BEST MARQUEE 2020 | The Kessler Theater | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer
Mike Brooks

The historic Kessler Theater in Oak Cliff is an indisputable source of pride for the city; it has survived fires, decades of inactivity and changes in ownership — and now, 2020. Besides having one of the best sounding rooms and some of the best live music programming, the venue has remained a class act throughout the pandemic. Owner Edwin Cabaniss was instrumental in the fight for the Save Our Stages Act introduced in late July, which could mean billions in relief to independent venues. The staff also entertained the neighborhood using the theater's marquee to spell out uplifting messages and educated us through song recommendations with a song of the day. Even with the curtains drawn, The Kessler refused to leave music-starved audiences to their own devices and directed us to Iggy Pop, Soundgarden and even Miley Cyrus' latest SNL performance.

Perhaps one could say that Netflix reality series The Circle predicted we'd be stuck in quarantine for an indefinite amount of time. Upon the show's premiere this past January, Dallas-native Chris Sapphire became a fan favorite, offering gems of advice for people to maintain inner peace and high self-esteem. One of his most notable one-liners on the series refers to being patient with others and yourself as you continue to grow through life. Perhaps we should all live by the motto "don't rush a cake, let it bake." While there's no telling when this pandemic will be over, we should all channel the spirit of Chris Sapphire and remember, "tomorrow's a brand new day to slay."

Dallas native TikToker Nakia Smith, better known as @caunsia, is a deaf TikTok user creating educational and humorous content for more than 374,000 followers. Smith posts daily sign language lessons and educates hearing people on issues deaf people face. She also occasionally takes requests from the comments and educates people on how to sign certain phrases and expressions. In the time of COVID-19, it is important now more than ever that hearing people try to learn how to sign so they can communicate with deaf people without having to lower their masks and have them read lips.

Independent radio has enough challenges for its survival in this day of personalized audio content and homogenized media. Now add a tornado that wrecked their studio and offices into the mix. That's what KNON 89.3 FM faced last year, but it didn't keep them off the airwaves. The locally produced and funded radio station didn't come back. They never left. The staff stayed strong and kept their station on the air even when the entire operation had to be moved several times before and after the tornado. The station delivers an eclectic mix of independent music across every genre that gets zero airplay elsewhere on shows like the blues and soul morning show Grown Folks Music and the weekly reggae program The Friday Night Caribbean Party.

This past year has been one of the worst on record for comedy clubs. The COVID-19 outbreak almost brought live theater of all kinds to a complete standstill. Some moved online. Others went away completely. The nonprofit comedy collective at Stomping Ground also had to pivot, but they've continued to provide the kind of unique opportunities to performers and amateurs at a time when it's most needed. The club started the year off with its unique branded mix of traditional and experimental comedy that included theater performances like playwright Matt Cox's Harry Potter parody Puffs, original sketch and stand up and improv by groups like Irregular Nonsense. The club still finds unique ways to deliver new and interesting shows and classes. The theater offered streaming comedy shows over platforms like Zoom and held socially distanced improv shows and classes in the parking lot.

One of the hardest parts for kids enduring this summer must be the heartbreaking closure of water parks. Splash pads are hardly a replacement for these massive altars to aquatic entertainment, but Little Elm's 3,500-square-foot refreshing playground for children is pretty damn close to the kiddie area of a major aquatic theme park. The McCord Park splash pad is vibrant and colorful. It has features for little to big kids from the water-squirting garden fixture that shoot light mists and spurts of refreshing water to the massive, spinning paddle wheel that dumps gallons on the heads of the overheated.

Matthew Martinez

What. A. Gem. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins has been one of the few Texas officials willing to act like the adult in the room. Unlike some, Jenkins is dedicated to heeding guidance from public health officials to prevent further COVID-19 spread. He's been steps ahead of state authorities the whole way through, understanding just how essential a universal mask mandate is to stymying transmission. Speaking of masks, Jenkins isn't afraid to wear his Black Lives Matter face covering. Listening to experts' advice and championing social justice? Swoon.

The mask mandates intended to help slow the spread of the coronavirus created a movement that defies all logic: the anti-mask people. Organizer Sam Walker tried to hold his million moron march in July around the baffling idea that Krogers' asking customers to wear masks is akin to the rise of a Maoist regime. He started with a Facebook event that attracted way more critical comments than supporters. Walker eventually just shut down any further public discussion, the digital equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and humming. The attempted protest at a Kroger store in Irving that followed attracted four unmasked freedom fighters and a bunch of cops and store managers who knew they were coming despite their attempts to hide the location of their demonstration by communicating on Facebook Messenger. There is nothing we can say that sums up this failed attempt to poke in the eyes of "Big Mask" better than Walker's response to our questions about his demonstration. "You know how many people showed," Walker wrote in a Facebook message. "How do you think it went?"

The escape room concept reached an uninspired peak in the past year. This once-novel entertainment experience has racked up more weak and uninspired imitators than an Elvis impersonator convention. Then at the beginning of the year, Raleigh Williams and his Alcatraz Escape Games company came up with a brilliant, fresh concept. The Lewisville Labryinth takes away the tedium of trying to figure out the same, endless strain of lateral thinking puzzles and code deciphering in a single enclosed room and builds on it with a multi-room experience through different theme worlds containing a wide variety of challenges. It's designed to be an all-encompassing experience for players of all kinds, from the beefy bro who's good at physical challenges to the brainy nerd who can see patterns the way the kid in The Sixth Sense can see dead people. Williams and his crew clearly put a great deal of work, ingenuity and style into the challenges and theme worlds. The whole thing even tells a story from beginning to end by tracking players' progress with electronic ID cards leading them to a boss battle against an evil supercomputer. The Lewisville Labyrinth is a multilayered, real world point-and click adventure game.

Best Of Dallas®

Best Of