Nestled in a low-profile strip center near Maple Avenue, this modest cabaret fairly bursts with the hottest local talent. Fancy-schmancy it isn't, but cozy and comfy it is, and the friendly staff and patrons make everyone feel wanted and welcome. Although smoking is permitted, a state-of-the-art ventilation system keeps the air breathable for non-smokers, and the music is never too loud to inhibit conversation. Oh yeah, the music. Night after night, Phases has Dallas' most outstanding cabaret performers singing and playing their hearts out. Performer lineups and time schedules are somewhat flexible, so give a call or visit the Web site (phasesbar.com) for the current information. Open seven days a week, there are regular drink specials and even a complimentary Happy Hour buffet Fridays at 5 p.m. But it's the sublime music that will keep you coming back. Oh, had too much to drink or just feeling peckish? Walk a few doors down and carry out a pizza from Domino's. Gotta love it.
It's 2006. Everybody, their mom, their mom's mechanic and their dog have a blog. We've already heard all the hype about the democratization of information. The citizen reporter. What does it all mean? That some dude in Topeka can write an entry every day about advancements in drill technology? That some anonymous jerk in Fargo can opine about bands that, like, totally suck? What a wonderful Internet we have. Ugh. That's why when a truly remarkable Web site comes along, it's worth lauding. And we've got one right here in town. We're talking about the Fine Line, a comprehensive DFW music site run by the most famous music fan in town, Cindy Chaffin, and her partner in crime Amanda Newman. They update the Fine Line blog every single day with posts about what happened last night, what's going on tonight and who took pictures of it. Newman sponsors a weekly music showcase in Deep Ellum, and Chaffin is constantly posting audio and video footage of the shows she attends. Best of all? There's no freaking whining. If it sucks, Newman and Chaffin don't write about it, giving all their space to local music--of any genre--worth listening to.
The Youth Division around here would probably say this honor goes to Bar Belmont or the Lakewood Landing; kids, they like it hip and/or nasty and swear there's little difference anyway. But we're gonna have to agree with Esquire on this: In May, the magazine wrote of the Inwood Lounge that it "smells like gin, smoke, and warmed-up celluloid" and that its "key-shaped bar is the most inviting in the city." At the time, we were skeptical of the magazine's choice of so obvious a destination; surely, we figured, some place such as the Double Wide, the Old Monk, the Ginger Man, the Slip Inn, the Grapevine or Lee Harvey's would do Dallas a little better than the old stand-by that's been given a recent rehab by owners Mark C. and Todd W. So we went to every one of those joints in the interim, and more, and came away realizing, yeah, we took for granted our old home-away-from-home and need to visit the place more often. The martinis are as good as they've ever been, and trends be damned, it's still the coziest joint in town in which to sink into a sofa or melt into the water wall upon which we've tried to lean a few too many times.
What are we smoking, you ask? Uh...we'll take the Fifth on that one, but stay with us on this bridge thing. There's reason in our madness. See, we figure that regardless of what Dallas voters want or need, the city council will always have some large, pointless, high-dollar bauble on its priority list. They're like parakeets: They need something shiny in their cage to keep their brains occupied, some little bit of inanity to help them deal with the tedium of running City Hall. Besides, small-time politicos love building big monuments to themselves, and a fancy-schmancy suspension bridge over the Trinity Ditch...er, River...is much, much sexier than the more mundane stuff the city might actually need, such as parks, firehouses or a few hundred miles of repaved streets. Sure, the bridges seem kinda gaudy and a bit absurd--Is anyone really going to swap a vacation in San Francisco to come see our bridge over the mighty Trinity instead?--but as bad big ideas ago, the Calatrava Bridges are relatively harmless. So, let the council distract themselves with trying to scrounge enough money to turn the Trinity into the Seine. That'll never happen, but in the meantime, any minute spent on the bridges is a minute the council won't spend doing something worse.
Ghostbar (Inside the W Hotel)
Actually, this category was going to be called "Best Line in Which to Wait While Staring at Douchebags You Can't Believe You Want to Pay 20 Bucks to Hang Out With But Can't Think of Anything Better to Do Than Wait in Line With Douchebags." But it was just too long. Our editor made us change it to something more simplified, streamlined, dignified. When Ghostbar opened, we thought it would be the hippest hang in the city--what with that see-through platform, that glossy view of the city, the W brand name tattooed on its well-toned ass. We were wrong, though it is a good place to see stars from Prison Break, which isn't even the best show on Fox. Really, last time we were there--which was the first time we were there--Ghostbar was populated by people we've spent our whole lives trying to avoid (becoming). They don't dress like that during daylight hours, do they?
