Best Leisurely Lunch Hour 2007 | Hanging with the sloth at the Dallas World Aquarium | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer
The workday can get so hectic you just need a breather from computers and voicemails and people you spend at least 40 hours a week with. Head downtown to the Dallas World Aquarium and take a lesson from a creature who really knows how to slow down. For the price of a counter-service lunch, you can cruise on through to visit a three-toed sloth. We've gotten to know Bella, our fave, but we hear the other two, Leno and Samba, are just as slow-going and amiable. Take a lean and watch the hairy mammal hang out on its tree, moving in slo-mo. Unlike other exhibits at the aquarium, the sloth isn't caged or enclosed, but free to reach out and slowly latch onto someone's hair (a highlight from one of our visits) or grab camera straps. But most often, they just appear to sleep. They're models of how to relax.
This summertime gathering (in Grapevine, of all places) brings writers, editors, agents and journalists to one of the premier literary events in the nation. Last year, Gay Talese, arguably the greatest living magazine scribe, was keynote speaker. This year's stars included three-time Nobel Prize nominee Joyce Carol Oates and Lawrence Wright, Pulitzer winner for The Looming Tower. In its third year, the conference is being hailed as the best of its kind for writers of literary nonfiction. The schedule for the three-day event typically includes workshops on freelance magazine writing, finding narratives in true tales and how to reconstruct dialogue and scenes in sports stories (taught this year by Sports Illustrated's Bill Nack). Agents, authors and would-be authors are spreading the good word about this confab. If you're a writer, it's the place to be if you want to be read.
A music venue is more than four walls and a sound system (even if, as in the case of the House of Blues, it's a mind-blowingly stellar sound system). Three years ago, CD World owner Mike Schoder—he of the perfectly casual blond coif and the laidback surfer's grin—bought the storied Granada Theater, which over the years housed everything from Cowboys watching parties to screenings of The Godfather, and it has evolved into the spot for those who eschew corporate-owned venues, for those who would rather attend the Baboon CD release party than a Justin Timberlake show and those who would rather hear Animal Collective than Creed. Schoder's decision to hire local scenester Kris Youmans as a booking agent has improved the caliber of shows dramatically; even with the Charles Attals of the world pushing the majority of artists toward the House of Blues and Palladium, the Granada's blend of indie groups, giant-name artists and local luminaries—everyone from Devendra Banhart to Lucinda Williams to Ghosthustler—has something for anyone who has an ounce of taste. Oh, and don't worry, they still have the Cowboys watching parties.
We hate to say it. It's almost a cliché. We know that there were so many brilliant contenders for this category, it's almost a shame to decide on the Spree. But damn that Tim DeLaughter, he just keeps coming at us with such transcendent stuff that ultimately we must admit This Fragile Army wins as best local release. This, the Spree's third disc, finds the army of love ditching the robes and donning gray uniforms, reflecting the slightly darker, though still ultimately optimistic, fare of the band. You'll still find the usual Polyphonic outpouring of music, a joyous chorus of horns and harps and layered, ecstatic vocals, but what makes this the best CD of the year is the subtle smarts behind it. The Spree would have looked stupid blithely barreling along with its Zoloft-coated message; by admitting the world is currently screwed, DeLaughter et al. maintain their credibility, all with songs of gorgeous, sweeping scope.
So many to choose from...and that's the problem. WeShotJR, BigDlittled, Boca Tinta, the Fine Line—and these are just the best-known tip of the iceberg—are all fine and dandy, and we appreciate each for its particular personality. Each gets the straight-up skinny, albeit with a few snags here and there (the fallout from the Great Matthew and the Arrogant Sea Debacle at weshotjr is just now subsiding), but here's the thing: The pissiness turns us off. Sometimes it's the bloggers themselves, other times it's the commenters, but there are always unintelligent, needle-sharp barbs and/or general stupidity plaguing these and other URLs about town. Thus, we choose an unexpected winner—'s music section. This sucker has every single thing you need to know about the music world of DFW. Bands divided by genre or venue played; venues divided by genre or neighborhood; every single freakin' gig going on within LBJ and beyond, regardless of how significant or not, all there with an easy-to-use interface and lack of attitude. Now that's news we can use.
