Married people know about scheduling a night out together. With the kids, the jobs and the chores, sometimes you gotta have it on the calendar--tickets paid for, reservations made--or you'll end up at the same pizza joint again. For an easy night of culture and togetherness, subscribe to season tickets at Theatre Three. The 2004-'05 season includes A Woman of Independent Means, The Tale of the Allergist's Wife and Rounding Third. Money, marriage and baseball: What else is there? Several plays on the schedule include free pre-show appetizers provided by nearby restaurants, including East Wind (Vietnamese) and Johnny Orleans Kitchen (Cajun). Or pop into Baker Bros. or Tin Star for an early meal. Après show, hit the Dream Café for coffee and dessert. At least you'll have something to talk about besides Junior's latest report card.

Happy hour makes us just that. So happy. Often for more than an hour. It really is one of the great marketing concepts of the 20th century, right up there with the Marlboro Man and "Be All That You Can Be." It helps those of us who need to unwind with a cold adult beverage before going home to face the crushing conformity and soul-draining small talk that constitute family life in America in 2004. And we get munchies! M Grill & Tap is still our favorite combination of class and cheap happy-hour offerings. From 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, it offers half-price on its beer, frozen margaritas, well drinks and pizzas. Two words: yuh-um. For the sissies, you can get a glass of red or white at the bar or on the patio for less than 4 bucks. Mondays offer even more discounts on bottled beer. If you're reading this on a weekday and it's near quitting time, we both know where you're headed.

Readers' Pick

Blue Mesa Grill

Various locations

Play outside all you want; the mosquitoes are all yours, and good luck with that sunburn, holmes. Us, we like our play time inside--and in an upscale shopping mall, no less, near the food court (Cinnabontastic!) and not too far from the Apple Store, where they sell the 40GB iPod we're too cheap to buy but not to stare at longingly. Besides, this place is awesome: Kiddos can climb all over giant, cushiony replicas of what appears to be the world's messiest dinner table. There's the giant platter of steak and sunny-side-up eggs, a cup of hot cocoa, a giant half of an enormous grapefruit and even a bottle of overturned hot sauce, all of which the little ones run on and jump on and slide down till they're too exhausted to think of eating. The floor's bouncy for the kids just learning to walk, and parents can sit and watch from the comfy seats that line the playground like a fence; there's just one entrance, making it extremely safe. And, of course, the mall's kiddie clothing stores are all neatly gathered nearby, which makes this an expensive day out but well worth it.

Some theaters have brought the beer and liquor to the movies, but Fallout Lounge has a better idea: Bring the movies to the liquor and beer. Each Tuesday, the Expo Park bar's staff shows two to three movies, beginning at 9 p.m. with a new release such as Fahrenheit 9/11, followed by some older releases such as Rushmore, Office Space or Three Amigos. There was even a Back to the Future trilogy night. Admission is free, and drinks cost less than a rental at Blockbuster with $2 wells and domestic drafts and $3 calls and import drafts. Your whole tab could cost less than a ticket to one film at a cineplex. For a weekday night, the event has quite the regular following. So go where everyone may know your name, but they'll say it really quietly because, dude, there's a movie playing.

Step onto Ozona's patio and it's almost like stepping into your best friend's back yard--except bigger and with a few more strangers. Two fireplaces, which do a lot to add to the coziness factor, are planted in the enclosed patio decorated with plastic deck chairs, old signs and string lights. On cool nights, a seat by one of the fireplaces is a choice dining spot. While you're warming your hands by the hearth, warm your tummy with some chips and queso and a Mexican platter you design yourself. The food's good and plenty, but the atmosphere is the real star here--so good, in fact, it's easy to forget that mean Greenville is just yards away.

Readers' Pick

Ozona Grill & Bar

Best Place to Chill With the Beautiful People


After a night at Nick & Sam's--the fave steak house in town of one of our more cultured, picky foodie friends--why don't you and your dressed-up partner stop by Medici for a drink and a dance? Stylish and relatively sedate, it's the perfect after-dinner spot to sate your inner Soprano. Good-looking Italian men in impeccable dark suits, beautiful women (not girls, women) looking for a dance partner, stiff drinks, delicious items for noshing, a sophisticated gleam that makes you feel cooler than you are...what's not to like about this suave addition to Dallas' upper-class nightlife scene

You can't fault a place that inspired the Toadies' biggest hit, even though the song was so casually morbid it developed a cult following among vampire aficionados. (Seriously.) Blood sucking aside, Possum Kingdom Lake is just as potent a combination as the song it prompted, with cool, clear water perfect for swimmers and fishermen alike. (For the latter, the white bass are an especially big draw.) Plus, a handful of nature trails allow you to take in the tranquil charm of the water from a variety of vantage points. But a trip to Possum Kingdom--75 miles west of Fort Worth on Texas Highway 16--is worth it even if you don't make it to the shore. The surrounding countryside has a subtle beauty that is worth more than just a passing glance. How do we know about the scenery? Because we drove around the entire lake looking for a place to watch Game 7 of last year's Dallas Mavericks-Sacramento Kings conference semifinals match-up, eventually arriving at The Lighthouse on the Breakers, a cozy little lakeside bar and grill where the liquor was cheap and the patrons didn't mind our constant screaming. Or jumping. Or fist-pumping. Good people. Bonus: If you want to turn it into an overnight trip, the camping is extremely comfortable, and there are a couple of quality resorts nearby if you don't feel like roughing it.

Readers' Pick


The indoor/outdoor bar at Hotel ZaZa is a premier destination for guys pretending to have Dirk Diggler-sized wallets and women hoping to believe them. Doesn't mean the guys pretend to have class. Indeed, one desperate gentleman tried this out on a young woman: "You're so amazing, I'd pay to spend a night with you."

Dallas World Aquarium is a genuine tourist attraction, but not in a tacky way. It justifiably draws visitors for its re-creation of a rain forest environment and its dazzling array of aquariums, including a shark exhibit you can walk through via a glass-walled tunnel. It's more about spectacle than education, though the learning is there if you want it. The aquarium features many things you won't see anywhere else in the area, such as the "Leafy seadragons," a relative of the seahorse from southern Australia that looks like a rippling, fluttering oak leaf. There's also an outdoor penguin exhibit, a sea otter pool and salmon-pink flamingos. Kids will love the narrow, twisting fake-rock passageways that lead from one display to another--you really feel like you're in another world--and the educational function of the aquarium is never obtrusive.

Hank Vaughn

A dive, by definition, is what it is. That's not much to go on, but Louie's fits the description. From the outside, the place is singularly uninviting: a gray blotch among other nondescript buildings. Parking--good luck. Pull up alongside a curb in the iffy neighborhood or block the sidewalk across the street. Louie's permits no outside light into the place, and the lamps barely illuminate anything beyond the table. No big deal: not much to look at but hodgepodge decorations stuck haphazardly on the walls. Pitchers of iced tea sit open on the bar, absorbing all kinds of incidental flavor. The place, however, draws a solid crowd. They churn out great pizza--arguably the best (if not for Fireside Pies) in the city. Even better, the bartenders shake up an outstanding martini, surprising for a dive. The crowd ranges from neighborhood folks to upscale people dressing down for the evening. Besides, no one said a dive had to be a miserable, salmonella-inducing experience. Louie's is just a good place to hang out for a while before contemplating that dangerous walk back to the car.

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