The Cedars has been trying for years to become a destination. The neighborhood adjacent to downtown and the convention center hasn't tried to be the place to be, just a place to be. It's worked to create a neighborhood identity and foster enough independent businesses to draw people in.
In the last several years, The Cedars has proven that it has things to offer. There are trendy lofts and luxury apartments, the same as the rest of Dallas, but the neighborhood also boasts industry-beloved bars, storied music venues and the only Alamo Drafthouse in city limits.
Even with such big grabs as Alamo, it's felt like slow going at times. Quirky midcentury modern bar Cedars Social has struggled publicly to find its footing, drifting through owners and chefs. And although Industry Alley has become a darling watering hole among Dallas' sizable service industry, the Cedars cocktail bar has at times struggled to find its core crowd, owner Charlie Papaceno said recently on a particularly slow night.
There are great businesses in The Cedars, and many of them had hopes of breathing new life into one of Dallas' oldest neighborhoods. They saw a Wild West that could be built from the ground up. They just had to prove its coolness so the crowds — and money — would follow suit.
"We looked at a lot of neighborhoods, but we really liked the vibe and feel here, not just the residents but the uniqueness of all the merchants," Reyna Duong said when she opened her long-awaited banh mi spot, Sandwich Hag, on South Lamar this summer. "Everyone is unique and supportive, so our biggest thing was to come into a neighborhood where we can contribute to its growth."
Business owners in The Cedars will tell you it has gotten better. And why shouldn't it? Being so close to the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center has got to be a boost. When it comes to good bars and restaurants, there is a vacuum surrounding the complex and neighboring Omni Hotel. It's not that there are no restaurants there; there are just very few good restaurants that are nearby and easy to find for the thousands of out-of-towners who filter through each year.
But some nights, The Cedars feels far quieter than it should, considering what it offers. Unlike the increasingly overdeveloped Deep Ellum and Uptown neighborhoods, this stretch of Dallas has room to breathe. That's what made Four Corners Brewing Co. decide to pull up stakes in West Dallas and head to the final frontier, where its new Cedars brewery and taproom opened a few weeks ago on Ervay.
The new facilities will "almost quadruple the amount of beer we can make at a time," says Greg Leftwich, one of Four Corners' partners. The large retail yard and repair shop the brewery took over required very little rehabbing, he said, and enabled the company to build both its dream brewery and a gorgeous new taproom that serves beer and food from 4 p.m. to midnight Monday through Friday, noon to midnight Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.
In characteristic Four Corners style, the vibrant pops of color and warm smell of malt and hops that emanate from the building create a happy presence. The group abandoned one up-and-coming neighborhood for another, and it has no regrets, Leftwich says.
It's a cool space, too. One night, while sipping pints of El Super Bees in the new taproom with a table of journalists, another partner, George Esquivel, showed us the remains of a Prohibition-era tunnel that runs under the sizable taproom and event space. A quarter-mile away, the 110-year-old Butler Building is transforming into 238 high-end lofts and a 270-room, dual-branded Fairfield Inn and Town Home Suites by Marriott.
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And in the last week or so, The Cedars got another small boost in the form of Melted, a new grilled cheese restaurant that opened in the same building that houses Zalat, Industry Alley and Mac's Southside. Still in its early stages, Melted serves a small menu of fancified grilled cheese sandwiches like the That's All Folks ($11.95), which packs pulled pork, ham, mustard, Swiss and pickles in between hefty griddled sourdough. The small but comfort food-laden menu also offers classic mashed potato-stuffed pierogies ($10.95) made by Dallas Farmer's Market vendor Matka's Pierogies.
The space is simple and industrial with bright colors — a recurring theme in the neighborhood — and also features a decent-sized bar serving a rotating list of local beers. It's not life-changing food, but it's fun and comforting in a laid-back setting, and it's yet another small business supporting the other small businesses around it.
These two latest additions aren't likely to make or break any neighborhood, but they help The Cedars inch ever closer to what it's meant to be: a destination neighborhood yet to be sullied by the rampant, thoughtless development that's making Dallas neighborhoods like Bishop Arts look unrecognizable, even to those who worked so hard extolling its previously underappreciated charms. The Cedars is building itself into the neighborhood it wants to be on its own terms, even if it takes a minute.