Best Suburb
Dallas Observer

Recently, one of our staff members moved to — dare we say it? — Plano. The looks of pity on the faces of his tattooed co-workers were a disheartening sight. Plano! The epitome of white-bread, cookie-cutter suburbia totally lacking in hipness. The only people who want to move there are major industries like Toyota and their well-educated employees. Why would any self-respecting alternative journalist want to relocate there? Well, let's see: A recently remodeled house with a yard rents for roughly $700 less per month than a slightly smaller, yardless townhouse in central Dallas. It has a functioning government that makes signing up for city services and finding info a snap. It's possible to drive down its wide, well-maintained streets without fear of breaking an axle on one's car. It's redone old downtown is sort of a like a Deep Ellum for grownups. Good street tacos are scarce, but great Asian food is abundant. We've yet to see a restaurant — and they have plenty of good ones, believe it or not — that requires valet parking. It has miles of bike trails and plenty of parks. And it's possible to walk the streets of Plano without being hit up for change by a homeless person every 50 yards. Not that anyone ever walks anywhere in Plano.

Best Naughty Magician
Roderick Pullum

Edward Ruiz's magic shows are really one part magic, one part vaudeville, one part burlesque and something totally unique. Ruiz, who goes by the moniker Confetti Eddie, got his start (and the nickname) while firing a confetti cannon for Ruby Revue burlesque shows. His personal style and approach to his craft match wits with the magicians of yesterday, but the scantily clad beauties onstage certainly don't discourage the younger generation from showing up to this often-overlooked form of entertainment. When Ruiz isn't escaping a straitjacket or slicing his lovely assistants in half, local musicians provide a soundtrack for the evening. You'll want to snag tickets for his latest and most popular gig, The Naughty Magic Show, which takes place at Dallas' premier burlesque venue, Viva's Lounge; they disappear pretty fast.

Best Record Store Stage
Steve Gaddis

At Good Records, music is always playing, and every day is record store day. But some days also include live musical performances. The Lower Greenville Avenue record store's pink AstroTurf stage, no larger than a midsize kitchen, plays host to national touring acts and local bands alike. A far cry from neighboring music venues' gigs, the Live from the AstroTurf shows offer intimate performances alongside a great selection of vinyl records, CDs, cassette tapes, DVDs and more. Typically, after their sets, the performers hang out near the stage for a bit to chat with the audience, which offers fans the chance to meet and rub elbows with (and often get autographs from) the likes of Alice Cooper and Steve Earle, as well as indie acts such as Matthew Sweet and No Age.

The times, they are a (not really) changing. The past year goose-stepped us further into protest for both sides of the law — especially within the black community. And a T-shirt that spells out "Legalize Being Black" began populating Dallas in 2016, worn by artists and activists alike. Designed by Stem & Thorn owner Jeremy Biggers, the shirt, simple with white letters on black, is a response to modern racism. It's become synonymous with spreading the straightforward idea of equality at a time when it is seemingly nonexistent. Biggers' printed statement is uncomplicated but bold and represents the best of Dallas.

In April, Josey Records drew attention when it announced a book club that didn't involve reading any books. But Hip-Hop Book Club has proven with its monthly discussions of seminal rap albums that reading need not be the defining feature of book clubs. Instead, it's the willingness to dig deeply into a topic and share your thoughts with enthusiastic strangers. Each month, Josey picks a new album and hosts an open forum to discuss what does or doesn't make it a classic, and dozens turn out to participate. Albums discussed so far include Kendrick Lamar's Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt, Outkast's Aquemini and Kanye West's The College Dropout. Four friends were inspired to found the club by their passionate text message conversations. Kenny Reeves, Terrance Lee, Attah "A.T." Essien and Sobechi "Sobe" Ibekwe lead the conversation, which is organized into four categories: influence, visuals, production and lyrics. Attendees are invited to approach the mic and share their opinions. When the conversation is over, a vinyl copy of the album under discussion isn't far away.

