Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
What's a bar without a TV tuned to this season's local sporting events, a bleating, mooing installation of Big Buck Hunter and overpowering neon lights advertising watered-down domestic light beers? Why, it's a bar with a little European sensibility, of course. The Amsterdam Bar says it right there in the name, but in case there was any doubt, the place carries Maredsous, Kronenberg and Hoegaarden on tap for the finicky import drinker. Oh, and that backyard bier garden helps the bar's trans-Atlantic image, along with the whimsical variety of colorful glass lamps strewn about the ceiling. The bar's sole distraction is its jukebox, packed with classics and indie hits, which is really all you need to strike up a conversation with the next table—just like those crazy Euros do. The Amsterdam Bar is an ideal old-world escape in a city that prizes modern schwag and slick, plastic American packaging. Cheers. Or slainte. Or prosit.
Go figure. The only place we could find those nifty vintage rock-and-roll tees for our kid was at Haute Apple Pie on the square in downtown McKinney, which has gone through quite the transformation since the days when the coolest thing up there was a record store that sold us Get the Knack in 1981. Until recently the world's largest antique shop, downtown McKinney is what the West Village wants to be and what Deep Ellum ought to be—a smorgasbord of hip retailers (Bath Junkie, Alternative Furnishings, Mom and POPcorn Company) and cool clothing stores and some of the finest dining in North Texas. Within a couple of blocks are four of our favorite places to hang in the 972: Rick's Chophouse and Wine Bar, which boasts a plush library bar bigger and badder than any we've ever seen; Café Malaga, a superior tapas joint; La Misha, a coffee house Dallas would die for; and Spoons Café, a low-key eatery that feels like home...if you're from Austin. Add to that an amazing rare-book store (The Book Gallery, to which people come from all around for great prices on amazing finds), a new boutique inn that used to be a historic hotel (the Grand Hotel, actually, with a dazzling formal ballroom all ready for your special occasions) and two wineries (Landon Winery and Lone Star Wine Cellars) at which we've been known to tipple till we wobble, and you've got the making of a special weekend every weekend.
Why is it that no matter what happens to the Cowboys, everyone is still hung up on the team's ex-coach, the legendary Bill Parcells? Neither Cowboys fans nor players ever warmed up to the aging, dyed-blond grump, who did a perfectly average job in his four-year stint here. He improved the team some, though he never broke their epic playoff-win drought. Despite a rather forgettable record, Parcells haunts Valley Ranch like a ghost at a shuttered mental hospital. He's brought up, of course, by the media, who loved the perceived rivalry between Parcells and Jerry Jones, and the players, who either looked upon him as a father or as tyrant. But even Jones himself and Wade Phillips still talk about Parcells. We're not quite sure why the Cowboys can't quit Parcells, but not since Heath and Jake has a bunch of Cowboys shown this kind of passion.
This is Dallas, and we're a material bunch. Frankly, with the right attitude, there's no shame in that. Take for instance the need for a little air-conditioned walking space. NorthPark Center is the finest of the mall walks. Covered parking is nearly always available, and thanks to recent mall additions, walkers get a perfect lap. Natural light beams in through periodic skylights, beautiful wearables and trinkets abound for extensive eyeballing (no wallet required for that), people-watching is prime and with the addition of a brilliantly varied food court, strollers can replenish with Snappy Salads, Hibachi-San, The Original Soup Man and others. Take in a movie and head back out for another 2.72-mile circuit (maps of various routes available at northparkcenter.com).
Call us lame, but we've gotten to the point where we sometimes enjoy a Good Records in-store a lot more than a club show. No smoke, no late nights, no cover charge, no drive to Denton, no drunken sound guys with a bass fetish. It's all of the fun without the majority of the hassles. And guess what? When you watch a show with a bunch of record nerds and bloggers, people actually seem to listen, which is really what it's all about. So grab a six-pack and stop in the next time there's a band playing. They'll probably be good. And if they're not, just remember, it was free and there's always the parking lot.
Soon the formerly conservative Rod Dreher will find himself to the left of our very own Jim Schutze. Dreher's leftward lurch began when he came out of the closet as an environmentalist. Then he penned a column admitting that his support for the invasion of Iraq was a total mistake. He would later announce his opposition to capital punishment. Finally, he wrote that he has problems with, well, capitalism and big business. At this rate, in a year or so, Dreher will write in favor of unionizing welfare recipients. For sure, there have been times when Dreher's evolution (our word) has been hard to watch, like seeing a college freshman change his stripes midway through his first political science class. But Dreher's honesty and insight always manage to shine through the awkwardness of his revelations. Here's the sound of our left hand clapping.
Public Trust owner/director Brian Gibb moved from Denton to a space on Commerce Street in 2006 and people crammed the joint, spilling out of the door and onto the asphalt. The Public Trust makes art a party and everyone's invited. Over the course of the last year, and through a transition from Art Prostitute into the Public Trust, the gallery has showcased impressively diverse exhibitions featuring local and national artists. We've seen skateboard art, simple drawings, tiny art, giant art, group shows, mad paintings, stuffed objects, photographs and more. And we're willing to bet those gallery peeps had fun through every show, which is part of what makes TPT a place you truly want to be. Their receptions are as friendly as house parties, often with crazy-good DJs and a little hooch to boot. The price of the work is friendly to the budget-minded and the well-heeled, just like the gallery itself.
We want it all from our bar. We like a bar with a nice blend of drunks and fashionable folk so we can have something to laugh at and ogle while we take in our Boddingtons (which they have on tap, thanks) or Stella or vodka whatevers. We love a comfortable bar stool. We love the option of ordering really, really good food (Guinness steak sandwich with fries, please) to soak up our drink. We appreciate the presence of DJ Mr. Rid's Scaraoke every Thursday night for a good bit of self-humiliation if the mood strikes us. We like a mix of regular faces and a steady stream of first-timers. And we adore the opportunity to return hung-over the next morning for an outta-sight weekend brunch (gingerbread pancakes or eggs Florentine with a damn fine Bloody Mary) to a place that looks like it survived the night before much better than we did.
We are so gonna regret this. Look, just keep this little secret between us, OK? There's this great little bar on Maple Avenue that's not called The Grapevine, which we love, but apparently so does everyone else. Sometimes you just need a drink, a friendly face and a quiet, cozy place to sit and ponder your beer bubbles. That's why we love The Windmill. Owned and operated by a friendly New Yorker who introduces himself simply as Charlie, this joint is sort of little place that drives home the difference between a bar and a nightclub. Beneath the neon windmill on the roof is a secret treasure chamber, dark enough to let you sit in peace and contemplate your day, yet lighted enough to allow you to look your drinking companion in the eye. It's also one of the few places we've been to where you can actually walk up to the bar without looking like Marion Barber cutting up the middle. The Windmill even has a "cell phone booth," a former pay phone booth (look it up, kids) to give you privacy while making a call. Don't be ringing up a bunch of frat boys to come out for the night, though. We want to keep this "best" place the best.
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.