Sometimes we don't want to go where everybody knows our name. Sometimes, we need to lay low after a nasty fight with the sig other or escape the bona fide parking nightmares that are Dallas' various entertainment districts. Those times, Lota's Goat is just what the functional alcoholic ordered. If it's a warm side-hug, a cold brew and a sympathetic ear you need, someone at Lota's Goat will be happy to oblige—whether you've met before or not. The neon-lit, wood-paneled bar pulls off one heck of a double-wide trailer impression and features a parade of comfortingly nutty regulars, from the bleached blond lady who always sings "Black Velvet" on karaoke night to the steady string of weathered local musicians. New patrons who favor total anonymity best be careful, though, because the bar's friendly East Dallas attitude could turn most anyone into a nightly fixture.
As technology expands, so do our entertainment options. But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Radio has made a resurgence as a niche entertainment source. North Texas is home to the sixth-largest GLBT (gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender) community in the country, and Dallas now boasts its first and only station representing the gay community. Don't bother trying to tune it in on your radio dial; the station can be heard only online or on HD radio. The channel's options include 24/7 streaming music, music on demand, news, gossip, videos and all things pop culture and entertainment-related. Special programs include New York-based "Ryan and Caroline" (called radio's "Will & Grace"), who feature listener stories, movie reviews, travel, style and health spots, and dish about the latest dirt with celebrity blogger Perez Hilton. Dallas favorite Jen Austin is the local source. There's even a Hunk of the Day and Babe of the Day. Pride Radio is on loud and proud.
Hidden Door
There's nothing particularly subtle about the Hidden Door, starting with its name and continuing the moment you walk inside to a room of aging gay men kissing and joking like long-lost soul mates. The Hidden Bar is a gay bar in both senses of the word: On a Sunday afternoon when an overflow crowd spills out into the patio, it may be the happiest place in Dallas. This is not your trendy gay bar; no SMU girls just looking to dance, no young, trim gay men looking to impress. It's just a loud, chatty crowd of regulars, like the kind you might find in a working-class bar in Staten Island, only with a whole bunch of gay men, some of whom are inexplicably shirtless. In its own way, the Hidden Door attracts a mixed crowd, from straight-looking office worker types to middle-aged men who make Elton John look like Steve McQueen. Best of all, the Oak Lawn Avenue joint can boast some of the best bartenders in town, who remember the familiar faces and warm up to the new ones.
Tucked away on an unassuming stretch of Maple Avenue (at Throckmorton Street) perches a nightclub that, while modest of appearance, has heaps of heart. Although the club prides itself on diversity and inclusion, it's mainly a welcome watering hole for gay boys, gay gals and their friends and fans. Everyone is welcome to kick up their heels, have a laugh or sing a song. Twice-a-week karaoke is one of the most popular attractions at Illusions. Activities abound nightly from potent potable price-breaks and pool tournaments, to pageants and potluck dinners. But the cornerstone of this quaint cabaret is the wonderfully wacky weekly drag show featuring some of Dallas' most outrageous she-males. Special charity fund-raising events provide a frequent opportunity for the club to give back to the community. Illusions is a warm little shoebox of a bar with an accommodating staff who love their customers and pride themselves on a friendly atmosphere with fun times for all.
Dallas' annual Black Tie Dinner is not only one of the most successful sit-down charity dinners in America, it is the largest event of its kind. Established in 1982, the nation's leading gay and lesbian fund-raising dinner has grown from a modest first event, which had 140 guests and raised $6,000, to more than 3,000 guests and a record haul of $1.35 million at last year's 25th annual gala. Black Tie Dinner Inc. is a nonprofit organization that raises funds for the Human Rights Campaign Foundation as well as gay and lesbian organizations serving North Texas. This elegant evening is one of the highlights of the Dallas gay social calendar and features nationally known guest speakers, entertainers and celebrities. Past luminaries have included Maya Angelou, Stockard Channing, Lily Tomlin and Megan Mullally. In 2005 Sharon Stone led the luxury auction to record high bids. The 2007 gala will be held November 17 at the Adam's Mark Hotel. Check the Web site for ticket info. The guest speaker this year is slated to be actor, social activist and humanitarian Martin Sheen.