Best Live Music Venue
RicoDeleon

Jeffrey Brown has made magic at Armoury D.E. this year with his free Saturday night series, Locked and Loaded. Under the name King Camel, Brown has booked many shows at venues like Crown & Harp and Three Links over the past few years, but he's the first person to helm Armoury's new music program, and he's really made it his baby. Under his guidance, the bar/restaurant has also become a place where up-and-coming local bands like Polystarra and buzzy national acts like A Giant Dog get often promised but rarely delivered exposure. The well-heeled patrons who come for the food and drink are a distinct group from the bohemian music-lovers who show up for what's on the patio. The beauty is that the two groups spontaneously and peacefully mingle. Lots of people now leave Armoury having experienced something they otherwise wouldn't have — and that's pretty cool.

Readers' Pick: The Bomb Factory

Best New Venue
Cal Quinn & Aly Faye

Last year, Independent Bar & Kitchen blended into the landscape of Deep Ellum. The bar and restaurant, opened by the owners of Club Dada and Off the Record in spring 2016, fit right in with the evolving neighborhood's penchant for upscale comfort food, but until this year it had failed to truly differentiate itself. That's when former Dada talent buyer Moody Fuqua was given reign over the back room, renamed Regal Room, on Wednesday nights. Each week, Fuqua curates a free lineup of some of the best new bands in town, from Starfruit to Talkie Walkie to Mother 2. Since Regal Room got off the ground, IBK has been attracting a noticeably more diverse clientele that no doubt appreciates the opportunity to hear some free music midweek, the only time parking in Deep Ellum isn't an Olympic sport.

Best Phoenix
Kathy Tran

There hasn't been any boot-scooting at the Longhorn Ballroom, built in 1950, in nearly a decade. In the '50s and '60s, it was a regular stop for country stars such as Bob Wills and R&B singers Otis Redding and Al Green; in the '70s it went on to host more rowdy shows by punk acts such as the Sex Pistols. But after it was sold in '86, the Longhorn Ballroom lost its luster — and its draw. In recent years, it has been an event space primarily used for quinceañeras. But this year, entrepreneur Jay LaFrance bought the property, and he's dead set on restoring this piece of Dallas history to its former glory. Another bidder was going to tear down the Longhorn Ballroom for an apartment complex, but LaFrance is fixing up the Western murals, hanging the original lighted sign.With the help of his music publicist daughter, Amber, LaFrance is planning retail space, a restaurant and an outdoor space that will open onto the Trinity River this month.

Best Dive Bar
Google Earth

The first handful of times we passed King's X, in a shopping center near Forest Lane and Greenville Avenue, we were fairly certain it was a strip club. The windows are mirrored, so it's impossible to see in. One day, after visiting the excellent Ethiopian restaurant next door, our curiosity compelled us to go in. It's not a gentleman's club at all, but one of the most inviting bars in all of Dallas. King's X is a '70s paradise: The walls are wood-paneled, the ceilings are covered with Budweiser lamps, there's shuffleboard and pool, there are dishes of snacks on the bar and the lighting is low, low, low. On our visit there were five or six other patrons, and the charming bartender was amusing everyone with a story of an affair she'd had in Jamaica. On our way out, we received the traditional "Y'all come back now," but this time it was everyone in the bar in unison. At King's X, you're a regular after one visit.

Readers' Pick: Lakewood Landing

On the spectrum of karaoke experiences, a night out at Barb's in Oak Cliff, which has karaoke Thursdays and Saturdays, falls somewhere between getting onstage in front of hundreds at Sherlock's and booking a private room in Korea Town. The former is too much pressure, and there's not much point in intentionally embarrassing yourself in front of friends who are already bound to love you. Barb's is technically a gay bar, but the only universal descriptors for its karaoke clientele are laid back and supportive. The drinks are strong and there are bags of chips hanging behind the bar if singing Adele, Fleetwood Mac and the Beatles makes you a bit peckish. Speaking of which, the song choices tend to be pretty inoffensive here. Your ears might bleed a bit, as they should at any karaoke night, but it won't be due to a cover of Papa Roach.

Readers' Pick: Twilite Lounge

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