Dallas Gets On Track

by Country Inns & Suites
Thursday, November 5, 2009

 A trove of shopping, entertainment and dining establishments can be found as a result of Dallas’ inner-city renaissance.  The advent of rapid transit and an inner-city renaissance make Dallas a fun-filled destination.   By Jeff Siegel; Photography ByCraig Buck  Welcome to Dallas’ inner-city renaissance, which has transformed a city known mostly for pro football, TV’s J.R. Ewing, and other urban cowboys into a vibrant, upbeat urban center filled with first-class shopping, well-regarded restaurants and clubs, and cutting-edge condos. A variety of neighborhoods in and around downtown have been revitalized over the past decade, and locals and visitors alike have returned to see the results.

Best yet, the change has left intact much of the old Dallas, the city of mom-and-pop Tex-Mex restaurants, of neighborhood shopping districts with tree-lined streets, and of turn-of-the-last-century homes that have been lovingly preserved.

Taking the Train
By the early 1990s, downtown Dallas had just one department store left—the venerable Neiman Marcus  flagship, still worth exploring for anyone who remembers the glory days of downtown department stores—and a handful of decent restaurants. That started to change in the mid-1990s, when Dallas Area Rapid Transit began gaining momentum. It now serves 220,000 passengers a day across a 700-square-mile service area.

Three light rail lines run north and south out of downtown, while a commuter line (the Trinity Railway Express) connects Dallas, DFW International Airport and Fort Worth. Fares are $1.75 ($3.75 to the airport and Fort Worth), and the service is clean and efficient. No conductors, no ticket-takers. Buy a ticket from a vending machine and hop on—it’s that simple.

The most obvious—and perhaps most successful—example of DART’s impact is Mockingbird Station, which combines retail, restaurants and apartments about 15 minutes north of downtown, at a Red and Blue line train stop. Real estate veterans figured it would be a bust; instead, Mockingbird Station has been jammed almost since the day it opened.

Of particular interest is the Angelika Film Center, the first art house to open in Dallas in two decades. Students from nearby Southern Methodist University occasionally try lunch at Café Express, which is fast food with a decidedly upscale flair. How many McDonalds serve cornichons?

But Mockingbird Station is far from the only sign of urban growth. The West
yuppified name and all, has turned into a hubbub of shops and restaurants in the Uptown area at Lemmon and McKinney. The development, about 10 minutes north of downtown, is connected to DART by the McKinney Avenue trolley. The West Village has its art house—The Magnolia –as well as Crú – A Wine Bar, known for its wine selection (more than 300 varieties) and its pan-seared Diver Sea Scallops.

Howdy, Neighborhoods
Three more areas near downtown have benefited from the new urban focus:

McKinney Avenue, south of the West Village, is a rejuvenated strip of restaurants and clubs that includes the venerable Hard Rock Café, still purveying its blend of T-shirts, burgers and rock ’n’ roll, and Cork, a well-stocked wine bar with a cozy atmostphere.

Greenville Avenue, which runs south of Mockingbird Station almost to downtown, is an eclectic mix of breakfast joints, neighborhood bars and places to be seen. One of the latter is Terilli’s, a club frequented by pro athletes and other assorted glitterati, while Lowest Greenville is home to a nifty used-clothing store, Ragwear.

Lakewood, one of Dallas’ oldest neighborhoods—15 minutes east by cab from downtown—is home to the art deco Lakewood Theater, a gloriously renovated 1938 “movie palace” popular for film and live music performances by artists such as Bruce Hornsby and George Winston. Next door is Matt’s Rancho Martinez, where the specialty is “monster” chicken-fried steaks.

Two neighborhoods adjacent to downtown played important roles in the district’s rejuvenation. The West End is a mix of restaurants, shops and nightclubs in an early-1900s warehouse district on the northwest side of downtown, bounded by Ross and Record streets. Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse is a legend in Texas barbecue, which means beef brisket slowly smoked.

A younger crowd likes Deep Ellum, east of downtown along Main, Elm and Commerce streets, for its nightclubs and tattoo parlors. The music is mostly rock, but there’s also honky-tonk and country at Adair’s Saloon.

World-class Texan Collections
The Dallas Museum of Art itself is worth a visit even if you aren’t hungry. The museum, at the intersection of Ross and Harwood, is the anchor for the city’s arts district, which includes the I.M. Pei–designed Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, internationally famous for its exceptional acoustics.

The DMA has developed along several intriguing lines. It boasts important African and pre-Columbian collections and a trove of ancient gold jewelry, while
its European holdings include works by Monet, Rodin, Degas, Gauguin, Picasso and Mondrian. Nasher Sculpture Center is an outdoor “roof-less” museum filled with 20th-century sculpture.

It’s a long way from TV’s old Dallas—and all you have to do is take the train.

A Dallas-based journalist and author of six books, Jeff Siegel dines well in downtown Dallas. His work has appeared in Travel & Leisure, Sports Illustrated and Gourmet.