Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Who would have thought that a swift-boating Dallas billionaire would raise a daughter with a strong social conscience? But Serena Simmons Connelly, a social worker and the daughter of Harold Simmons, is one of the backers of It's a Grind, a unique Deep Ellum coffee shop dedicated to the mission of providing a livable wage, full health benefits and an ethical workplace to its employees, who are hired despite their troubled backgrounds—asylum seekers, immigrants, victims of domestic violence, ex-convicts, reformed prostitutes—pretty much anyone in dire need of a second chance. Its employment practices build fiercely loyal baristas who make a damn fine cuppa Joe, as well. The social experiment has only been going on since November, but it's building community while also serving delicious baked goods.
'Bout a year ago, back when Jack's first opened, a buddy of mine convinced us to check the place out, promising that the then-new Oak Cliff spot was gonna be quite the big deal in the very near future. Sure enough, what we saw upon arrival was, indeed, quite the chic, if somewhat hidden, hot spot. And it definitely didn't hurt that there were only two males in the place aside from one of the barkeeps. But it wasn't long before the place started drawing a bigger, more varied mix of patrons, and for good reason: An upscale bar with primo lounge seating, a well-kept pool table and glass garage doors that lead out to one of the best patios the region has to offer. It was only a matter of time before everyone else caught on to what was, if only for a short period of time, the LGBT set's best-kept secret.
It's not really fair to call this space an art gallery. It is and it isn't. The artwork showcased on the first floor of the gallery in Deep Ellum is from unknown artists presenting their first solo shows. "I'm a Peter Pan kind of guy," owner and photographer Hal Samples says. "Throw some pixie dust and have some people perpetuate dreams." Samples himself was homeless eight years ago, so he's keen on empowering people. "I found that there were artists that were looking to be seen, but they didn't have the opportunity. I wanted to give them a place to incubate." And so the gallery was born more than a year ago and features artists who have caught Samples' attention throughout his travel in the area. So what kind of art will you find here? "Art that makes me want to meet the person," Samples says.
What do we want—no, wait—what do we need from a bar for it to be a great bar, a go-to bar or, if the heavens align correctly, a home bar? Ample seating. Clean restrooms. An area outdoors for the smokers. Music. Stomach lining options. Good classic hooch. Great service. A TV to stare at when someone strange is trying to talk to us. A great jukebox. Prices that don't break the bank of hard-working folk who deserve a drink come happy hour. The Windmill Lounge has all of these requirements along with a simply smashing cocktail list, misters on the patio, themed big-screen nights, a cell phone lounge and chalkboard walls in the loo. Oh, and in addition to some chomp-worthy panini, the lounge also offers Triscuits with cream cheese and jalapeño jelly or Pickapeppa sauce.The jukebox at the Windmill Lounge is front-loaded with a well-chosen and diverse selection of standards (Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald), classic soul (James Brown, Curtis Mayfield), Texas singer-songwriters (Guy Clark, Joe Ely) and admirable young artists (Black Joe Lewis, Justin Townes Earle). But flip a few pages and you'll find the music less and less appealing, unless you're toasted, in which case your inner 15-year-old might giddily plop down the credits for bizarre selections like Pink, the Bloodhound Gang and the Anchorman soundtrack. Think of it as the perfect test of musical mettle also—if your date goes for the Barenaked Ladies, then you know it wasn't meant to be. If she cues up Otis Redding, you've got yourself a keeper.
There are plenty of reasons why the Libertine deserves recognition—the traditional pub atmosphere, the friendly faces behind the bar, and the fact that, even though it's not much of a venue, the place does its part to support local music with live performances. But the best reason to love the Libertine? The food offered up by the folks in the kitchen. The burger, the tuna sandwich, the three-way fries—they're all legit. And the best part: the pricing. Or, better yet, the half-pricing: Every Sunday, from 5 p.m. till midnight, this food, which has no right belonging in a straight-up bar like this, is offered at half the cost. Oh, and the reasonably priced, five-course monthly beer dinners ain't too shabby either.
One of the great joys of traveling is trying new beers that are hard to find in your home town. But who has the money to travel these days? Fortunately, if your travel budget has gone from Amsterdam, Germany and Fort Lauderdale to Addison, Garland and Fort Worth, you can still make like a tourist at your nearest Flying Saucer. With an ever-changing draft lineup, there will always be an unfamiliar brew waiting for you. And if you think you've got the liver and the lucre to try 200 different beers, you can join the U.F.O. Club; upon reaching that lofty goal you win a $100 bar tab and a commemorative plate to hang on the wall. Even if you fall short, you still get a T-shirt. Either way, not a bad souvenir.