We asked your opinions on this one, and except for the usual load of ballot stuffers--you know who you are--we received any number of different answers. A couple of people suggested some version of "Best Fight Against Corporate America" for local coffeehouse Standard & Pours' trademark battle against financial services giant Standard & Poor's. (See our best coffeehouse entry). Oddly, their suggestions were all worded exactly alike. Oh, well, we like you anyway, S&P Coffee. There were a few shouts-out to local businesses, a few things we might include next year. (Best Open Mike Night--why didn't we think of that?) But our favorite choice in this category received exactly one vote from a reader. We think you'll agree it's a good one: "Best overall place to hang out when you get back home from being active duty: every single place I just listed." Well, you certainly sound glad to be back, and we know we're glad to have you back. Maybe we'll include that category next year in hope that it gets tons of votes from every single Dallas service man and woman now in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A certain testosterone-influenced contingent at the Observer would give Angela Hunt the nod for this award, and while she's a good council representative, our heart--as opposed to other body parts--belongs to Mitchell. Why? He's rich, so he's beholden to no one; his business is development, so he actually knows something about how the city works, or doesn't work; he treats tax dollars like they belong to the people who pay them; but best of all, he's so damn cranky. Watching Rasansky's face at council meetings as city staffers give convoluted non-answers to questions he poses is a delight. He looks like he's about that close to jumping up and giving someone a good shake. The man appears to live in a continual state of pissed-offness, an entirely reasonable reaction by any sane person sitting on either side of the council table. Besides, with Laura Miller heading off to enjoy the delights of motherhood next year (yeah, right), Rasansky is destined to become the one in a series of 14-1 council votes, and here at the Observer our motto is, "If 14 council members agree with a decision, it must be wrong." That makes Rasansky right more often than not.
Two words: spray park. One more word: free. Really, of all the city-owned-and-operated rec centers, this is probably the nicest joint in the inventory, with a kinda-sorta-not-really sprawling water park for the kiddies, unusually refreshing summertime breezes for the folks and a DART train running nearby to entertain the whole family when it gets a little too waterlogged. And there's the usual playground, which only serves to further wear out the tykes just when you want the break; on-the-way-home naps ain't out of the ordinary after we visit.
Do you believe that a space can be aesthetically pleasing and still serve a purpose? Do you believe that good design can be achieved on a limited budget? Architectural designer Keith Petersen does, and damn, are we glad to hear it from someone local and not on HGTV. Petersen has taken the plunge and gone into business for himself. His first major solo project is the interior design and finish-out of the new Gachet Coffee Lounge at Victory Plaza (due to open in December). He's keeping with the modern development but taking pains to avoid a dystopian cold feel. "It's a space thought out for living," he says of the lounge, which will include a small bookstore. "You're supposed to enjoy what you do there." Finally, a designer who understands that people actually live in what he designs. Petersen notes that he takes inspiration from Christopher Alexander, Jane Jacobs and Tadao Ando and aims to use common design elements and materials in an unusual way. Could it behe's(gasp)creative and cost-conscious?
Hawaiian Falls Adventure Park
You're saying to yourself, "Various locations? How's that possible since I haven't even heard of the place?" Well, really, there are three of these water parks scattered throughout the area: in The Colony, Garland and near Executive Airport (known to the rest of us as Red Bird Airport). So there. Guess you don't have kids; shame. Then you would never know the joy of this luxurious H2O retreat that's about as decadent as you can get whilst still being ever-so-close to the Almighty. See, this place is full of the holy water; says so on the Web site, which says that HF's "relationship with God is our most important priority. Every part of our business is considered through this prism. Our goal is to draw closer to the Lord and to serve Him." Amazingly, that's the same mission of every Dallas Observer staffer; maybe that's why we love the Falls so, where workers are called "ambassadors" and serving hot dogs is the same as serving God. Whatever. The kids like it, and it does answer the age-old question: Where would Jesus take the kids to swim? We dare you: Have a bar mitzvah party there. C'mon. It'll be fun.

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