The popular summer TV show may be called America's Got Talent, but an argument could be made that Dallas Has Got Talent too. And it's onstage at the annual Voice of Pride competition, now in its fourth year. Open to members of the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community over age 21, the American Idol-style singing contest starts in late spring with a series of preliminary, elimination and semi-final rounds held at various gay clubs around the city. The 12 finalists perform in a special finale competition, and the winner pockets $3,000 in cash as well as invitations to appear at various community events throughout the year. Voting for Voice of Pride, after the preliminary rounds, is done by teams of qualified music professionals, making it a true singing competition and less of a popularity contest. And there won't be snarky comments from any Simon Cowell-ian judges: The atmosphere at this contest is decidedly upbeat and supportive. The 2007 winner, Randall Garland, was chosen August 5. Info on upcoming events and on entering the 2008 competition can be found by visiting the Dallas Tavern Guild Web site.
Granted, Texas has some beautiful scenery, but sometimes we just want to see some honest-to-goodness forest and mountains. And so we head to southeastern Oklahoma, to the edge of the Ouachita National Forest. The terrain is beautiful, with mountain lakes and rivers and thousands of conifers (though you may need a four-wheel-drive in some areas). For camping, head to Beavers Bend State Park (about 3.5 hours from Dallas) or for a less rustic romantic or family outing, pick any of the log cabins and cottages for rent along Highway 259.
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The Dallas Theater Center will move out of the cantilevered layer-cake building on Turtle Creek when the new Wyly arts complex downtown is finished in 2009. But we're wondering if the ghost of the building's legendary architect will make the move too. Since the theater opened nearly 48 years ago, it's been part of its colorful lore that the ghost of architect Frank Lloyd Wright haunts the scene shop's elevator. Seems Wright designed DTC with no right angles (making those steps to the restrooms from the lobby particularly treacherous) and no way to lift large set pieces from the basement to the stage. Wright died in April 1959; the theater opened in December of that year. In the months between, they put in the elevator, thus enraging the spirit, so the story goes, of Wright. Late-night scene shop workers have reported sightings of the levitating head in the elevator for decades. Now that's a show.
The wonderful thing about Halloween on Swiss Avenue is that it's sort of not Halloween. On Swiss the night has evolved into something quite beyond Halloween, a phenomenon particular to the place and time. It's a strange admixture of American Halloween, Mexican Day of the Dead and who knows what else. There could be some Latvian Independence Day going on out there, and nobody would be the wiser. Or mind. Starting at dark and lasting until 10 p.m. or so, the big houses on Swiss always offer a wonderfully warm welcome for all comers. Pickup-loads of kids, some in costumes, some wearing quinceañera gowns (mostly girls), pile across the lawns in search of loot. It's a whole new kind of holiday in protean form. Not to be missed.
The Grapevine
With $2 drinks and all-night happy hour on Tuesday, the gay (in all senses of the word) bar at the Grapevine is a great place to get drunk after work, in part because nobody in there looks like they ever work. We're not sure what exactly the patrons at the Grapevine do for a living, but on any given night, the jean-clad, buzzed-by-4 crowd puts on the most raucous bar scene in Dallas, with nary a sorority girl or corporate stooge in sight. As soon as you walk into the Oak Lawn area bar, you'll hit the place's unique wall of sound—a seamless mix of excited chatter, drunken laughter and easy pickup lines. Nobody talks about spreadsheets, memos, depositions or anything work-related, preferring instead to bask in the glow of beer, cigarettes and good friends, exactly like a punk and gay version of Cheers, which, come to think of it, could be a very cool show.

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