Glamorous and glitzy Dallas is a fast-growing city with some of the flashiest and most sophisticated dining, clubbing, and shopping in the country, much of it in the gay-popular Oak Lawn and Uptown neighborhoods. This sprawling, modern metropolis is also becoming increasingly well known for its myriad cultural offerings, including a much-awaited opera house set to open in 2009. Outdoorsy types will find plenty to do here, too, including sailing on White Rock Lake and biking along the scenic Katy Trail, a converted rail line that cuts through some of the city’s liveliest neighborhoods. Here are eight different ways to get to know Dallas, from nibbling on tasty Tex-Mex fare to line-dancing at one of the country’s largest gay country-western bars to watching the talented GLBT Turtle Creek Chorale perform in a state-of-the-art concert hall.
Drink margaritas and eat great Mexican food
Dallas really doesn’t have any weaknesses when it comes to restaurants—you’ll find superb sushi, barbecue, and French bistro fare in this eclectic city. The leading local specialties, however, are Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking—two similar but distinct culinary traditions that you should make every effort to try when in Dallas. Among popular Mexican gay hangouts, Cyclone Anaya’s Mexican Kitchen is a fun spot in Oak Lawn for potent margaritas and such flavorful nibbles as roast-chicken chile rellenos and lobster enchiladas. Just north of downtown in the Deep Ellum neighborhood, Monica’s Aca Y Alla is a long-running gay fave known for such innovative Tex-Mex fare as chili-pumpkin ravioli and chicken fajitas.
Explore JFK’s legacy
No visit to Dallas is complete without a visit to Dealey Plaza, the infamous spot where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. Across Elm Street, along which Kennedy’s motorcade traveled, is the so-called grassy knoll, from which conspiracy theorists believe a second gunman fired at Kennedy. At the northeast corner of the plaza and Houston Street is the legendary Texas School Book Depository, now home to the Sixth Floor Museum, which preserves the space where Lee Harvey Oswald fired at the president. This poignant museum is loaded with memorabilia related to JFK’s life as well as detailed exhibits that provide insights into the various theories behind his assassination.
Go bar-hopping in Oak Lawn
At the Oak Lawn intersection of Cedar Springs and Throckmorton roads, aka “the Crossroads,” you’ll find ground zero for gay nightlife in Dallas. The several fun clubs and bars here cater to a colorful mix of revelers—on weekends, this dynamic neighborhood is jam-packed with club-goers. Caven Enterprises runs four of the best establishments: J.R.’s, a festive video bar that draws the stand-and-model set; Sue Ellen’s, a swanky women’s dance club with live music on the upper level; Station 4, a cavernous dance club with a campy cabaret upstairs that presents some of the best drag entertainment in the country; and the Mining Company, a rough-and-tumble, cruisy guys’ bar. These four spots are next to one another, taking up a full city block along Cedar Springs Road.
Across the street, the Round-Up Saloon caters to country-western fans and has some of the best line-dancing you’ll ever see. Also within a short walk are Alexandre’s, a classy piano bar; Havana, which is popular with the Latin crowd; and Woody’s, a laid-back sports and video bar.
Explore White Rock Lake and the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden
Plenty of gays and lesbians congregate on sunny days along the shores of White Rock Lake, a 1,000-acre reservoir that’s encircled by a 9.3-mile jogging and biking trail. The lake is also home to several parks and piers that welcome fishing and sailing (but no swimming or motorized boats). Bordering the lake is the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, 65 acres of floral and vegetable gardens and an art- and antiques-filled Spanish Colonial-style mansion. To get here, take I-30 east from downtown, exit north at Grand Avenue, and follow it until it becomes Garland Road. If you’re planning a picnic at White Rock Lake or looking to stock up on delicious gourmet goods and groceries, check out Eatzi’s in Oak Lawn, which has a nice selection of prepared foods and deli sandwiches.
Have a spa day at the Ritz-Carlton
One of the newest hotels in the city’s booming Uptown neighborhood, the Ritz-Carlton opened inside an elegant deco-inspired tower in 2007, along the McKinney Avenue Trolley line and just a short drive from Oak Lawn. To fully appreciate this swish 218-room hotel you might want to spend the night in one of the luxe rooms. Or just plan a day visit, beginning with a Prada skin-care treatment or signature seaweed facial in the 12,000-square-foot spa. At lunchtime, venture outside to the second-floor pool and terrace, where you can order a Cobb salad or spiced-chicken quesadilla while you soak up some rays.
