Best Of :: People & Places
Enter the hotel that is ZaZa—a feast of oversized furniture, oversized rooms and oversized egos—walk halfway down a candle-lit, eclectically designed hallway, and there beside a towering plant sits Valentina Burton, also known as The Fortune-Teller of Dallas.
For the last four years each Wednesday through Saturday night, Burton has been the in-house soothsayer for the hotel, reading the tarot cards of touring rock stars, local sports celebs, members of the traveling business class, and those voguers, poseurs and $30,000 millionaires who make Dallas just so damn Dallas.
"There can be weird juxtapositions," Burton says. "You have people from Idaho rubbing up against Tommy Lee."
It's not altogether easy telling fortunes to the fortunate and the inebriated in the anything-goes atmosphere that the hotel encourages, but Burton fits in with the feel of the place. While at ZaZa, she eschews the gypsy encampment look and goes for a more stated Gothic elegance, a sort of "Elvira meets Cruella De Vil," she says. But she has learned that she cannot read solo in these zany environs, which is where David Bower, her "wrangler" and a palmist in his own right, comes in, hustling away those drunks, letches and interlopers who might otherwise destroy Burton's focus. "I've tried this without David, and it's like the Vietnam of reading," she says.
The air of mystery that surrounds Burton is undercut when she reveals that she is a 1979 graduate of Richardson High School—"the land of Jessica Simpson and TI," she says. She can't remember a time when she didn't read cards, but she first became an illusionist because she saw it as a more stable vocation.
"I didn't want to live in a funky little house with a neon hand in the window by the airport," she says.
But she veered into fortune-telling after receiving encouragement from those for whom she read.
Just how it all works doesn't appear to concern her. Burton just knows that after a "querent" shuffles the deck of tarot cards, cuts them into three stacks, picks the stack that feels "different" and asks her a question, the cards form patterns from which she says she can divine the future.
On this pleasant August eve, among the zeitgeist of ZaZa, she agrees to forecast the future of Dallas. Because so many questions she receives deal with affairs of the heart, the Dallas Observer's first question seeks to keep her in her comfort zone:
Will Jenny the Elephant ever know joy in Dallas?
Elephants are extremely social animals, and there is grief around her now. But out of grief comes celebration and a new relationship. There will be a new elephant joining her, and yes, she will know joy, the joy of a new friend. [A new elephant is coming to the Dallas Zoo; Burton could have read about it in the press, but claims to know nothing about current events.]
Which street, if any, will be named César Chávez?
It's a street with a lot of commercial activity...
It's not the obvious choice...It's something different from what has been suggested. It's near a pretty park that is developed with private donations and public money for families...The road goes right along side it.
Seems kind of vague—the high-speed toll road in the Trinity River Project?
No, not a tollway.
Do you know the exact location?
That's all I am getting.
OK. Do you see a flood of biblicalproportions on the Trinity River?
Yes? [so much for vague]
It creates havoc not just in the poorer neighborhoods, but there is expensive property where singles live. The flooding happens because things are not in balance. And there is a person who warned about it. He gets to be right.
Possibly...It will happen within the next two to five years...but out of the ruin, things get done right.
You mean the Trinity River Project?
The flood may help that happen...It will become the festival center for the town—a wonderful green place of balance.
Will the convention center hotel happen, and if so, be profitable?
I see a big mess, a lot of drama around it. Getting there is ridiculous, but it needs a champion. There is one...And it will be profitable, but there has to be a lot of collaboration.
What will the economy in Dallas look like 20 years from now?
I love these questions—I usually get, "Is my baby's daddy going to pay child support?"—but yes, things are good. These are really fantastic cards, especially around real estate and new business...There is rapid growth around something—maybe gambling or casinos...But it may not serve the greater good.
Will global warming affect Dallas in the year 2030?
It will be hotter like Phoenix...It affects our agriculture, what is grown here...though nothing cataclysmic.
Who will be the next mayor of Dallas?
This is someone who is very down to earth...He wants everyone to be happy...may open his mouth a lot and insert his foot. He is a very idealistic person. I like this person very much.
Who will be the next president of the United States?
I did a layout on this yesterday, and the same cards came up. It's the one who follows his own heart...
And his name is...
And I suppose you think the Cowboys are going to win the Super Bowl too?
Even with an infusion of new talent, they are still stuck and won't win...They work hard but they don't know which direction to head. That could be a coaching problem.
Are you saying Wade Phillips is going to get fired?
I'm not saying anything. It's the cards that speak and tell the future.
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.