It's one of the last remaining bastions of the old heydays of Deep Ellum, but since new ownership took the storied club over in late June, Club Dada has been wowing music fans by hosting an impressive schedule of well-known touring acts within the confines of its not-so-huge space. Changes are still in store for the club, and yes, there have been bumps along the way as the club's new owners have aimed to change the public perception of the venue, but for the most part, the renewed energy is not only welcome, but infectious as crowds slowly trickle back down to the once-legendary neighborhood.

The Loft

Honestly, the Palladium Ballroom is more akin to an airplane hangar than an actual ballroom—even the main room at the House of Blues has more personality. The Loft upstairs, however, is another animal entirely, with great sound, a classy hardwood-and-brick decor and that rare aesthetic touch that escapes most local clubs: windows. It's the balcony outside that may be the best feature, with gorgeous, panoramic views of downtown and plenty of seating in case the opening band is skippable. On a nice night with the right band playing, there's really no better hangout in the city.

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He's a three-peat choice in this category, but Randel Wright has little local competition in the area of theatrical set design. Wright now works full-time as design director for Dallas Children's Theater, but his exquisitely rendered and beautifully constructed set pieces have adorned stages at Dallas Theater Center, WaterTower, Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, Circle Theatre and others. A midlife return to theater design was a big career risk for the architecturally trained designer, but he hasn't looked back since re-entering the theater world a few years ago. Dozens of productions later, he's at the top of his profession. Look closely at his sets. He doesn't just paint walls and pick out furniture. In his designs are visual interpretations of the playwright's work. For WaterTower's recent musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Wright's set wrote its own jokes. He incorporated dollar-store gewgaws all over the stage, edging the gauzy curtains with "fringe" made out of plastic spoons—a little dig perhaps at how much the actors were chewing the scenery with their performances.

The Belmont Hotel

Where can you find a great patio, tastefully funky art and décor, as well as a killer skyline view? This bar at the Belmont Hotel is the perfect combination of all three. Perched on a hill in Oak Cliff, the place looks out at the city with an attitude of decidedly confident and relaxed cool, a great combination for a lively birthday gathering or an intimate night out with your significant other. The cocktails are tasty, the service is friendly and efficient, and in the summertime, you can follow up happy hour with an acoustic concert poolside on the grass.

Bowlmor

You say bowling alley; we say sports bar, because that's what it is, damn it. Sure, there are 30 state-of-the-art bowling lanes in the main area, and the score-keeping system is so high-tech and obvious, there is no hiding a bad game, though the black lighting offers some degree of anonymity. But just look at the name of the place: "300 Dallas." That conjures up a bar, a nightclub, scenesters, maybe even a strip joint. There is a large bar, an attentive waitstaff that will help you with the size of your balls and shoes, good pub grub and flat-screen televisions playing mostly sporting events and placed in front of you above the pin decks, one screen for every two lanes in the bowling alley. Sorry, sports bar.

The Lodge

Several years back, we accompanied Lodge owner Dawn Rizos to Las Vegas. No, for a cover story, jeez. Anyway, the occasion of the sojourn was a piece about Rizos, then vying for the award of Best Overall Club of the year during the annual Gentlemen's Club Owners Expo, where such prestigious honors are handed out. Never forget that trip: booze and boobs, chief among them the night's MC Pauly Shore. Well, after years of playing topless-bar Susan Lucci, the Lodge finally picked up the honor a few weeks back, and rightly so. Because, look, we won't beat around the...um...we'll come clea...erm...straight up, this is th...ah, dang. Anyway, the long and short of it's this: classy joint in a seedy biz, no other way to put it. Drinks are expensive (it is a topless bar), but food's top-notch (lobster's always a winner, no kidding), the waitstaff's as kind as the Red Cross, and the ladies are superior to any other joint in town. Ask the men—ladies too, as every time we visit the joint's stocked with female customers for whom a trip to Northwest Dallas' finest might as well be a weekend in Vegas.

Preston Center Dance

Buster Cooper can't stop dancing. Now in his mid-80s, the veteran tap master still teaches new generations of hoofers the intricacies of the art form he pioneered in Dallas more than 60 years ago. For half a century Cooper owned his own studio, and for 30 years he served as head of the dance department at Hockaday School. Patrick Swayze and Sandy Duncan are among his alumni and others have gone on to dance on Broadway in leading roles in A Chorus Line, 42nd Street and Cats. This summer the twinkly titan of tap took the stage in a special pre-show spectacular at the Dallas Summer Musicals' performance of The Drowsy Chaperone. His technique still is flawless, his crowd appeal greater than ever. Thanks, Buster, for giving your life to Dallas' dancers and never shuffling off to Buffalo.

Every Monday night "Mama" Amy Stevenson invites friends to sing on the tiny stage of this friendly Oak Lawn gay bar. She brings in new talent and some who've been around a while and just like to get up and sing. Opera singers, belters, budding Broadway divas—even a few comedians and jugglers—have shared the teensy stage at this weekly show. Among the regulars who stop in to perform are Cedric Neal, John Venable, Paul J. Williams, Ryan Roach and Gregory Lush. Want to get onstage? Just ask Stevenson. As the song from Chicago says, "When you're good to Mama...."

McKinney Avenue Contemporary

They often work at other theaters, but when they return to their roots on McKinney Avenue, Kitchen Dog Theater's Artistic Company members click into what makes this the hothouse for avant-garde dramas and comedies. Alongside co-artistic directors Christopher Carlos and Tina Parker (both of whom act and direct) are double- and triple-threat talents who write, design, act, direct, compose, choreograph and, when asked, sweep up after the audience clears out. Take your bows, Linda Blase, Rhonda Boutté, Vicki Caroline Cheatwood, Christina Dickson, Russell K. Dyer, Jeremy Escobar, John Flores, Jen Gilson-Gilliam, David Goodwin, Mark Griffin, Bill Lengfelder, Ian Leson, Laura McMeley, Allison Moore, Barry Nash, Joe Nemmers, Judy Niven, Sally Nystuen-Vahle, Karen Parrish, Heidi Shen, Leah Spillman, Ruth Stephenson, Jonathan Taylor, Lee Trull, Shelley Tharp-Payton, Christina Vela, Michael Wang, Bryan Wofford and Emily Young.

It's not just us. An informal poll of people close to the local television news biz confirms what we were going to say anyway: Channel 8 at 10 p.m.—well, pretty much Channel 8 all day long—towers above everything else in the market. They win on just about every score, especially the "deep bench" issues. Reporters Jim Douglas, Byron Harris, Gary Reaves, Brett Shipp, Brad Watson—they're the quality long-ball hitters who give WFAA its authority. But the newbies, Craig Civale, Chris Hawes and David Schechter, are examples of serious, effective journalists coming along fast. Station president and general manager Mike Devlin comes from the news side, which helps. We know this: Channel 8 has history in the market and with the market. People take it seriously. That's worth something when the product you're selling is the truth.

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