At some point, people in this city must come to terms with pretension. It works both ways, you know. Denizens of downscale hangouts such as Duke's or Champps scorn people decked in the latest Michael Kors. Folks slurping drinks at Republic or other Uptown joints refuse to accept guys with shirts tucked in. The infamous membership list at Sense is just another way to define the audience. What makes this place a great bar is the vibe. In many bars, friends enter in pairs or groups and form separate fortresses throughout the room. At Sense, people mingle--as individuals or groups. Suburbanites chat with Uptown types, professionals with students, white with black. Even birthday gatherings with reserved seating invite strangers to join in. The list (if your name's not on the clipboard, entry can be a bit more challenging) generates that vibe: Insiders accept other patrons equally, simply because they entered the room. By setting itself up as a pretentious place, Sense created the least conceited atmosphere. Can't get on the list? 'Bout time you ditched the old tank top and khakis.

On a picturesque little corner in Bishop Arts, with a generous awning over the sidewalk and small round tables inside and out, Nodding Dog is a sophisticated hang-out for Cliffies and their dogs--a place whose every battered folding chair and aging sofa calls out for you to take a load off, sip some java and relax. The name is apt: Watch this place long enough, and you will pick up the pattern. First the dogs begin to nod off. Not too much later, their masters start to droop and snuffle in the midafternoon quiet. Where else can you do that? Fall asleep at a table on Lower Greenville and Avi Adelman will put a picture of you on his Web site! Not so Nodding Dog--the epitome of life on the cooler side of the river.

Lizard Lounge

For thumping beats and bangin' bodies, the Lizard Lounge is the still-reigning king of the Dallas dance scene. For one, some of the country's hottest DJs spin here when they come through town, and house DJs include such Zen masters as DJ Merritt, host of 102.1's legendary Edge Club, and drum 'n' bass maestro DJ Titan. For another, the place is usually packed--the young, the younger and the just barely legal show their moves (and their midriffs) on the humid dance floor. Third, Lizard Lounge is host to both "Neo Gothic Industrial Electro Crash" nights and the Porn Star Ball. Finally, a place to wear our pasties and our black nail polish.

Readers' Pick

W.W. Fairfields

147 N. Plano Road, Richardson

972-231-3844

Lakewood Landing

Of the many reasons to love the Landing--the dark wood, the great blue cheese-and-bacon burgers, the cold bottled beer, the no-nonsense bartenders and waitstaff--its jukebox is certainly one of the top three. Yes, it has plenty of cool, funky youngsters, and it has lots of old-school country, à la George Jones. It has a great sampling of rock and/or roll, it has Elvis, it has it all. But most of all it has the seemingly never-ending wails of the late, great Johnny Cash, and hearing "Ring of Fire" belt out of the Landing around midnight is one of the truest East Dallas experiences that can be had.

Readers' Pick

Cosmo's Bar and Lounge

1212 Skillman St.

214-826-4200

Stuck at that in-between age where we're old enough to have purchasing power but not old enough to want to go to Tupperware parties, we revel in Passion Parties' slightly naughty in-home presentations. The women-only party begins with the "sensual" products--romantic body lotions, massage oils, a "Bed of Roses" rose petal kit. As the evening progresses, the featured items are less bath time and more battery-powered. The hands-on approach (products are passed around for all the guests to examine) makes even novices in the world of "novelty items" feel at ease, and the product names--Chocolate Thriller, Glow Boy, Honey Dipper--always elicit a few giggles. And when we held a $140 multispeed, pearl-filled, vibrating, rotating, "top of the line" contraption, we realized that, until that moment, we didn't know what we'd been missing.

Warwick Melrose Hotel

We're purists. A martini can contain only three ingredients: gin, vermouth and a garnish. It's the quintessential sophisticate cocktail, with subtle but sublime flavors--crisp and bracing, herbal and aromatic. Made carelessly, however, a fine martini can become a slurry of gin and ice. Good martinis come from bartenders who ask questions: How dry? Rocks or up? What garnish? What gin? And (despite the 007 cliché) shaken or stirred? Weary of bad martinis served by the cavalier, we've taken to giving orders. The cocktail served us at the sophisticated but comfortable Library Bar came just as we ordered: clear as a diamond, in a pre-chilled glass, an exquisite medium-dry martini, up with a twist, stirred. It made us think of a line from Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms: "I had never tasted anything so cool and clean. They made me feel civilized."

Readers' Pick

Cool River's strawberry shortcake

1045 Hidden Ridge Road, Irving

972-871-8881

Best Place to Watch the Sun Rise/Set (and Maybe Get Mugged)

White Rock Lake

There are some good things about Dallas and North Texas, but the landscape ain't one of 'em. For the most part, the area is bereft of any aesthetically pleasing vistas. Fortunately, we have White Rock Lake to keep us from forever cursing the concrete jungle. In the morning, the sun rises (from the east, for the direction-impaired), illuminating the city skyline; in the evening, it sets behind downtown and lights up the water. Either way, you can't lose. Unless, of course, the muggings start up again, at which point you're on your own. Enjoy the view, but be wary of dirtbags lurking in the bushes.

Best Way to Feel Like You're in a Real Downtown

The Shops at Legacy

The Shops at Legacy

That's right. Plano. Straight up the Tollway, north of that dreaded Interstate 635 barrier, where they've reconstructed the convenience of an old-fashioned downtown without those "colorful" elements. You know, grime, panhandling, the frantic search for parking, the threat of sudden death or dismemberment. The Shops at Legacy offers a choice of street parking, valet parking or well-lit parking garages. Listen up, Dallas: parking. People walk--walk--to dinner (Bob's Steak and Chop House--the one with legal cigars--Jasper's, Naan or one of several other options). Afterward they grab a glass of vino at Crú or stroll over to the Angelika. If they want coffee, there's (gasp) Starbucks. Oh, and bakeries, banks, stores--even a barbershop. Didn't take them long to build the sucker, either. And they managed it all without a signature bridge.

Over the past four years, Mark Giese worked at Il Sole, Salve!, Bali Bar, Paris Vendome, Dralion, Passport, Nikita, Spike and now the bar nestled in Tom Tom's extension. Some of these stints lasted a few months. In a few cases, he parted ways after a handful of days behind the bar. Between jobs he travels around the country until exhausting his cash, then heads back to find a new setup. Yet he's quick, personable--a solid bartender, respected enough to open one-time hot spots Passport and Dralion. With several fine-dining restaurants on his multipage résumé, he knows something about food service and wine, too. Just visit him quickly at Tom Tom, before he moves on. Unless, of course, he's settled in behind a new bar between the time this piece hit the printer and the ink dried.

Part of Best of Dallas' challenge each year is finding new categories for Premiere Video: "Best Video/DVD Store" (2003); "Best Place for a Cinephile With Loose Change" (2002); "Best Too-Hip-for-Blockbuster Video Scene" (2002); then, "Best Sour Grapes" in Buzz, 2002, because they got so mad at us that year for not winning "Best Video Store." So what's best about them this time? Actually, something special takes place there every Friday and Saturday night--the global in-gathering of the East Dallas intellectual ethnic group. C'mon. East Dallas is an ethnicity. You could spot one of those types coming at you from the far end of a long corridor in Newark Airport. Sure. There's one comin' at us now--an East Dallas pop-bottle flip-flop zombie. Well, see, Premiere Video on Friday and Saturday nights is where these people meet and get their instructions!

Best Of Dallas®

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