On Jan. 1, NYLO Dallas South Side officially became Canvas, bringing The Cedars a new arty, upmarket boutique hotel owned by Interstate Hotels & Resorts, a third-party hotel management company. The hotel celebrated its grand opening last Thursday.
Unless you're visiting Dallas on business, you probably only knew of NYLO as the home of Soda Bar, the rooftop bar with arguably the city's most breathtaking view of the downtown skyline. If you're like me, you went to Soda Bar one time — two weeks after moving to Dallas — to drink vodka sodas and take Insta photos of the skyline, and then never went back.
But Jeana Johnson and Leann Berry want to change that.
Visually, Canvas looks a lot like NYLO, or any other Dallas boutique hotel in 2019: bold colors, a mishmash of furniture from conflicting eras and an overabundance of trendy-looking art, all set in a Dallas neighborhood that's been considered "up-and-coming" for the last half-decade but still has yet to hit. But when trying to reform its image to appeal to locals, not just out-of-towners, Canvas did one thing right: They hired two well-known, seasoned Dallas dining veterans to run the hotel's food and beverage program.
Chef Jeana Johnson has a serious Dallas food resume that includes stints at Mot Hai Ba, Ciudad, the Mockingbird Diner and Good 2 Go Taco, which she owned in East Dallas. Bar manager Leann Berry has a resume too long to list, including stints at Komali, the Cedars Social and Ciudad, where she worked with Johnson. The duo have reunited to run the food and beverage program for a hotel that's trying to change its image in Dallas.
"There's not a lot of local foot traffic yet," Johnson says. "As word seeps out that Leann and I are here in collaboration with each other, I think we’ll see a little bit more local foot traffic, for sure."
It's true that Johnson and Berry have a reputation in Dallas, but they've got the goods to back it up. And they suddenly have a lot on their plates: Canvas has a lobby bar, a seven-day breakfast-lunch-dinner restaurant called Chef's Palate and the rooftop cocktail bar, now known as the Gallery Rooftop Lounge, along with room service.
"We know it’s a hotel, but we want people to come to the bar and come to the restaurant and go, oh, it just happens to be a hotel," Berry says.
The bar for tony hotel bars and restaurants is set pretty high in Dallas — think Knife at the Highland, City Hall Bistro and the French Room at the Adolphus or Midnight Rambler at the Joule. Johnson and Berry don't plan to install expensive dry-aging rooms or to change much outside of tables and dinnerware, though they do plan to build production gardens for both the bar and kitchen.
So far, Berry's new cocktail menu is filled with bright, fresh drinks that could easily appeal to sweet-tooth drinkers and cocktail aficionados alike. Playing on the tamarind margarita she's known for, the cocktail Diego's Other Muse is made with mezcal, Cointreau and fresh lime and tamarind juices, and garnished with dehydrated citrus fruit. She's also serving a smoked Old-Fashioned made with Xocolatl Mole Bitters and plans this summer to serve a frozen drink of Zephyr gin, roasted apple syrup, grapefruit bitters and sage.
"What I wanna do is bring in freshness," Berry says. "Building my herb garden, I’m so excited about that."
As for the food, Johnson's new menu won't debut until mid-March, but she plans to add dishes like Moroccan-braised chicken with charred Meyer lemon. She's also planning classics like braised short rib and steak frites.
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"When people travel to Texas, they wanna eat like Texans," she says. And at least for now, the lion's share of her diners are out-of-towners.
The Cedars has long been on the verge of becoming the next "it" neighborhood, but it just hasn't hit that sweet spot yet — though it did recently get a new brewery when Four Corners moved just down the street. Locals are still convinced it will happen, and considering the Cedars' proximity to downtown, they're probably not wrong. Sam Wynne, the owner of BrainDead Brewing and a Cedars resident, recently opened a neighborhood bar called Mike's Gemini Twin on Harwood Street.
"I think it's gonna happen," Berry says. "I'm putting my faith in it, because I'm not planning on going anywhere for a while."
Canvas, 1325 S. Lamar St. (The Cedars)