What started as a battle cry has become a running joke: Don't Uptown my Deep Ellum. Hell, it's even a Bullzerk T-shirt. But it already feels too late. The commodification of Deep Ellum's "grit" has already transformed the neighborhood, begetting one flash-in-the-pan trend after the next. Last Saturday night, when the line at rolled ice cream shop Chills 360 wound out the door, I found myself next door at DoHolics, which advertises safely edible cookie dough and "selfie shakes." What I got was two tablespoons of lukewarm, damn near inedible cookie dough — which cost $5 and immediately went into the nearest trash can.
Neighborhoods change — especially popular ones. There's no denying it, and fighting it likely won't get you very far. This weekend, Deep Ellum will lose another of the businesses that made it what it was. Baker's Ribs announced yesterday on Facebook that, as of Sunday, they're shuttering the Deep Ellum location and moving the operation to their Northwest Highway location.
"It has been wonderful serving you these past few decades, and we will miss the fun eclectic neighborhood where we came to fame," Baker's Ribs posted. "Even though the Deep Ellum location is closing, don't worry, Baker's Ribs can still deliver lunches and cater your events downtown. Our Northwest Highway location will welcome you!" According to Robert Wilonsky at the Dallas Morning News, a bank is coming to the space formerly occupied by Baker's Ribs. Of all the things that could go into that space, that's a pretty helpful one for the neighborhood.
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Restaurants come and go every day — it's an exceedingly high-turnover industry. But this loss is another benchmark in the evolution of Deep Ellum. It's becoming harder and harder to find the affordable, straightforward meals that fed working-class people in this neighborhood for decades. Not far from Baker's Ribs, brown paper covers the windows of what was, until recently, Wild About Harry's, which served no-frills hot dogs and custard for only three years before throwing in the towel.
The honest, un-trendy neighborhood joints just can't compete with massive, multimillion-dollar behemoths with $15 cocktails and retractable rooftop patio ceilings. Places like Vidorra, Stirr, Bottled Blonde and Harlowe MXM — their sprawling rooftop patios filled with poshly dressed diners taking selfies with the skyline and eating $16 burgers — are no longer the exception in Deep Ellum. They're the new normal. It is, as armchair Buddhists might say, neither bad nor good. It just is.
As rents continue to increase and massive new luxury apartment complexes with names like the Epic start housing the privileged few who can afford their pricey rent, we can expect the demographics to shift even more. The bar where everybody knows your name may one day become the french fry restaurant with a hashtag in its name. The familiar will become the Instagrammable.
“My business is not way up like everyone else. I’m kind of down,” Pete Zotos, owner of St. Pete’s Dancing Marlin, told the Observer last year, just before the no-frills bar turned 25. “Everyone keeps talking about the rebirth of Deep Ellum. ... It hasn’t hit me yet. It’s coming.”