Best Place to Play Pinball 2016 | Nickelrama | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

The pinball industry has been struggling since the '90s, but in the last couple of years it has made a comeback with new manufacturers producing colorful, cleverly designed games with LED lights and sometimes multiple levels of play. While Dallas is home to a yearly convention, the Texas Pinball Festival, that brings out tables new and old from all over the country for people to play, there are only a few arcades in Dallas that offer pinball fans a selection of tables. The best of these is Nickelrama. For admission of just $3.25 you can play 12 tables that accept nickels, including Game of Thrones, Star Trek, The Walking Dead and the newly released Ghostbusters. They seem to almost always be unoccupied, which can't be said for the rest of the Dave and Busters-type games. They are usually hogged by kids on the weekend. The real draw here is to play pinball in peace.

In October, Dallas' wackiest charity event went up for the fourth time, this time in Oak Cliff's Jefferson Tower Building to raise money for the maintenance of the nearby historic Texas Theatre building. The event invites people to submit dioramas, 3-D models that show a scene or moment in time in miniature, to be auctioned off to benefit the named charity. Everyone from veteran artists such as Bruce Lee Webb to curious amateurs pitched in for a total of 70 dioramas that raised over $12,000. Ten bucks got you in to the event and after-party at Texas Theatre, played by New Fumes, and drinks and tamales were available for purchase. Given the success of the October event, its founders, Jennifer Dunn, Shannon Driscoll, Holly Jefferson, Malina Pearson and Ariel Saldivar, have talked of making Diorama-O-Rama annual, but as of yet there's no word on this year's. We hope it becomes more frequent, because in a town that's known for its love of high-profile charity work, there isn't a single event that's as fun, low-key and positive as this one.

For the past few years, the Dallas Opera has been getting creative and producing works in more contemporary settings, but this year they made their most daring choice yet when they put on Show Boat, which, far from an opera, is a Broadway musical. Sure, the 1927 production about performers on a showboat on the Mississippi river, adapted by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II from a book by Edna Ferber, involves people spontaneously breaking into song, but that's about where the similarities end. Show Boat addresses subjects not often tackled in opera, such as racism, and the songs in English, even delivered by opera singers, were far from typical. But the result was refreshing. The costumes and set, originally built for the Chicago Lyric Opera, were as spectacular as anything seen in New York and Morris Robinson's delivery of "Ol' Man River" gave chills. If Dallas Opera's goal with Showboat was to prove opera's accessibility, they succeeded.

Readers' Pick:

Wicked, Dallas Summer Musicals

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance Company's founder and artistic director, Joshua L. Peugh, creates original works that challenge his audience by highlighting a range of societal issues. In addition to producing invigorating choreography and performances, DCCD Company has a goal of making concert dance accessible and inclusive to its community. His most recent work, GalFriday, was co-created by children from a nonprofit organization called Girls Inc. that works to empower young girls and women. The same work was then showcased in a public preview at NorthPark Center to gain feedback from the general public about the piece. DCCD continues to put out the highest quality work and contribute to a purpose that extends far beyond the studio and stage.

If you're meeting someone from OKCupid for the first time, a drive out to Ennis might not be the brightest idea. But once you have a pretty good sense that your potential partner isn't a serial killer or, worse, an excessive chatterbox, making the half-hour drive from Dallas to see a movie the old-fashioned way is a perfect date. For $7 you can see two brand-new features back-to-back — cheaper than any other theater in town. There are seven screens to choose from and the first movie starts playing at 8:45 p.m., or as soon as it's dark enough. As far we know it's the only drive-in movie theater still operating in the area. Bring some blankets, back your car in, open the trunk and have a movie-going experience that's more comfortable than the fanciest new movie theaters.

