Best Of :: People & Places
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).
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.
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.
Reno's has the obligatory large windows that any biker bar needs so patrons between errands and work can keep watch over their babies, show 'em off and shop for new ones. It's also a great place to go—especially if you live or work in Deep Ellum—to kick back and enjoy a cheap drink and a little rock 'n' roll. The staff's friendly, and they play the good stuff like AC/DC, Guns N' Roses and Black Sabbath.
Is it a blues bar or a jazz bar? Does it matter? The music isn't the best thing about The Balcony Club; the musicians are. The bands that play this old Lakewood dive aren't exactly spring chickens. No, they're professional, and they've been doing this for years, thank you very much, so they'll play what they want. Oh, and they're good. Or good enough, at least to the point where The Balcony Club has remained a favorite despite its slightly off-the-beaten-path location (up the stairs next to the Lakewood Theater). But it's probably that very location that allows the place to keep its rustic, time-worn charm.
She hits the switch every year on November 1. And for the next two months Liz Simmons' house is ablaze with 100,000 lights, a glowing 6-foot snowman and half a dozen blinking snow-pals, a twirling spider, an 8-foot sleigh and an illuminated tree on the tippy-top of her roof. Last year Simmons' display made it to the top 20 in a nationwide Home Depot contest. She adds new features every year with the help of a friendly electrician who makes sure her yard art doesn't black out the area in a surge. The energetic Simmons is a much-loved character in her Hollywood/Santa Monica neighborhood, which uses the display as the centerpiece of an annual block party. Let's be glad the neighbors are cool with all the hot wattage.
Based on the election results of 2004, the city of Dallas is actually the 32nd most liberal city in the country. But you wouldn't know it, thanks to all the suburban interlopers running around. So it still came as somewhat of a shock when a crowd of thousands turned out on a bright morning—February 20—to attend Senator Barack Obama's pre-primary rally at Reunion Arena. Honestly, the rally itself was a hit-or-miss affair. Obama mostly repeated talking points from other speeches, while the introductory speech by Emmitt Smith left a little to be desired. But the 20,000-strong crowd put on a heck of a show, lending a palpable sense of excitement to the festivities and giving some of us our hands-down favorite memory of a seemingly cursed arena.
Fallout Lounge is small and intimate with just enough room to dance. There's a down-to-earth vibe that's the antithesis of the city's see-and-be-seen, must-be-on-the-list meat markets. Fallout can be mellow, a perfect place to go on a weeknight or after a show to sink into comfy couches while DJs spin lounge sounds. But on the weekends it's a great place to dance with a packed house and fast-movin' beats. Whether full or empty, weeknight or weekend, the drinks are strong, the tunes are solid and it's never pretentious.