Used to, we immediately hooked up the iPod for the drive home. That was before Lone Star 92.5 came around, putting Redbeard back in our ears right where he should be. At afternoon drive time, 'Beard often nestles a little nugget of the past in with his mix of outlaw country and bluesy rock in the form of what we like to call a flashback interview. Before launching into an iconic single, he'll play a snippet of some dialogue he shared years, sometimes decades, ago with musical legends. We were surprisingly enthralled by ZZ Top and then honestly teary, thanks to some time with George Harrison circa Traveling Wilburys days. Then there've been Clapton, Petty, Stevie Ray and more. It's something you don't hear much from newer DJs these days—the desire to educate audiences on where the good stuff came from and how legendary songs came about. Just like the best teachers, Redbeard makes history come to life...or back to life, every once in a while.
Opera's loss is musical theater's gain with this super-talented 32-year-old thesp. The Oak Cliff native and Arts Magnet High School grad headed off to the Eastman School of Music hoping one day to sing Othello at The Met. "But opera was too restrictive for me," says Cedric Neal, now one of Dallas theater's busiest singer-dancer-actors. He most recently starred in Uptown Players' hit tick, tick...BOOM! (by the composer of Rent) and in WaterTower Theatre's Brief History of White Music. Since making his local debut in Uptown's The Life in 2003, Neal hasn't stopped working. And when he's not singing his heart out, he's in church. Oak Cliff's Inspiring Body of Christ Church, to be precise. This spirited actor says he has three dream roles in his musical future: Tony in West Side Story, Fiyero in Wicked and one of the puppets in Avenue Q. Glad this guy likes to sing for his supper.
Beauty pageant pretty Cara Serber, 33, played against type last season by faking a space between her perfect teeth, putting on a gee-haw accent and yukking it up as one of the trashy leads in WaterTower Theatre's Great American Trailer Park Musical (a role she's currently reprising at the Addison playhouse through October 21). The tall blonde then vamped it up as the big-boobed Sharon Tate role in Uptown's adaptation of the pill-popping kitsch musical Valley of the Dolls. Singing Sondheim for Into the Woods or shaking her tail feathers as one of the down-home tarts in Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Serber is hot stuff with both the music and the comedy. Offstage she's a North Dallas wife and mother of a Serber baby. Some of her neighbors, she says, never even knew she played the title role of a cheerleader-turned-porn-star in Kitchen Dog's production of the musical spoof Debbie Does Dallas. That's the life of an actress: Here today, whore tomorrow.
For some reason, the city of Allen has this weird idea that suburban people like trees, rivers, parks and walking trails. Rather than letting developers tear down any tree in their path in the name of one more knockoff subdivision with no personality or soul, the city of Allen has carved out large chunks of natural Texas land and reserved it for parks and trails. This trail is hard to find, but it's worth it. It's just off Alma and Rollins, down a paved bike path. Head in the direction of the trees, and not the overpass, and you'll find it. Once you do, there's no mistaking where you are. You're in the middle of a true Texas forest. The Trail at the Woods is nicely marked, and the actual trail is level and well-maintained. There are 10 trails in all, some of which overlook the Trinity River. Along the trails there are also little stands with information on the types of trees and wildlife that live in the forest. Look around, you might see a squirrel, a cardinal or maybe even a deer. There's no better place in the metroplex to forget that you live in a suburban wasteland.
Some playwrights want to be the next Chekhov or Albee. Matt Lyle, 29, just wants to be the guy who writes the plays that make you laugh out loud. He's been doing that for the past few years in his role as resident playwright and founding artistic director of tiny Bootstraps Comedy Theater. With actress-wife Kim as his muse, Lyle experiments with styles and subjects in his writing. Sunny & Eddie Sitting in a Tree, which premiered at the Festival of Independent Theatres in 2006, was a Woody Allen-style farce about neurotics who meet in their therapist's office. Then, inspired by the early films of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, he pounded out The Boxer, an homage to the precisely choreographed physical comedy bits of the great silents. An audience fave at this year's FIT, the dialogue-free play starred Kim as a Chaplinesque heroine in baggy pants. In 40 minutes of wordless storytelling, The Boxer turned snickers into guffaws into knee-pounding belly laughs and left audiences ga-ga with admiration for Lyle's talent as a writer of a comedy that felt both classic and fresh. A day job at Dallas Children's Theater keeps Lyle's rent paid. And maybe it also keeps the kid in him from growing up and getting serious too soon.

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