Best of Dallas®

Best Of 2007

Neighborhoods

  • + Abilene
  • + Addison
  • + Allen/ McKinney
  • + Amarillo
  • + Arlington
  • + Austin
  • + Baton Rouge
  • + Big Bend National Park
  • + Brownwood
  • + Bryan/ College Station
  • + Carrollton/ Farmers Branch
  • + Carswell AFB
  • + Cedar Creek Lake Area
  • + Cedar Hill
  • + Central Texas
  • + Cockrell Hill
  • + Coppell
  • + Corpus Christi
  • + Corsicana
  • + Crandall/ Combine
  • + Denton
  • + Downtown & Deep Ellum
  • + Duncanville/ DeSoto
  • + Durant
  • + Dyess AFB
  • + East Dallas & Lakewood
  • + East Texas
  • + El Paso
  • + Ennis
  • + Fair Park
  • + Far North Suburbs
  • + Far South Dallas Suburbs
  • + Far South FW Suburbs
  • + Forney
  • + Fort Worth
  • + Frisco
  • + Gainesville
  • + Galveston
  • + Garland & Vicinity
  • + Glen Rose
  • + Goodfellow AFB
  • + Granbury
  • + Grand Prairie
  • + Grapevine
  • + Gulf Area
  • + Houston
  • + Huntsville
  • + Irving & Las Colinas
  • + Kaufman
  • + Killeen
  • + Lake Dallas
  • + Lancaster/ Balch Springs
  • + Lancaster/ Wilmer/ Hutchins
  • + Laredo
  • + Laughlin AFB
  • + Lavon Lake Area
  • + Lewisville
  • + Louisiana
  • + Lubbock
  • + Manchester
  • + Mesquite/ Balch Springs
  • + Mexia/ Groesbeck
  • + Mid-Cities (H-E-B)
  • + Midland/ Odessa
  • + Nacogdoches
  • + New Braunfels
  • + New Orleans
  • + North Dallas
  • + North Texas
  • + Northeast Dallas
  • + Northeast Texas
  • + Northwest Dallas
  • + Oak Cliff & South Dallas
  • + Oklahoma
  • + Out of Town
  • + Panhandle
  • + Paris
  • + Park Cities
  • + Plano
  • + Reese AFB
  • + Richardson & Vicinity
  • + Royse City
  • + San Angelo
  • + San Antonio
  • + Sheppard AFB
  • + Sherman/ Denison
  • + Shreveport/ Bossier City
  • + South Fort Worth Suburbs
  • + South Texas
  • + Southeast Suburbs
  • + Tennessee
  • + Texarkana
  • + Tyler
  • + Unknown
  • + Uptown & Oak Lawn
  • + Waco/ Temple & Vicinity
  • + Waxahachie
  • + Weatherford/ Mineral Wells
  • + West Dallas
  • + West Texas
  • + White Rock Lake Area
  • + Wichita Falls
  • + Wylie
Map It

Arts & Entertainment

Food & Drink

Shopping & Services

MORE

Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment

SCENES: Puff 'n' Sexy Stuff

You couldn't turn on a Top-40 radio station this year without hearing Justin Timberlake's bold declaration: "I'm bringing sexy back." At first, his claim seemed silly. Sexy told us it loved us, and it made us breakfast. But then sexy never called. Actresses lost so much weight that ribs became the new breasts. We were forced to visualize Senator Larry Craig legislating all over some dude in an airport bathroom. And in a final, crushing blow, Jenna Jameson gave up pornography, for fuck's sake (or, rather, for not fucking's sake.)

But watching sweet J.T. slink across a stage or a television screen does remind us that once, there was sexy. The same thing happens when you walk into the Velvet Hookah. Oversized plush cushions cover the floor, surrounded by gauzy jewel-toned curtains. Dim lighting casts shadows on the elaborate, phallic glass hookahs on every table. (There are no talking caterpillars sitting atop mushrooms, but if you have enough 'shrooms before you go, there might be.) The music, a blend of house, lounge and world beats, snakes suggestively through the Velvet Hookah's three smoking rooms, coaxing conversation, not silencing it.

"Sexy never left," says Jei Baker, the Velvet Hookah's founder and self-described "brand architect." "It was just over here." Even at its busiest, the bar is serene. Hookah requires nothing more than sitting and smoking. Low seating encourages guests to lean close together. Soft-focus lighting works better than the best beer goggles.

