Best Old School Impresario 2015 | John Hardman | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

At some of the nation's top shopping malls, the "Santa experience" is being retooled. A Santa show produced by DreamWorks, for example, promises a "fully immersive story hosted by characters," including "a thrilling four-minute flight on Santa's sleigh." The shows Dallas puppet maestro John Hardman has produced with his Le Theatre de Marionette for 40 years are a flight in the opposite direction, back to a pre-pixel Punch and Judy time. His free Scrooge Puppet Theatre at NorthPark Center every holiday season — witty ad-libbed insults from Dickens' old miser — is borne of an ancient art form that entrances even today's over-entertained children and adults.

John Hardman Productions, 214-824-6435

If you're really trying to shake your groove thing, Station 4 is the only place to go in Dallas. This massive club on Cedar Springs is always playing pulsing techno, and the dense crowd means you won't have to be self-conscious about your moves. In addition to the five-plus dance floors, you can also get tips on dancing from the drag queens performing in The Rose Room. If you're the type who has to be really, really drunk to dance, you can a) accomplish that, or b) just stand in the corner and observe as people of all walks of life dance the night away. Don't be surprised to see a few in full-on furry costumes grinding on the stage or a Lady Gaga impersonator getting it on with a guy who looks like an Abercrombie model. Anything can happen at Station 4.

No matter what you've heard about the Dallas school board over the last year, picking the best member isn't easy. Miguel Solis, for example, did a yeoman's job as board president, stitching together consensus in a body ripped by controversy. But Mike Morath is the one who has suffered the worst slings and arrows, usually for his devotion to research and logical thinking. Through it all he has displayed a remarkable ability to grin and bear it. Asked recently if he thought the end could be near for public education, he said, "If we give up on public schools, we give up on America."

District 2, Dallas Independent School District, 214-925-3700,

District 1 (Oak Cliff) Dallas City Councilman Scott Griggs is known outside his district for leadership in citywide battles against bad stuff like fracking operations near homes and schools and that stupid toll road they want to build along the river. But he's better known inside his district for the unheralded hard work of constituent services, seeing to it the parkways get mowed and business start-ups don't get shut down by red tape. A constituent said she was surprised recently that Griggs had heard about her getting mugged and had spoken to the police department about the incident on her behalf. "I'm just a nobody," she said. But nobody's nobody in Scott Griggs' district.

District 1, Dallas City Hall, 1500 Marilla St., Room 5FN, 214-670-0776,

You know the satisfaction of walking into a bar and realizing you've found exactly what you've been looking for? For Dallas metal heads, that feeling comes as they step through the doors of Reno's Chop Shop. It has been an institution of the Dallas metal scene for years. The bar keeps things simple, which is a large part of its appeal. Not much legwork goes into planning for a night parked at Reno's. The drink? Beer. The attire? Black. The music? Heavy. Plus, the attached venue hosts some of the wildest bands on earth, solidifying Reno's metal credentials.

Patrick Williams

DJ Red Eye holds down a multitude of roles at It'll Do Club, including promoter, host and, most important, resident DJ. He has over two decades of experience controlling dance-floor vibes, with residencies at some of the most notable dance clubs in Dallas clubland history, from Club One back in the day to It'll Do and Beauty Bar today. Red Eye brings to the table a savant-level knowledge of classic club tracks (many of which he owns on vinyl) and a firm grasp of the latest tracks with underground buzz. Red Eye can read a crowd like few others and uses his deep knowledge and extensive technical skill behind the decks to get any crowd to shake their shoes.

Wait a minute, he's not the mayor. Philip Kingston is just a City Council member from East Dallas. But he's out-mayoring Mike Rawlings by doing all the things a mayor should do. He stands up to the Dallas Citizens Council, for example. (They're the old mossbacks who've been calling the shots in Dallas since before Elvis.) Like the time they told him he couldn't attend their political luncheon, so he went anyway and made them throw him out. That's the kind of cool stuff a mayor should do — stand up for the city and the people who live in it.

District 14, Dallas City Hall, 1500 Marilla St., Room 5FN, 214-670-0776
Kathy Tran

The craft cocktail movement has done wonders for booze enthusiasts, but it has also muddled the drinking scene with pretension and overpriced drinks. Benj Pocta could chew your ear off about obscure bitters, but he's much more likely to ask you about your personal tastes and then actually listen to your response. The drinks he serves at Small Brewpub are straightforward and refined, but they also boast enough inventive ingredients (smoked tea, for example) to keep the drinking interesting. Bonus: Each of his creations only costs $8, and he can also pour you one of the city's best local pilsners.

Tucked under the knee of two freeways, with a wild, forested flood plain at its southern edge, the neighborhood around Bonton Farms organic community garden has long been the urban island in a part of southern Dallas that isn't quite paradise. It was a place where kids might not even know there was a big, beautiful world growing just beyond it. But Bonton is turning that around. Habitat for Humanity has built almost 200 homes in this stretch of about 100 small blocks. And the best and happiest thing to happen has been Bonton Farms itself, a faith-based community garden with goats, chickens and a guard dog still working on the idea of guarding the chickens, not eating them. From seedlings of great ideas, bigger, better things sprout. Let the good times roll in an area of Dallas that's just starting to blossom.

If we're being honest, every other karaoke night in town is pointless in light of Good Luck Karaoke. Imagine the Joker seizing control of a bar once a week to make people sing songs for his twisted entertainment and you're pretty much there. Every Thursday night, Twilite Lounge offers a peek into the mixed-up world of Deep Ellum's OG residents — the ones who've been there through the bad times, the good times, the new bad times and now the yuppie times — who don't take too kindly to outsiders coming in and turning their playpen into something it's not. So beware: It's a madhouse, but you'll have a hell of a time.

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