Oak Lawn Coffee

Since Starbucks became the new McDonald's, finding a good independent, local coffee shop can be tough. But after Brady Cottle took over and renovated this Oak Lawn establishment, it offers delicious home-brewed coffee and espresso drinks, pastries by local baker extraordinaire Samantha Rush (needless to say, her work blows Starbucks' tired baked goods out of the water), as well as creative art and photographs by Dallas-area artists and live music each week. And, in addition to donating at least 7 percent of daily revenue to nonprofit organizations, Cottle often sells products made by artisans in developing countries and holds frequent fund-raisers for causes such as cancer research and groups that help people living with HIV/AIDS.

The Amsterdam Bar

This Exposition Park staple isn't really a jazz club, but step into this European-styled bar on a Monday night and, traditional jazz room settings be damned, you're gonna see yourself as good a night of jazz performance as offered by any other venue in town. Bad Ass Jazz, as the night is called, is pretty much just what the title implies—a night of the region's finest jazz talents rotating in and out of the playing area in the back of the room, sharing smiles, drinks and enough improvised jazz solos and group jams to keep the always-crowded room delighted. Even to the uneducated jazz listener, it's an impressive sight, not to mention an easy way to pretend you're more cultured than you probably are. Plus, it's free.

Family Karaoke

Even experienced karaoke singers can be intimidated by a bar full of strangers. But at Family Karaoke's private rooms, you can be jeered by just your closest friends. Three sizes of rooms accommodate groups of two to 25, and bar and food service directly to your room keeps the party going. Choose your favorites from a good selection of American pop hits (and tons more in Korean, Thai and Chinese) backed by bizarre, music video-style graphics. The story about the penguin researchers was our favorite. Even if you already have evening plans, you can rock karaoke into the wee hours of the morning: Reservations are available till 4 a.m. on weekends.

Buli

The blue glow of laptops lights up the faces of Buli Café's regular late-night customers. Sitting along the wall against faux-fur cushions are budding screenwriters, playwrights, Facebook freaks and others with reasons to be online after dark. The nighttime crowd here comes in for strong coffee roasted on the premises (and served in sizes from Twink to Butch), plus tasty paninis and sinful desserts made by Massimo bakery. Open into the wee hours, Buli is one of the few coffee shops in the Oak Lawn area to stay up late and keep the free Wi-Fi going. Buli (pronounced BYOO-lee) is a sort-of acronym for "Because You Love It." And as long as they let us tippy-type and tipple those Twinks past 12, we do.

Escapade 2009

Don't really know the logic behind this massive, longtime area favorite being named Escapade 2009, as it has been for some time now, but, hey, at least it makes it easier when saying things like, "Hey, Escapade, this really is your year, huh?" Nyuk, nyuk. But, seriously, there are like a bajillion Escapades across Texas, all with different years after their name. And with good reason: These places are clearly gold mines, if this one up near Northwest Highway is any indication. The place regularly brings in enough folks to justify its hefty size. And the music? Just some of the best that the touring Spanish-speaking set has to offer, traditional enough so that sus padres won't disown you, but modern enough so that they won't want to join you.

Granada Theater

Imagine, if you will, the type of live music venue that'd be opened by a grown-up, matured hippie—one who's survived years of hitting the road and following his favorite jam bands for entire tours. It'd probably look and feel exactly like the Granada Theater. And that's just what the Granada is. This year, Mike Schoder, former owner of CD World and a diehard live music fan, and his friendly serenity—and not, mind you, security—staff, are celebrating five years of bringing top-notch touring acts to town and supporting the locals when it can. In this economy, that's incredible; in any economy, the Granada's well worth toasting.

Audiences fell for exceedingly handsome Ian Sinclair in The Nibroc Trilogy, staged by Echo Theatre first at the Bath House Cultural Center, then revived to sell-out crowds at Theatre Too. Sinclair, 25, played the leading man in all three plays, an experience he says "had a profound effect on me as a person." Raised on Swiss Avenue, the Texas Christian University drama grad debuted professionally with Shakespeare Dallas in a 2007 reading of Titus Andronicus. He's worked steadily as an actor ever since, earning good dough as a voiceover artist on commercials and "funimation" cartoons. This fall he co-stars in a revival of The Black Monk at Undermain Theatre (through October 3). His immediate goal: To act at the new Dallas Theater Center and Kitchen Dog Theater. Dream roles? "Being a leading man is a lot of fun. I wouldn't mind staying on that train."

Classically trained at the London Drama Studio, Emily Gray and husband Matthew (a company member at Dallas Theater Center) tried New York before settling in Dallas. In the past year, Emily's been acting up a storm, from the violent Popcorn at Theatre Three (she played a serial killer in short-shorts) to the wacky Season's Greetings at Theatre Too (where she romped in a red nightie), to Trinity Shakespeare Fest's Romeo and Juliet (she played the Nurse and stole the show), and right into Seagulls at the Festival of Independent Theatres. In her mid-30s, Emily has a Streep-y blond beauty that she doesn't mind disguising for a character role (for Shakespeare's nurse, she browned her teeth and glued on moles). Using her native Brit accent or an assortment of American dialects, she's a total pro. And if her voice sounds familiar, you probably heard it on an audio book. She's the reader of the popular Shopaholic series.

Twelve tracks and a hair over 37 minutes long, this late spring release from Denton's Teenage Cool Kids surprised more than a few people with something poppier than listeners might've come to expect from this previously kinda snotty, lo-fi punk quartet of Andrew Savage (guitar, lead vocals), Daniel Zeigler (guitar), Bradley Kerl (drums) and Chris Pickering (bass). It's reminiscent of the earliest, best Built to Spill—and yet somehow, no joke, a little improved. And it doesn't take long to realize as much—actually, it only takes 53 seconds. That's the point at which, on album opener "Reservoir Feelings," the music switches from a somber guitar melody to the muddled, beautiful mess the next 36 minutes will provide. Cued by Savage's words "There's a lake in the caverns of my heart," that moment also signals the kind of head-spinningly-confused-by-love wordplay that shines throughout the rest of the disc, but especially on the catchy sing-along anthems "Foreign Lands," "Speaking in Tongues" and "Poison Sermons." An immediate must-have for any music fan, this is the kind of disc that transcends the term "local music." This is just "music," dammit, and great music at that.

While his columnist colleagues at The Dallas Morning News abuse the word "ridiculous" or parlay their day jobs into multimedia careers, Sherrington routinely turns a pretty cool magic trick. He writes like he's old, without actually being old. Granted, he recently survived a serious health scare, but came out the other side as cynical and stylish as ever. Sherrington's prose isn't always filled with in-depth interviews or on-the-scene imagery, but his perspective and finger on the pulse of Dallas sports history makes his offerings delicious, even important. In Gary Cartwright's biting Texas Monthly piece about the "Death of Sportswriting," he gives Sherrington clemency, referring to him as "Sherrod Lite." Good enough for us.

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