The Old Monk
At the Old Monk you can select from 14 beers on draft and nearly 50 bottled beers, including Belgian varieties so strong they could intoxicate Nate Newton. Of course, it's not just the selection of fine brew that makes the Old Monk a Dallas institution; it's the cozy feel of the place, highlighted by dark wood floors, elegant antiques and round, polished tables that look like they came from your grandparents' house, which in our case render us a little nostalgic. While the place is always full, the bartenders have a knack for handling your drink requests quickly and perfectly, giving patrons the best of both worlds: a fun, lively atmosphere and top-shelf service.
Anyone who thinks horse racing is a dying sport ought to head out to Lone Star Park. Despite record rainfall this year, the park enjoyed one of its best years in attendance in the decade since it opened. Surprisingly, at least to anyone who has been to a horse track on the East Coast, Lone Star has a great family atmosphere. But that's not what keeps the place afloat. Like any other track, gamblers are its lifeblood, and there's a reason they keep coming back: Horse racing is as good a bet as any to turn a profit. Regulars will tell you about the fella who turned a 20-cent superfecta bet into $32,000. To the uninitiated, that may sound confusing, but there's plenty of information available at the park to help beginners (starting with the first pages of the daily race program). Once you get started, there's no stopping. You'll be digging every last dime out of your pocket in the hopes that this superfecta or exacta or quinella will be the big one. And if not, there's always the next race.
There's no shame in diggin' on a little Starland Vocal Band or some Supertramp. Don't feel bad if you truly love Judy Collins. There's a place for you where people understand. That place is in Mesquite and it's a radio station with high school kids for DJs who probably have no idea whom they're playing. We'll give them the benefit of the doubt because they crank out the '70s Top 40 as if wool dickeys and macramé owls were back in style. With Robert Bass in the music director's chair, the station offers all the best from the age of super-sappy love songs. Jim Croce and Ambrosia never had it so good, even back before they had songs on albums that weren't Time/Life collections.
On September 13, former Dallas Morning News TV critic Ed Bark posted to his Web site, which he calls a blog, a handful of wonderful photos of Mark Cuban sweating his ass off and making his "O" face whilst rehearsing for ABC's Dancing With the Stars. Man looked like he was going to have a heart attack; we're not sure he'd make it through a single episode of Crawling With the Stars. Ed got the snaps and the interviews with the Mavs owner because Ed's got clout and chops from two-plus decades at Dallas' Only Daily, where he accrued the rep as "the dean of American TV critics," as Kansas City Star's Aaron Barnhart wrote of Bark when he took Belo's buyout one year ago. We'll admit we're not as enamored of Uncle Barky's obsession with local TV news ratings as we should be, but Ed's coverage of local TV news goings on has been invaluable: He's the one who kept us informed of the doings at KTVT-Channel 11 during the Regent Ducas era; he watched Anchorwoman when no one else wanted to; and he still goes to Los Angeles on his own dime to cover the fall and spring season previews, since The Dallas Morning News is still too cheap and short-sighted to employ a freaking TV critic. He's providing content about content. At least Ed's still bringing something to the table, which is more than most of us can say in the crowded but somehow always lonely blogosphere.
Sam Merten's coverage of Dallas City Council meetings on DallasBlog is a must-read for political junkies, capturing the drama, intrigue and the contentiousness that the daily paper often overlooks. We were particularly impressed with his dispatch on the debate over allowing Trammell Crow to raze a safe, modest apartment complex for a strip mall. Add Merten's no-fuss journalism to his well-sourced reporting on the Trinity River debate and you have all the evidence you need that local blogging doesn't have to be all about opinion, conjecture and frivolity. Instead, it can give you a bigger bite of what's going on in your fair city than the big-dog news outlets.
The Goat
Even though it's not as part and parcel of Dixie as, say, Mobile, Alabama, Dallas is still a pretty Southern town. It is, as well, a music town, though you'd never know it judging from the dearth of national coverage. And, let's not forget the bloodline of blues legacy that runs through Deep Ellum—with all the Blind Lemon Jefferson and Robert Johnson lore that takes place in that locale, you'd think Main and Hall was the site of a certain legendary crossroads. Odd, then, that Dallas doesn't boast many blues clubs, though we do have our fair share of white boys trying their hands at it, precious few of whom have actually achieved transcendence in the genre (thanks, Vaughn brothers, for keeping real). Still, we've got what no other city has: The Goat. The place kicks it no frills gen-u-ine, with dog-eared tables and karaoke that most folks dig without a trace of irony. This is a place where hipsters and regular ol' people mingle with ease, any differences they might have smoothed out by music and booze—and isn't that what the blues are all about?
Hoots
Ah, the intoxicating scent of a true honky-tonk: smoky, boot-scuffed wood infused with years of spilled Bud Light and a hearty pinch of tobacco. Big-name places such as Billy Bob's and Cowboys purport to provide visitors with a high-quality honky-tonk experience, and they do a fine job, but they just don't have that sweet honky-tonk smell. Not, at least, the way Hoots does. The skating-rink-sized dance hall is situated way out in Rendon, so fancified big-city line dancers might scoff at making the drive, but any true boot-scooter knows there's some real getting down to be done in the boonies. Holler your favorite tune at the band, and chances are the boys (and girl!) can pull it off. In fact, do a turn or two to some Hank Jr., just for us. 'Preciate it.
There may be better places to see a show in North Texas, but for communal atmosphere, it's hard to beat Secret Headquarters, the DIY, blink-and-you'd-miss-it lair of musicians, artists and eccentrics just off the Denton square. Located in the old Art Prostitute space, SHQ is the definition of laid back, with no real stage (unless you count a rug and some lamps in the corner) and only one unisex bathroom. And with no pool tables or flat-screen TVs, you only have two options: watch the bands—could be country bands, could be noise bands, could be punk bands, could be singer-songwriters, could be all of the above—or sit in the alley and drink. It's that simple. And it's that beautiful.
Lee Harvey's
Where else in Dallas can you stand around a campfire—or lounge on a nearby hammock, for that matter—while listening to live music with a bottle in your hand? Standing in the wide, rustic yard in the dark, it's easy to pretend you're in the Texas Hill Country or even back at summer camp, except instead of roasting marshmallows you're nursing a beer. And the best part? The thing about campfires is that somehow they make it nearly impossible to be uptight, cocky or generally idiotic, the result being a mellow crowd just out for a good time under the stars.
So what if most of the swimmers at the UP pool have their own swimming pools back at the mansion. This isn't about practicing the dog paddle. It's about navigating certain social circles. Splashing among the skinny MILFs and young nannies, you'll find the scions of some of the wealthiest families in the Park Cities. OK, they're still in swim diapers and water wings, but someday they'll inherit everything they have no idea right now that they're entitled to. Hang out by the snack bar or shaded baby pool to hear waves of good gossip about who's who (and who's leaving who). On summer nights they have free "dive-in movies" featuring screenings of family comedies while you float. The catch is, to get wet here, you have to have a UP address on your ID or be the guest of someone who does. They wouldn't want the hoi polloi polluting the waters, dontcha know.

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