In the afternoon, perhaps after working out for a bit in the extensive exercise room, book a muscle-soothing fitness and sports massage, or an urban renewal antioxidant body mask treatment. By evening, you should be feeling just about ready for a martini in the softly lit Rattlesnake Bar, followed by dinner at the ultra-chic restaurant, Fearing’s. Artful creations like smoked pecan-rolled foie gras with black pepper-caramel and roasted apples, or coriander-crusted lamb chops with white beans and charred-fennel cream, reveal chef Dean Fearing’s considerable talent and imagination.
Get your culture fix in the Dallas Arts District
The largest urban cultural district in the country, the 68-acre Dallas Arts District occupies the northern edge of downtown. Here you’ll find an abundance of museums and performance spaces, among them the spectacular Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, which often hosts the acclaimed GLBT Turtle Creek Chorale and the similarly well-regarded Women’s Chorus of Dallas. The Dallas Museum of Art, Trammell & Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art, and Nasher Sculpture Center are also all well worth visiting. And in 2009, the Winspear Opera House will open here—this architectural gem will host the Dallas Opera, Texas Ballet Theater, and nationally touring theater productions.
Shop your heart out at the NorthPark Center, Highland Park Village, and West Village
There are few cities in America with a more extensive selection of high-end shopping districts than Dallas, where plenty of retail adventures await. If you’re a fan of glitzy indoor malls, head to the NorthPark Center, which is home to such venerable brands as Barneys New York, Bulgari, Diesel, Kate Spade, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and True Religion. This place is humongous—you could spend an entire weekend here.
An even ritzier option is Highland Park Village, which anchors Dallas’s wealthiest residential neighborhood. Shops and restaurants are housed inside elegant Spanish Colonial-style buildings with red-tile roofs, and shaded sidewalks line the neighborhood’s bustling streets. Shopping highlights include Carolina Herrera, Chanel Boutique, Frederic Fekkai, Ralph Lauren, and Rugby. You can break things up with lunch at Patrizio, which serves fresh pastas, pizzas, and salads.
A third retail destination of note is Uptown’s “new urbanist” community, West Village, which was developed as a mixed-use, residential-retail-entertainment district in 2000. This trendy, walking-friendly neighborhood with a sizable GLBT population is accessed by the McKinney Avenue Trolley and has a number of intriguing shops and boutiques, including Cork wine shop, J’Adore Paris, Lucky Brand Jeans, Q Shirtmakers, and West Village Bicycles. You can also catch a feature film at Magnolia Theatre, enjoy a sweet treat at Paciugo Gelato, and relax over a leisurely dinner of Italian-inspired seafood at Pescabar.
Jog or bike the Katy Trail
A former rail line that runs through the center of the city, with convenient access to Oak Lawn and Uptown, the Katy Trail extends for 3.5 miles from downtown’s Victory Park area to the trendy Mockingbird Station area near Southern Methodist University. This landscaped, concrete pathway is ideal for biking, inline skating, and jogging—a perfect venue for working off all that delicious and rich local cuisine you’re likely to sample while in Dallas.
The Little Black Book
Alexandre’s (214-559-0720, www.alexandres.com).
Caven Enterprises (214-559-4190, www.caven.com).
Cyclone Anaya’s Mexican Kitchen (214-420-0030).
Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau (800-C-DALLAS, www.visitdallas.com). Eatzi’s (214-526-1515, www.eatzis.catertrax.com).
Monica’s Aca Y Alla (214-748-7140, www.monicas.com).
Paciugo Gelato (214-219-2665, www.paciugo.com).
Patrizio (214-522-7878, www.patrizios.net).
Pescabar (214-522-3888, www.pescabar.com).
Ritz-Carlton Dallas (214-922-0200, www.ritzcarlton.com).
Round-Up Saloon (214-522-9611, www.roundupsaloon.com).
Andrew Collins is the author of Fodor’s Gay Guide to the USA and eight additional travel guides. He can be reached care of this publication or at OutofTown@qsyndicate.com.