Memo to Dallas' exclusive, swanky nightspots perched atop certain luxury hotels with one-letter names: Sexy isn't about shoving remixed Top-40 hits into people's ears, charging $11 for drinks and encouraging patrons to dry hump on the dance floor before they even get a chance to swap names. That's just Carson's Live with a bigger tab at the end of the night. Real luxury is about a unique experience. And there's no place in town like Deep Ellum's Velvet Hookah.

"We have the best shisha in the world," Baker says, using the aficionado's term for specially flavored hookah tobacco, which he imports from Jordan before curing and flavoring every batch himself. Baker started making the Velvet Hookah's special proprietary blends when the bar opened on September 4, 2002. In five years, Baker has created 169 flavors of shisha.

Some restaurants may have hookah, says Baker, but nobody does it like Velvet. That's because, he says, he started the business without "the pre-sets that become limitations." Baker's a guy from southern Dallas. He used to travel a lot when he worked for Club Med before opening the bar, but he knew little about Arab culture, in which the hookah was popularized. And so mixing liquor with hookah, something Arabs would never do, didn't seem illogical to Baker. The Velvet Hookah was born after Baker's original business partner tried to join the dot-com boom by selling hookahs online. The site didn't take off, and "we had a garage full of hookahs."

With hookah, there's the sense that what you're smoking is actually a gas, not a cloud of filtered additives. Shisha is three things: tobacco, molasses or honey, which is used for curing; and fruit flavors or essences. The tobacco isn't burned, it's baked. Velvet uses traditional Egyptian hookahs, with one or two hoses. That engenders conversation, which was the original purpose of hookah.

"If you have the hookah," Baker says late one Monday night when the bar is closed, "you have the floor." He takes a hit of an orange-flavored blend in a miniature hookah he carries with him. "Mo-bowl technology," he calls it.

The Velvet Hookah, in the heart of Deep Ellum at the corner of Main and Crowdus streets, is an anchor in an area besieged by controversy and economic hardship.

It's hard, he says, staying afloat while the city's tearing up the northern access points to Deep Ellum to put in a DART station. And the homeless people are a problem too. But, he says, "violent crime doesn't happen down here," thanks to an increased police presence. Baker focuses on the future Deep Ellum. If that means losing the grit and grime that some believe are the soul of the neighborhood, too bad. "Gentrification is what it is," he says. And the Velvet Hookah is about constant reinvention.

When tall, modern tables and stark décor didn't work, they went Mediterranean. Belly dancing was OK for a while, but not anymore. Instead, Baker says, he's bringing in a Cirque du Soleil-trained trapeze act. And starting this month, Baker began selling trademarked Velvet Hookah shisha blends online. A fine idea, but the communal Velvet Hookah experience is a difficult one to replicate.

"All week long we section ourselves off" in cubicles and cars, Baker says. That's why there's only bar service these days at Velvet, no table service. It creates flow, which creates conversation, which creates community. And forcing people to ask for shisha blends called "Floral Fixation" and "Le Petite Mort," well, that creates sexy time. — Andrea Grimes

Best 28-Minute Drive to Feel Like You're Really Out of Town

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.

Best Brokeback Mountain Relationship

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.

Best Afternoon Stroll
NorthPark Center

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).

8687 N. Central Expressway, Dallas, 75241
MAP
214-363-7441
Best Afternoon Tunes
Good Records

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.

9026 Garland Rd., Dallas, 75206
MAP
214-752-4663
Best Angst-Ridden Republican

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.

Best Art Gallery
The Public Trust (formerly Art Prostitute)

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.

2271 Monitor St, Dallas, 75207
MAP
214-760-7170
Best Bar
Meridian Room

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.

3611 Parry Ave., Dallas, 75226
MAP
214-826-8383
Best Bar You've Never Been To
Windmill Lounge

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.

5320 Maple Ave., Dallas, 75235
MAP
214-443-7818
Best Beer Joint
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.

2847 Henderson Ave., Dallas, 75206
MAP
214-821-1880
Best Bet

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.

1000 Lone Star Parkway, Grand Prairie, 75050-7941
MAP
972-263-7223
Best Blast from the Past

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.

X

SCENES: Puff 'n' Sexy Stuff:

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.

Newsletters

All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories
    Send:

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >