Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
People of Deep Ellum, we want to believe in your cause. We all love live music, walkable neighborhoods, Blind Lemon Jefferson and independent businesses. We're always right there with you when you argue against West Village-style development and extol the merits of real culture. But then you start to go on and on about Edie Brickell and New Bohemians or Fever in the Funkhouse or some other band whose work has not aged particularly well and our eyes glaze over. And while we're on the subject, you might think about retiring the whole "Nirvana at Trees" story for a while too. Granted, it's a good one, but we've heard it so many times, it's starting to sound a lot like grandparents' nostalgia. Just sayin'.
We've sung the praises of the Lakewood Texaco several times in our Best of Dallas issues over the years, and yeah, it's still a great gas station day in and day out. But every year on some random Sunday it becomes something more when the joint hosts one of its famous block parties, inviting neighbors young and old and fostering a sense of community rarely to be found in a gas station parking lot, or anywhere in Dallas for that matter. It's an anything goes, multi-cultural kind of affair—with live bands, a dunking booth, belly dancers and promotional beer girls all on hand to help the citizens of East Dallas feel a little closer for an afternoon. Here's hoping the new owners—who took over for the beloved Boueri family several months ago—keep the tradition alive (hint, hint).
Admittedly, we were a touch skeptical about the Deep Ellum Film Festival's transition from The Little Indie Fest That Could into The Big-Money Target All-Star Throwdown Jamboree scattered hither and yon. But, just two years in, the thing's a mighty beast—and mighty impressive, as the likes of Lauren Bacall, Charlize Theron, David Lynch and some dude named De Niro have piled into Dallas for a week's worth of screenings and highfalutin wingdings the likes of which most Dallasites never get to see unless their Dallas lives in Highland Park. But Michael Cain's fest makes much of Dallas look shiny and special: The West Village is hoppin', thanks to Magnolia screenings; Mockingbird Station's cram-packed, what with those Angelika screens running hot; NorthPark's packed, in no small part thanks to the red carpet upon which the most famous feet trod day and night; and all of Victory Park's a go-go, courtesy the host hotel (the W, natch). Really, for one week every spring, even we think Dallas is the most awesome city in the history of parking lots.
Denton artist and musician Nevada Hill made quite the mark on North Texas this year, contributing stellar cover art for releases by Record Hop, Dust Congress and Stumptone, the latter a vinyl-only release featuring two cardboard panels screen-printed with an imposing image of reverberating speakers. And while Hill's work for Record Hop is admittedly on a much smaller scale (thanks, CD format), it's hard to deny the appeal of the cover art, a quirky drawing of what appears to be a mangy lion crapping the band's name. You can spot the Photoshop a mile away on most local record covers these days. With Hill's DIY treasures, however, all you spot is blood, sweat and artistry.
For years, AllGood Café owner Mike Snider has booked well-respected and much-revered Americana and folk artists to the venues of Deep Ellum. These days, at his restaurant, he continues to do just that. It's a homey place, seemingly fit more for Austin than Dallas with its flair for memorabilia and its general hippie-ish attitude. Does that make the place stand out among Deep Ellum's rock clubs? For sure—but not in a bad way. Rather, AllGood is unique because the music played there fits right in with the restaurant's vibe, rather than with what's popular right this minute. You'll see folk, Americana, country and, yes, from time to time, your standard coffeehouse fare. But under Snider's discerning eye, you can rest assured that it'll be good. Oh, and by the way: the food? It'll keep you coming back even if Snider's taste in music isn't up your alley.
Considering the fact that we don't really like The Smiths (blame our college roommates), we weren't really sure about "Phil Collins: the world won't listen," the three-screen video installation presented earlier this year by the Dallas Museum of Art. But damn, if it wasn't the most entertaining thing we've ever seen in a museum, with the 1987 Smiths compilation, The World Won't Listen, repeating on a loop as fans from Colombia, Turkey and Indonesia sang along karaoke-style on each of the screens. We couldn't begin to pick a favorite image, though the chick in the wrestling mask and the unfortunate looking, teary-eyed Asian man certainly burned themselves into our psyche. We liked it all so much, in fact, that we went right out and got a pompadour.
