Since the smoking ban, places in Dallas are still a bit stale, but it's nothing compared to the stank that once permeated hair and clothing after a night out in Big D. Even smokers had to spray down and air out. But no more. No more, that is, unless you go to see a band in Denton. Sure, Fort Worth still lights up, but without the intense fervor of Denton bar patrons. Stand next to four people in Denton, and chances are three will pull out a cig. We even put on our dirtiest jeans to avoid ruining clean ones when heading north. Save Dan's Silverleaf, which is smoke-free for many shows, watching a band in little d is like looking through a fog, and breathing it. So thank you, Dan. Maybe you can pave the way for other venues to provide a smokeless, odorless zone for drinkers and music lovers. Perhaps Denton can make a change...and not just out of those smoky jeans.

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Actor-writer-director and self-described madman Matthew Posey lives not just for the theater but in one. The Ochre House, tucked between a couple of bars on Exposition Avenue just a corndog's throw from Fair Park, is Posey's experimental playhouse and his home (shared with a dog named Walter). The theater space is up front—a small stage, plastic chairs and shelves showing off Posey's collection of oddities. This year he's done X-rated puppet shows, premiered a biographical "autopsy" on the last days of Hunter S. Thompson (written and played by Posey looking eerily like the Gonzo journalist) and hosted Matt Lyle's quirky new comedy, Hello Human Female. There are hints of Posey's 1980s Deep Ellum Theatre Garage here, but with a new vibe that says, "Come in, sit down and see something weird and wonderful."

Crooked Tree CoffeeHouse

Sometimes the office, with its unnatural lighting and extreme temperatures, can get on your nerves and make you unproductive. Not to mention unfriendly. Get out for an afternoon and haul your laptop to this independent coffee house that feels more like a loving pal's living room. The furniture is a mix of thrift store finds and goods from estate sales. The sandwiches are made with love by the staff, and the vegan cookies are also tasty. We've never once had trouble settling in at a table and falling into a deep, productive trance with the help of the great music selection.

Like everyone else, we expected the trial of former Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill and four others charged with bribery and extortion to produce little drama. The case was going to be a slam dunk, right? The FBI had more than 30,000 hours in wiretaps, more than 5,000 exhibits and its biggest witness—Brian Potashnik—struck a plea deal the night before jury selection. But the opening arguments showed that the feds had a long way to go to prove their case, as the wiretaps they played didn't directly implicate Hill. As the witnesses began to take the stand, including Potashnik, the defense team (led by Victor Vital) raised doubts about strength of the case against the five defendants. All this and former council members Al Lipscomb, Diane Ragsdale and Sandra Crenshaw in the courtroom? Now that's drama.

If it's hard being a Republican these days in Dallas County, it's got to be even harder recruiting Republicans to run for office in Dallas County. But that's part of Jonathan Neerman's job as chair of the county Republican Party. (He is also a full-time attorney at a major Dallas law firm.) Though he is the standard-bearer for all things Republican here, he is not above criticizing his own party when necessary, sounding reasonable and prudent even at the risk of alienating that part of his party's base consisting of Christian conservatives and ideologically pure right-wingers. Instead, he hopes to expand that base by extending a bigger tent and appealing to minorities whom he feels are often more fiscally and socially conservative than many Democrats. Party chair may not be his final political dance card. Some say that he is interested in seeking higher office—if you call the state Legislature higher office.

The Joule Hotel

The lobby of the Joule Hotel is a dark cavern that stretches far into the building. It's full of mesmerizing artwork by Andy Warhol and a rotating installation on the ceiling. Pay it no mind. Make your way to the row of elevators on the right. Get off at the 10th floor and push open the exit door to discover a breathtaking contrast between old and new Dallas. The pool deck is a modern marvel of luxury divans and cooling lavender mist. Drinks like the tangerine mojito, cucumber sage margarita and watermelon sangria go for $10. But all around you are the middles and tops of the famous buildings of Dallas' skyline. Some are vacant, but most are restored like this building's 1920s Neo-Gothic façade. The pool is public (for now).

Double Wide
Matt Nager

Yeah, it's cool the Double Wide has had an electric bull in its parking lot. We owned that animal, by the way. But this year, when the Fourth of July came around with triple-digit torture, the ol' D-Dub provided some low-budget relief. Those watching the Fair Park Fourth fireworks from the DW's parking lot (while downing a dollar dog from the grill) were rewarded. In addition to water rifles and lawn chairs, owner Kim Finch had pulled out all the stops and bought several sizes of kiddie pools. Some patrons chose to cool off by wading. Others chose full-body submersion (both voluntary and involuntary as the night wore on). It was bliss right there in the middle of downtown asphalt. Suffice to say, the Double Wide is probably the only venue that could pull off such an event. Think about it: multiple kiddie pools in front of a Double Wide on the Fourth of July. Just seems right.

All over Dallas, people are just trying to make it happen. Trying to keep the paychecks coming, trying to drum up business. Everyone's heard that "sex sells," but in the last few years, the phrase seems to have changed to "sexy chicks outside buildings in swimsuits with spotlights directed at them sell." What do they sell? Beer. The best of the garish lighting set-ups and tiniest of the bikini bottoms can be found right next to Bachman Lake (shocker) at that bright yellow beer-lover beacon, The Palms. Bored-looking girls (with the makeup it's hard to tell if they're legal to drink, much less "model") stand around a makeshift bar/stage-like structure and, well, that's all they really have to do. Come nightfall, the light blazes on so bright at times it's hard to tell a choker from an Adam's apple, and the trucks drive up begging for the cases. Marketing at its finest.

There's really only one reason to ever bother going to the Studio Bar & Grill: You're heading out to catch a show at one of the three rooms of the massive Palladium complex on South Lamar, and you didn't have the chance to grab a bite to eat before you had to run out the door. But, oh what a treat awaits you there: The Roadie. No, not the awkward, sweaty guy hoping to score some spillover groupie love from the headlining act at either Gilley's, The Loft or the Palladium Ballroom. No, this Roadie is probably the best dinner the $2.95 in your pocket could ever buy. Sure, it's pretty no-frills—just a quarter-pounder cheeseburger, served with fries—and you're not allowed to make any substitutions to the order, either. But, y'know, since you're getting a dirt-cheap and full meal less than 100 feet from where you'll be spending the rest of your night and all, you really can't complain. It's enough to make you forget about those pesky service up-charges on your ticket for the night. Well, OK, almost enough.

With so many folks in need these days, it may be somewhat ludicrous to rate which volunteer program does the best job of do-gooding. But that won't stop us from trying. Amachi Texas, headquartered in Dallas, is a statewide effort to prevent crime by breaking its cycle at the source. Research shows that the children of offenders have a 70 percent greater likelihood of becoming involved in the criminal justice system. This Big Brothers/Big Sisters offshoot provides mentors for the children of inmates, parolees and probationers—mentors who can be positive role models for their absent, emotionally unavailable or drug-addled parents. The Dallas Bar Association has made Amachi Texas its pet pro bono project for 2009, and lawyers are volunteering in droves to help out. Children matched with an Amachi mentor are 52 percent less likely to skip a day of school, 46 percent less likely to start using illegal drugs and 27 percent less likely to start drinking alcohol. And with the Dallas bar's influence, they also may be 78 percent more likely to become lawyers. (Kidding.)

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