By: Andrew Collins*/Special to TRT—
The ninth largest city in the country, and one of the nation’s most important centers of commerce and culture, Dallas (www.visitdallas.com/things-to-do/diverse-dallas/lgbt) carries a reputation as a powerful business center, a highly influential retail and restaurant hub, and a gay community with high visibility in just about every sphere of city life. It’s also home to a vibrant downtown arts district that’s grown considerably in both size and stature in recent years, and it offers some of the hottest gay nightclubbing in the country.
In short, there’s plenty to see and do here—the challenge for weekend visitors is trying to pack everything into a relatively quick visit. Here’s one strategy for making it happen:
On your first night in town, ease into the city’s friendly, relaxed pace by spending some time in Oak Lawn, the core of Dallas’s gay scene. Here you’ll find several fun fashion shops and boutiques as well as inviting bars and restaurants on or near the neighborhood’s main drag, Cedar Springs Road. At the intersection with Throckmorton Street, nicknamed “the Crossroads,” you’re in the heart of one of the most vibrant gay nightlife districts in the world.
Among dining highlights, you can go casual with a jalapeno-cheddar burger at Hunky’s (www.hunkys.com), a fun local fast-food restaurant in the heart of the action. Or opt for a more leisurely meal at trendy Dish (www.dish-dallas.com), with its sleek dining room and first-rate contemporary, globally inspired fare and well-crafted cocktails. Another vibrant spot, with strong margaritas and tasty Mexican fare, is Cyclone Anaya’s (www.cycloneanaya.com), which turns out spicy carne asada and lobster enchiladas.
On your first evening in town, you might want to take it easy and stick to a couple of the more easygoing options in the neighborhood, such as Alexandre’s, which presents softly sophisticated jazz and cabaret shows; the Latin-inflected bar Havana; and Woody’s (www.dallaswoodys.com), a classic gay video bar that airs comedy clips on Friday nights.
Kick the morning off with a big breakfast at the Original Market Diner (www.originalmarketdiner.com), which is something of a Dallas institution for filling, hearty omelets and breakfast burritos along with homemade cherry and chocolate–peanut butter pies—the people-watching at this ’50s-era drive-in-style greasy spoon is highly entertaining.
Then head downtown to explore the Dallas Arts District (www.thedallasartsdistrict.org), which comprises 68 acres of often-striking performance halls and art museums—it’s the largest neighborhood of its kind in the country. On Saturday afternoons or evenings there’s typically always something interesting staged at the spectacular I.M. Pei-designed Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, home to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra; the Dallas City Performance Hall, where the acclaimed GLBT Turtle Creek Chorale often performs, as do dance troupes, musicians, and theater groups; and the AT&T Performing Arts Center, which is home to the strikingly modern Winspear Opera House and presents everything from Broadway tours to exceptional opera.
On the visual arts side, check out the phenomenal Dallas Museum of Art, whose distinctive building, designed in 2007 by Edward Larrabee Barnes, houses more than 24,000 works spanning many centuries and cultures. The nearby Trammell & Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art focuses on works from throughout China, Indian and Japan, and the neighboring Nasher Sculpture Center has impressive indoor galleries but is perhaps best regarded for its leafy, tree-shaded 2.5-acre sculpture garden, a wonderful place to stroll on a sunny afternoon.
The Nasher has a popular Wolfgang Puck Café, and the Dallas Museum of Art’s DMA Café is also an appealing lunch spot. But the coolest lunching in the Arts District these days is at the collection of food trucks assembled beside the lush green lawns of Klyde Warren Park, a 5.2-acre swath of greenery opened in 2012 atop the Woodall Rodgers Freeway—you’ll find everything from gourmet ice cream sandwiches at Coolhaus to Cajun-inspired oyster po’boys and gumbo at The Lab.
It’s a short drive or 20-minute walk to one other must-see downtown landmark, the West End Historic District. Here you’ll find Dealey Plaza, where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. At the northeast corner of the plaza, stop by the infamous Texas School Book Depository, now home to the poignant and fascinating Sixth Floor Museum, which preserves the space where Lee Harvey Oswald fired on the president.
As the sun descends on the Big D, there’s a choice place to take in the views: the Jetsons-esque, 561-foot Reunion Tower, which was built in 1979 but last year added an awesome new Ge-O Deck observation platform, with a high-definition zoom cameras and impressive telescopes that you can use to zero in on local landmarks. You can eat dinner up here, too, enjoying the same snazzy views from Five-Sixty by Wolfgang Puck (www.wolfgangpuck.com). Or, if you’re catching a performance later, head back to the Arts District, where nearby dinner options of note include Stephan Pyles (www.stephanpylesrestaurant.com), the eminent, eponymous restaurant of the city’s openly gay celeb chef and cookbook author (be sure the check out the ceviche bar). Tei-An Soba House (www.tei-an.com), which serves fine sushi and creative Japanese fare, and Jorge’s Tex-Mex (www.tacosgarcia.com), are other great bets in the area.