For 23 years, Barry Whistler has brought seriously talented Texas artists to his Dallas gallery walls. And without fail, his exhibitions get the conversations going. From impressions and interpretations to artistic method, Whistler's gallery openings are abuzz with "I wonder..." and "That's so...wow." And that's what makes a gallery successful—when people actually talk about the art. The list of BWG's artists is impressive: Linnea Glatt, John Pomara, Allison V. Smith, Robert Wilhite (who presented audiences this year with one heavily discussed exhibition, The Bomb, featuring a skeletal, scaled-to-size sculpture of the Fat Man Bomb) and others. Plus, the gallery provides art lovers with a lively blog (barrywhistlergallery.blogspot.com) to catch the behind-the-scenes new and upcoming events in the gallery, which readers then discuss via the comments section. See what we mean about creating art dialogue?
From the tiled bar to the dark, mellow atmosphere to that ridiculous neon windmill on the roof, there's nothing contrived or even remotely close to pompous in this place. It's a neighborhood bar reminiscent of the little Manhattan dives where regulars know each other and call the bartender by name. And no wonder—the owner, Charlie, hails from the Empire State and makes the meanest New York deli sandwiches in the city. Seriously. We recommend the Reuben, but they're all perfection, especially after a long night of Jack and Cokes. Not only is there rarely a crowd of annoyingly drunk and entitled patrons, but the jukebox is one of the city's best, with hundreds of discs including Iggy Pop, Prince, Sinatra, Stevie Wonder and John Lee Hooker. What more could you want for last call?
Amazing drinks including a rotating schedule of featured drafts and bottles from the globe over. Incredible food from the favored steak sandwich to brunch. Monthly five-course beer dinners. Validated parking. Comfy high-backed booths. DJ nights. Friendly and fast servers capable of suggesting a drink to pair with food or food to pair with a drink. Reasonable prices often punctuated with drink specials or half-price food nights. Great location. Diverse crowd. TV choices perfect for a buzzed stare. The only thing that could possibly be better would be if The Libertine was located in a futuristic force field where all food and drink had no caloric effect on thighs or impending beer guts.
One Sunday afternoon not long ago, we sat at the MBar in Neiman's NorthPark Center location watching with great affection and no small amount of awe the care with which Jose Mejia mixed up his homemade Bloody Mary brew. On the counter sat a small vat of tomato juice; nearby, there was a large glass filled with Worcestershire sauce, into which he added generous dollops of Tabasco sauce, followed by the juice of freshly grated horseradish and several heaps of the white heat. He sniffed each container before blending them together for yet another smell test, then a taste test. "This way," he said, "you don't need salt, just vodka." He grinned, then poured us another refill, into which he dropped a stalk of celery the size of a baby's arm. We muster myriad excuses to belly up to the Mbar—most involving Sunday-afternoon football games on the three TV sets perched in front of the six stools, providing a welcome respite from the hubbub of overpriced commerce nearby—but, truth is, there's no better place to drink or eat or drink in the entirety of NorthPark; and Mejia, who's stood watch over the bar since its inception four years ago, is as generous and considerate a host as any afternoon mall drinker could ask for.
Sure, it's disappointing that a place with a name so associated with aliens and UFOs isn't decked out as such. In fact, the décor is a little confusing at the Saucer, as the walls and ceilings are covered with glass plates. But the place makes up for it with plenty of couches and a cozy room called the "Pub of Love," along with its unmatched selection of beer. On any given night, you've got a choice between 90 to 100 beers on tap and another 90 to 100 in bottles. Want a beer from the Czech Republic? They got it. Japan? Check.
When a musical needs a voice that can hit the back row, go through the back wall, into the parking lot and out to the stratosphere, the director calls for Megan Kelly Bates. The bouncy redhead sings, tap-dances and gets laughs, winning hearts and testing eardrums most recently as a yappy pup with a lot of high notes in Theatre Three's A Dog's Life. You've seen Bates, 28, in The Great American Trailer Park Musical and Urinetown at WaterTower, plus shows at Casa Manana, Contemporary Theatre and other stages all over North Texas. And where'd she come by those pipes? "When I was 5 and about to audition for my first show, The King and I, my mom put me in the living room, and we practiced my song. Then she had me sing in the hallway while she stayed in the living room and yelled, 'I can't hear you!' From there a belter was born!"