For local nature buffs who don't make it out to the lake each day, J. R. Compton's Amateur Birder's Journal is the next best thing, filled with daily photos of myriad birds at White Rock Lake and their strange, wonderful behavior. From ducks to purple martins to hawks and even the occasional coyote, Compton covers it all—when he's not attending to his duties as editor and publisher of DallasArtsRevue.com, that is. Fellow bird blogger David J. Ringer, on the other hand, is merely based in Duncanville, but his work for an international nonprofit takes him to locations as far-flung as Kenya, where he documents the local wildlife (avian and otherwise) for his Search and Serendipity blog. If you're like us and rarely leave Texas, paging through Ringer's exotic photos will leave you planning ways to finance your own globe-hopping adventure.
When The Dallas Morning News told longtime Texas Rangers scribe Evan Grant that he'd be moving into a group of several Dallas Cowboys beat writers resulting from the paper's agreement to share sports coverage with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he decided it was time to ply his craft someplace else. He found an unlikely partner in D Magazine publisher Wick Allison, who admits he knows nothing about sports, but was sold on Grant's sales pitch to create a comprehensive Rangers blog with assistance from former News assistant sports editor Jeff Miller and baseball blogger and lawyer Mike Hindman. Despite the tough economy, Allison secured three key sponsors. Grant later added popular radio host and sports guru Bob Sturm, and the rest is blogging history.
Here's the deal, Dallas: Considering how important a role the blues played in our city's musical history (y'know, "Deep Ellum Blues," and all that), it's really a goddamn shame how there aren't all that many clubs—well, many clubs worth mentioning, at least—that offer up the genre on a regular basis. Last we heard, there's one coming back to Deep Ellum, thank you very much, in the spot behind the Twisted Root, right where the Red Blood Club used to be. But for the time being, may we recommend the Pearl for your misery-loves-company ways? Located on the east edge of downtown, it's close to our city's historical blues home in Deep Ellum, and with touring and local blues performers coming in on a regular basis—including a Monday happy hour residency from Miss Marcy and her Texas Sugar Daddies—along with a slew of jazz and folk artists, it's the only place we can look you straight in the eye and offer up as a cure for your Lack of Deep Ellum blues blues.
OK, we'll forgive you if you spent about a week thinking Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo's All-American romance with local pop princess Jessica Simpson was adorably appropriate. After all, why wouldn't America's hot-and-ditzy princess want in on a little career Romomentum? But after the infamous pink jersey loss and the disappointments that followed, was there anyone in town besides bloggers hard-up for material who really wanted to see the couple last? Honestly, we're glad to see Romo's taken to an Entourage-like, Afflicton-attired existence. Sure, he's douche-y and less likable now, but when it comes to Cowboys football, we don't mind a little bros philosophy.
They say a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client, but that hasn't stopped Dallas attorney Gary Vodicka from waging thermonuclear war against Southern Methodist University over the last four years, alleging the school committed fraud as it went about amassing units in his condo complex, the University Gardens, only to tear them down to make room for the Bush Library. Vodicka became a genuine pain in the docket to SMU, humiliating the school, wearing down a whole team of its lawyers in a case that spans 25 thickly stuffed court jackets. Although he turned down a settlement offer of $1 million for his demolished condo unit, he finally settled the case in July for an undisclosed amount. Vodicka also managed to convince State District Judge Martin Hoffman to allow him to depose former President George W. Bush himself. The ruling didn't stand on appeal, but the fact that Vodicka got as far as he did was as amazing as it was unprecedented.
Julie Jackson is a genius. Recession be damned, she nailed her ideal demographic and tapped into that ever-purchasing, wacky world of cat lovers with her company Kitty Wigs. And although the tiny, incredibly flattering and fashionable wigs instantly caused quite a stir when the company launched, over the last couple of years, the public began wanting even more. Along with her boy-cat Boone, Kitty Wigs photographer Jill Johnson, and 25 other feline models and their owners, the Kitty Wigs creator has turned fashion into published art with the creation of Glamourpuss: The Enchanting World of Kitty Wigs. The tome features 60 photos featuring all manner of tiny wigs and their whiskered wearers. While it took around two months for Jackson and Johnson to shoot and gather all the photos for the book (featuring recognizable locales such as Lee Harvey's), it's safe to say the page-flipping pleasure will last much longer.