Best Mini-Oasis Downtown 2012 | Thanks-Giving Square | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

Thanks-Giving Square is a little enigma in the heart of downtown, a tiny, roughly triangular slab of land given over to a sort of park. There are murals there, and a fountain, and best of all a gorgeous, spiral-shaped chapel, featuring a stunning ceiling inlaid with stained-glass. It opened in 1973, with its stated mission is "to offer a place for all people to give thanks to our Creator." It has hosted any number of interfaith events over the years, emphasizing the way gratitude can unite us across religions and cultures. But you don't have to care about any of that to enjoy it. Just sit near the cascading rock fountain and listen to the water rushing gently downhill or stand in the center of the chapel and look up. In a downtown that often lacks beauty, Thanks-Giving Square is a moment of pure poetry.

Two years ago, local skateboarders got a 20,000-square-foot gift: a free, well-lit, professionally designed skate park, one with the very first cradle in Texas. It came courtesy of the city of Irving and SITE Design Group, a company that makes "action sports" parks all over the world. Lively Pointe has since become a center for skateboarders and BMXers of all ages, with all the curbs, verts, hubbas and ledges their grinding, kick-flipping little hearts could possibly desire. Don't worry, parents: As it's a city facility, skaters and riders must always wear pads and helmets. Sweet, dude.


This 35-acre village in Waxahachie makes for the perfect escape from modern society. The Scarborough Renaissance Festival started in 1981 and portrays the year 1533 during the reign of England's King Henry VIII. Festival goers delve into a world of make-believe, encouraged to dress the part of a Renaissance warlock or beer wench and meander through the village where they can engage in everything from jousting matches to "wildly inappropriate poetry," all the while chugging a beer and gnawing on a giant turkey leg.

Why play tennis at Lake Cliff? Because as you approach the courts you pass County Commissioner John Wiley Price's house and that ridiculous Suburban with his grinning face plastered on the side. Because, aside from the spirited pickup game thumping up and down the adjacent basketball courts, it's usually empty. Because if anyone ever is out there, they suck just as hard as we do. Because there are huge, veiny penises spray-painted crudely on the court. Because the net is actually made of chain-link fencing so nobody will steal it. Because very young, unattended urchins ask you if they can borrow your racket, and you basically tell them to piss off. Tennis anyone?

Gone are the days when musician kids sweat it for days leading up to a recital. Recitals are boring anyway. Zounds Sounds founder Marc Solomon knows this well, so he did away with them. At Zounds Sounds, a school of rock for kids, Solomon puts the students up on a real club stage, where actual touring acts perform, and invites them to go crazy. Actually, it's quite a bit more organized than that sounds. Solomon has enlisted the help of Dallas' top musicians who use proper curricula to teach the kids their instruments. The teachers use kids' budding musical preferences to steer them, and eventually they emerge as rock stars.

We all fight through the oppressive summer months each year and when we hit that short span of time when the weather is actually nice, who wants to be inside? Thankfully, the AT&T Performing Arts Center makes great use of the nice weather with its outdoor live music series, Patio Sessions. The shows are expertly curated with top local acts like Daniel Hart, Ryan Thomas Becker and many others performing in front of the huge reflecting pool located on the center's lawn. The series invites you to bring the kids, a blanket, a bottle of wine or two and enjoy the the agreeable weather even if it only lasts for a few weeks.

There are other homebrew events, such as the Bluebonnet Brew-off and various North Texas Homebrewers Association gatherings. But Brew Riot appeals to casual beer drinkers, not just dedicated homebrewers and their understanding companions, with a daylong party in the Bishop Arts District. This past May was the fourth iteration of the annual festival, which has grown year by year. Current homebrewers rubbed elbows with homebrewers-turned-pro-brewers such as Peticolas, Deep Ellum and Lakewood brewing companies and competed head to head in various categories. Credit Go Oak Cliff with fomenting (or fermenting) interest in the work of up-and-coming beer-makers.

Best Beer Event (That the Observer Didn't Throw)

Big Texas Beer Fest

It's impossible to top Dallas BrewFest or last year's Brew at the Zoo, though we may be a tad biased. So as far as beer events in which we don't have an interest, the April 14 Big Texas Beer Fest was our favorite by a long shot. It brought dozens of breweries and thousands of happy beer drinkers to Fair Park at a very reasonable price. Especially heartening was the sight of long lines for the great Texas beers (many of which are otherwise unavailable in Dallas) and that the Blue Moon booth and those of other faux craft brewers were all but ignored. Rowdy drinkin' music from The O's and Fish Fry Bingo added to the festivities. There were a few hiccups (aside from the hiccups caused by overindulgence), such as the waiting time to get in and too few food trucks to sate the huge crowd's hunger. But overall, organizers Chad and Nellie Montgomery did a fantastic job and likely will smooth over whatever is in their power to correct. The next one should be even better.

Talk to Kessler Theater artistic director (basically, a booker with style) Jeff Liles for a few minutes and the conversation will likely turn to a strange encounter with a rock star, relationship with a famous rapper or some momentous musical event in Dallas history. Whether it's his role in the infamous Nirvana show at Trees, how he was the first DJ to ever play NWA on the radio or the time the Red Hot Chili Peppers stole his parents' towels, he has an interesting anecdote about a pretty wide swath of culture. It doesn't necessarily sound like bragging, more like the excitement of a fan and participant who truly loves and supports music local and otherwise. Someone who's been around for a long time, but still has the enthusiasm and passion of a teenager.

Food porn is not easy. Any photographer who's accidentally flashed their ground meat, or viewer who's been subject to the nasty, fluorescent hue given to a dish under poor light knows bad food photography. Which is why it was impressive when YouPlus Dallas, which we gave Best Dallas Website last year as well, managed to put together a sexy, slow-mo Food Trucks of Dallas earlier in 2012. The video's a perfect summary of how they're tapped into Dallas: the growing food scene, egregiously sexy sandwich photos and long shots up the shafts of Dallas buildings. It's all so hot. You're sexy, YouPlusDallas, and you're constantly finding ways to represent the best cultural nuggets of our city. Keep making us all sweaty, YPD.

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