Later in the evening, return to Oak Lawn’s Crossroads neighborhood for a proper night on the town. Several fun establishments here cater to a colorful mix of revelers, including J.R.’s (www.jrsdallas.com), a festive video bar that draws the stand-and-model set; Sue Ellen’s (sueellensdallas.com), a swanky women’s dance club with live music; Station 4 (www.station4dallas.com), a cavernous dance club that’s home to the campy Rose Room cabaret, a must for fans of drag shows; and the Mining Company (www.tmcdallas.com), a somewhat cruise-y place known for its hunky dancers. Across the street, the Round-Up Saloon (www.roundupsaloon.com) caters to country-western fans and has some of the best line-dancing you’ll ever see.
A short drive up the road, fans of strippers make a b-line to The Brick (www.brickdallas.com), while Kaliente (www.kaliente.cc) tends to draw a friendly Latino crowd. Keep going north to find a few more gay party spots—leather-and-Levi’s dudes enjoy the Dallas Eagle (www.dallaseagle.com), which has a great on-site boutique selling leather and gear, while the quirky neighborhood joint the Tin Room (www.tinroomdallas.com) is a welcoming spot for admiring dancers and chatting with fellow patrons. If you’re still looking to admire hot go-go boys, drive over to the small cluster of gay bars on North Fitzhugh Avenue, including the sassy and fun BJ’s NXS (bjsnxs.com) and the more intimate lounge Zippers.
If you made it out last night to even half of the clubs mentioned in this article, pat yourself on the back and sleep in—then treat yourself to a nice big brunch. In Oak Lawn, aforementioned Dish restaurant is well-regarded for its campy drag brunch, while art deco-style Lucky’s Café (www.luckysdallas.com) earns kudos for Belgian waffles, huevos rancheros and other short-order specialties. Another good bet is gay-owned Komali, which serves delicious contemporary Mexican cuisine (the same chef here also operates neighboring Salum, which is well-regarded for seasonally driven American fare).
After yesterday’s decidedly downtown focus, Sunday is a nice time to see the city’s greener pastures. If you’re seeking a more naturally scenic setting to tan your hide than the pool at your hotel, head to White Rock Lake, a 1,000-acre reservoir that’s encircled by a 9.3-mile jogging and biking trail. A 20-minute drive east of Oak Lawn, the lake is also home to the stunning Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, which contains 66 acres of fragrant and colorful floral displays and an art- and antiques-filled Spanish Colonial-style mansion.
Another fine way to experience the outdoors is by setting out along the lushly landscaped Katy Trail, a 3.5-mile multi-use trail that passes through Oak Lawn and Uptown along a disused rail track. A perfect stop along the way for refreshments is the Katy Trail Ice House (www.katyicehouse.com), which has picnic tables under a grove of trees (there’s a huge beer selection plus delicious burgers and barbecue).
One Dallas neighborhood that continues to develop cachet among everybody from hipsters to gay scenesters is Oak Cliff, a historic and formerly downcast residential neighborhood a few miles southwest of downtown that’s home to a clutch of inviting boutiques, design shops, bars, and restaurants. Late on Sunday, hit the blocks around Bishop Avenue and Seventh Street, an area known as the Bishop Arts District, stopping by Emporium Pies (home of the decadent Cloud Nine three-layer caramel, butterscotch, and brown sugar pie), Dude Sweet Chocolate artisanal chocolatier, and Bishop Street Market gift and housewares shop.
Then settle in for dinner at one of the neighborhood’s inviting restaurants, such as gay-owned Hattie’s (www.hatties.com), a homey yet romantic spot specializing in Lowcountry-inspired Southern fare, or Boulevardier (www.dallasboulevardier.com), a delightful French wine bar and bistro. Wind down the evening with a drink or two in Oak Cliff’s unabashedly cute neighborhood gay lounge, Barbara’s Pavilion (www.barbaraspavillion.com), which is known for karaoke on Sunday nights.
Where to stay in Dallas
Dallas has seen an influx of trendy, upscale hotels over the past decade, with many of them going up downtown or in nearby hip neighborhoods. That said, the longtime favorite address of those wishing to be steps from Oak Lawn bar-hopping is the Warwick Melrose (www.warwickhotels.com/dallas), a grand 1924 hotel with smartly updated rooms and an inviting, old-world bar, The Library. Also within easy walking distance of the city’s many gay bars, the intimate Daisy Polk Inn (www.daisypolkinn.com) is named for the opera star who once owned it and contains six romantic, antiques-filled rooms with hardwood floors and top-quality linens (an extensive full breakfast is included in the quite reasonable rates).
Just a short drive from Oak Lawn, the Hilton Anatole (www.hiltonanatolehotel.com) has spacious, stylish, art-filled rooms and oodles of amenities. Take advantage of the full-service spa, extensive fitness center and several restaurants, including one of the best venues for steak and seafood in the city, SER, which affords spectacular skyline views from its 27th-floor perch.
Downtown’s Omni Dallas (www.omnihotels.com) is another larger property, this one LEED-certified and close to several key attractions—it’s especially known for its heated infinity pool with dazzling views of the downtown skyline. Far more intimate is downtown’s Hotel Joule (www.thejouledallas.com), which also has a gorgeous infinity pool angled high above the city, plus gorgeous, sleek rooms with a design by vaunted style-maker Adam Tihany.
*Andrew Collins produces the website GayTravel.About.com and writes about travel for a variety of LGBT and mainstream publications. He can be reached care of this publication or at OutofTown@qsyndicate.com.