There are a dozen places to roller skate in Dallas, but one of the best is city owned and operated Southern Skates off Ledbetter Drive. On Sunday night, the pros come out to adult skate, which runs from 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. Gene Kelly has nothing on the dancers here — couples who dance together more gracefully than most can manage wearing regular shoes and entire packs performing choreographed routines. In the center of the rink, skaters breakdance or just catch their breath and observe the scene around them. Two DJs man the booth and for the first couple of hours hip-hop, rap and R&B dominate the music selection. But once the lights are dimmed around midnight, the mirrored ball starts spinning and disco tracks take hold. Amateurs are more than welcome, and you'll see a few, but if you're wobbly on skates you'd do best to stick to the center. The people on the outer limits of the rink move fast — as fast as you should move to check out this Dallas institution while it's still hot.

Assassination Derby, one of Dallas' best roller derby teams, gave their seal of approval to this more than 50-year-old skating rink located in Mesquite. While it looks like it was built in 1961, a roller skater can't beat the price at Dad's, where skate rentals are only a $1. The skating rink is large. The bathrooms smell like a bathroom should smell and the service is exceptionally friendly. Dad's also offers skating classes for children and hosts dance skating between 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. every Friday for the star-crossed junior lovers or older couples who wish to reminiscence.

Kathy Tran

Alamo Drafthouse brought movies back to Dallas urban core with a bang in 2016, debuting their newest multiplex in the Cedars. Like its siblings in the Alamo chain, Alamo Cedars brings a great beer selection and decent food right to your seat, which at the Dallas location happens to be a very comfy recliner. Add in specialty screenings, a staff who actually seem to care about the movies they show and a strict no-kids-under-6 policy, and the theater is well on its way to becoming a Dallas institution.

Readers' Pick:

Alamo Drafthouse, Cedars

In an ideal world, more people would have the patience and desire to sit through a full symphony, but the fact is a lot of people simply didn't get the introduction to or education in classical music that would allow them to enjoy that experience. That's why the Dallas Symphony was so smart to start the ReMix series at Dallas City Performance Hall, which combines a shorter program with a cocktail and hors d'oeuvres hour. Events like this spring's with Bryce Dessner of popular rock band the National, where they performed his composition Lachrimae for the Oscar-winning film The Revenant, drew people out with a celebrity connection and the promise of a s'mores bar. But the surprise stunner of the night was Wojciech Kilar's chamber string orchestra composition Orawa. ReMix may be a gimmick, but it's a gimmick that seems to be working to get more people excited about classical music, and that's a good thing.

We don't like to toss around the term world class, 'cause Mayor Mike Rawlings likes it too much, but unfortunately that's one of the best ways to describe the annual Soluna Festival. Right out of the gate, the interdisciplinary festival, which merges classical music with other artistic mediums such as dance and visual art, had the clout to foster huge collaborations. And for its second year it was able to maintain that momentum, following up the St. Vincent performance with "Rules of the Game," a world premiere collaboration between pop artist Pharrell Williams, choreographer Jonah Bokaer and New York-based visual artist Daniel Arsham. And that was only one element of the two-week long festival sponsored by Nancy Nasher and David Haemisegger and built around the Dallas Symphony Orchestra: The symphony's Jaap Van Zweden conducting Mahler and performances by Swiss artist Mai-Thu Perret set to music at the Nasher Sculpture Center and Dallas Contemporary were also highlights. Soluna has already proved the first year wasn't a fluke, and Dallas is lucky for it.

Readers' Pick:

Deep Ellum Arts Festival

Whether or not Dallas' Barrett Brown deserves to be serving 63 months in federal prison for linking to data obtained from Anonymous' hack of Stratfor, an intelligence contractor, is beside the point. In the time he's spent in prison, Brown has proved himself as one of the best magazine writers in the United States. He doesn't write for D anymore, but the work he churns out for The Intercept — featuring a perfect mix of humor, insight and melancholy — is as good as anything one could ever hope to read about prison life. Brown's literary criticism, as evidenced by his essay "Stop Sending Me Jonathan Franzen Novels," is pretty great, too.

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