the counter. There whoever created the interior look arranged rows of discarded circular mirrors. No higher purpose to this design, no restoration of balance, no alignment of yin and yang. Just mirrors. In rows. And we like it.

A few months ago we ran a story outlining the hypocrisy and puritan reasoning behind sex toys being illegal in Texas (you can sell them as cake toppers but not as sexual accessories). From the same department of idiocy comes the law behind purchasing nitrous gas. When you inhale nitrous (commonly found in whipped cream canisters or in balloons at concerts), you get very, very high. Or so we've heard. You can buy containers of 24 nitrous canisters for about $20. It's legal to sell them; it's legal to buy them. You can also buy extra-thick balloons (needed to transfer the extremely cold gas from the canister to your lungs without first freezing your lips) for about $1 a pop. It's legal to sell those, too; also legal to buy them. But here's where the craziness comes in: If you ask for a box of nitrous canisters and a few balloons, then the store can't sell you either because now you've demonstrated "intent to inhale." Right. As if the 24 whippet canisters were meant for a whole lot of cakes. Anyway, you've been warned, laughing boy.

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