Best Surreptitious Audio 2019 | Eric Johnson Fundraiser Tape | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

Eric Johnson may have won Dallas' mayoral election, but the tape that emerged of one of his fundraisers in May certainly livened up his race with former City Council member Scott Griggs. The tape made clear what many observers had whispered for a long time, that Dallas' moneyed cabal intended to do everything it could to stop Griggs. The anonymously recorded tape didn't change the election's result, but it crystallized what was at stake.

Dallas County District Attorney's Office
Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot

Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot ran for office on a platform of ending mass incarceration and reforming the county's criminal justice system. Last April, Creuzot announced steps his office was taking toward that goal. Among other changes, Creuzot declared that he would no longer prosecute misdemeanor marijuana cases for first-time offenders or cases involving people arrested for possession of trace amounts of drugs, driving with a suspended license or stealing necessary items. It's too early to say how effective these changes will be, but it's always good to see an elected official walking the criminal justice reform talk.

Between the start-ups downtown and bar-saturated M Streets lies the calm, treesy East Dallas neighborhood, Lakewood. Lakewood was developed around 1914, which means that many of the houses are filled with an abundance of secrets from the past. Lake and city dwellers alike flock to the neighborhood to settle in and, for better or worse, never leave. Decades of relics and family histories pile up in the Hutsell houses; sometimes in the form of old postcards tucked away in a closet, others in a dress someone wore to their high school prom in the 1940s. There are always stories to hear, and there is always lots to buy. Sales are either independent or held by one of the many estate sale companies in the area, like Help Me Rhonda, Another's Treasure or Remington Estate Sales. There are, unfortunately, a fair share of McMansions to avoid. Most of the houses, however, have been in Lakewood since the 1920s. They're quirky in their age, with wooden floors that creak and doors that stick in the summer. Wandering around inside is reason enough to stop by. But if you're lucky, maybe you'll find something neat for yourself, like a haunted old portrait, or someone's attic-stashed collection of Playboy magazines.

Trae Patton/NBC
Maelyn Jarmon won the top trophy on NBC's The Voice.

It's not fair, because this was really no contest for Dallas' other reality show stars. For starters, Maelyn Jarmon is someone you don't root against or wish would stop being such a (insert your own filthy noun here). You root for her because she's genuine, nice and talented, unlike 99.1% of the people who make it through reality show producers' casting departments. The Frisco native became one of the first 12 finalists at the start of the 16th season of the NBC singing competition The Voice with a beautiful performance of Sting's "Fields of Gold" during her blind audition, and musical powerhouse John Legend chose her to coach for his first season on the show. The choice would lead to a big payoff for both of them when Jarmon finished first in a neck-and-neck race with Gyth Rigdon, giving Jarmon the top trophy and Legend's first win on his first season of the show. She deserved the win, and we're not just saying that because she was born on the near edge of the metropolitan area. Jarmon is completely deaf in her left ear and has only 80% hearing in her right ear. She deserves everything her music career is destined to bring her.

Dallas' comedy scene has grown so large and expanded so much that it's really hard to come up with a way to make a stand-up show stand out now that almost every theater, club and coffeehouse has an open mic. The only place left to hold an original, one-of-a-kind comedy showcase is to do one on a public street, and comedian Gretchen Young, aka GretchYo, found a way to do that without getting an angry letter from the North Texas Transit Authority. Young created the rolling comedy roadshow Destination Unknown, in which the audience sits on a bus and watches a series of Dallas' best up-and-coming stand-ups such as Tony Casillas, Ashley Elias and herself do a tight 15 minutes of some of their A-list material while the vehicle's in motion. The bus has a list of destinations to local bars and breweries that the guests don't know about until it comes to a stop. Something like this could reinvent the comedy-club concept with its faux brick wall, stool and two-item minimum with an overpriced ticket.

Let's face it: Good swing sets are few and far between. Some of them are too low to the ground; others have those painful ridges on the sides of the seats. Some of them are directly in the sun, which renders the chains and rubber seat scalding. When you find a good swing set, by god you hold onto it for dear life. Like a very special pair of swings at White Rock Lake, which hit nearly every criteria for an ideal swing set experience. Located behind the historic Big Thicket building, the swings are suspended by extra-long chains and are perched atop a slight hill overlooking the docks, the White Rock Lake trail and the water. There are multiple seats, and they're all nice and wide. They're shaded year-round by a canopy of old oak trees. They are a bit loud, however. The chains seem to echo throughout the small park, but it might add a touch of nostalgia, or perhaps authenticity, to the experience. Even the best swings have things they're working through, just like each and every one of us.

Kathy Tran
Free Play Arcade

The Dallas-Fort Worth area has become an interesting hub for new gaming technology, but the thrill of going to an old-fashioned video game arcade that doesn't require a wearable computer will never stop being fun. Free Play Richardson, the launch site of the Free Play retro arcade empire, continues to find ways to maximize its tiny space with neon-pink '80s ambience, the best new and classic arcade games and even some games that no other arcade has ever had under its roof. This past year, the Richardson arcade hosted some of the most fun gaming events in the area. The arcade became one of the first places in the world to get a full-size Atari Pong Cocktail Table that used physical foam pieces floating across a magnetically controlled surface instead of pixels. Free Play Richardson's success has ushered in a new modern arcade movement just when we thought going out of your home to play games was dead.

Board games have made one of the greatest comebacks as a medium for entertainment. It seems like we went from just having Operation and Monopoly to a whole new generation of challenging puzzle, party, strategy, role-playing and card games. The @nerdvana coffee shop and board game store that's also part of the video game-themed restaurant and bar on Frisco's downtown square has given the board-gaming crowd such an awesome place that our only complaint is that we have to go all the way to Frisco to enjoy it. Every inch of the space has been decorated with some kind of gaming paraphernalia or decoration, from the walls to the glass-covered display tables that celebrate genres of gaming like "Star Wars" or the dice-rolling RPG. The board game store's collection is a bit smaller than your average gaming store, but the selection contains the cream of the modern board-gaming crop from modern-day publishing powerhouses like Cryptozoic and North Star Games. And if you just don't have the dough to get one, there is a massive selection of public board games for customers to play while they suck down a tasty iced coffee or a delicious frozen chocolate. If there's a board-game heaven, this is a pretty good artist's rendering.

Beginning with November's state constitutional amendment election, Dallas County voters will be able to vote at any voting location in the county, regardless of when he or she chooses to vote. The decision is good news for those who work far from their homes, those who wait until election day to cast ballots and those who support wider access to the ballot box.

Danny Gallagher
Augustine Frizzell directed Never Goin' Back.

Filmmaker Augustine Frizzell got her start as a costume designer and actress, frequently collaborating with now husband David Lowery (A Ghost Story, Pete's Dragon). But in only two years since she broke out with her debut film, Never Goin' Back, an honest (albeit exaggeratedly comedic) depiction of suburban broke female teenage-hood, Frizzell seems to have actually never gone back. Her technical and expert eye for nuance skyrocketed her into a nonstop level of high demand; Frizzell has since directed episodes for HBO's hit show Euphoria and Starz' Sweetbitter as she continues to line up big-name projects. The Garland native and Lakewood resident also employs many locals, carving a place into silver-screened history for her Dallas crew.

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