The New Dallas A hometown girl returns to find all her favorite things—chalupas, sarsaparilla, and a gleaming skyline—sparkling with a bright new style. Budget Travel Tuesday, Oct 19, 2010, 12:00 AM At Dallas's Belmont Hotel, in the Oak Cliff neighborhood, west of downtown (Misty Keasler) Budget Travel LLC, 2016


The New Dallas

A hometown girl returns to find all her favorite things—chalupas, sarsaparilla, and a gleaming skyline—sparkling with a bright new style.

Once a month, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) stages a Late Nights festival, and I'm drawn downtown by the museum's punchy Twitter feed ("Ukulele on Level 4 right now"). Close to midnight, I find myself cheering on a raucous live reggae band; throughout, women are stalking the galleries in avant-garde heels; and on the ground floor, a table in the Tech Lab is laden with everything you might need to create a metallic pipe-cleaner masterpiece.

During my after-hours reverie, I'd missed entire galleries completely, so I make time on Sunday morning to revisit the DMA and also explore the Dallas Arts District's newer museums—like the Nasher Sculpture Center and The Crow Collection of Asian Art—in the light of day. At the small but exquisite Crow Collection, I admire a gleaming 15th-century Ming dynasty Buddha, and at the DMA's sculpture garden, I watch a couple unpack a picnic between a wall of rushing water and a futuristic bench designed by Zaha Hadid. Down the street, a DJ plays acid jazz in the garden of the Nasher, a "roofless museum" of modern sculpture founded by the same man who created NorthPark. I feel a wash of gratitude to be able to see so much art in the space of a few blocks; it used to be that most of the art in Dallas was dispersed among the city's commercial spaces like hotel lobbies and the mall. Tony Font, the co-owner of the Soda Gallery, had told me that his favorite place in the entire city was a hidden sculpture at the Nasher called Tending, (Blue). And there, behind a door so nondescript it could house an HVAC unit, I discover a modern-day, secular pantheon, a room with cooling granite benches tilted toward an open view of the sky. Tipped back like I'm getting my hair washed at a salon, I watch dragonflies and airplanes pass over the vivid-blue portal. It's spiritual and moving—and for 10 minutes I have it all to myself. When other folks step into the room, I welcome them with a smile, all too happy to share Dallas's new richness together.

Later that afternoon, I meet up with a former coworker named Lauren who moved here from midtown Manhattan and offered to introduce me to some of her favorite discoveries. Having grown up in Mississippi, Lauren appreciates the way Dallas combines urban amenities with a small-town pace. "I get to sit outside drinking margaritas in November with really friendly people," she explains. Our first stop happens to lead us to a couple who made a similar choice: Adam and Alicia Rico, who recently traded Brooklyn for Big D. The Ricos are owners of Bows and Arrows, a boutique and flower shop in the area just north of downtown where the Uptown, Oak Lawn, Knox-Henderson, and Lower Greenville neighborhoods bleed together into one live/eat/shop pleasure center. I chat with Alicia's parents, who sometimes help out on weekends, and buy a Lucite dachshund ring. As Lauren and I leave, we're sent off with a call of "Y'all have fun!" and I start to feel a sort of neighborly glow I never got at the Galleria mall.

A few blocks away at the Taco Joint, a gem of a Tex-Mex taqueria with album covers on the ceiling and a cheerful mural on the back wall, every table is filled with young families or Southern Methodist University students hunkered down over $2 chalupas. The guac is as great as you'd expect, rich and limey, but more important, the restaurant has pioneered what may be the world's best condiment—homemade jalapeño ranch—that sends us back for seconds.

As we cruise past blocks of valet stands and dozens of new apartment buildings—from Melrose Place–style haciendas with fountains and tiled courtyards to spare modernist cubes—I feel so confused: What used to be here? Lauren can't tell me, of course, but a few long-gone scenes start to take shape in my mind. I see scrubby lawns and dry cleaners that I don't miss so much, but I start to recall other things the construction has replaced, like the Mexican restaurant where my family and I would have dinner on Sundays beneath autographed portraits of Tom Landry–era Dallas Cowboys sporting sideburns and mustaches. For a moment I feel a slight pang of loss, but then Lauren and I stop for a cocktail at Park, which—with its outdoor fireplace, sultry chinoiserie-themed interiors, lantern-lit garden, and bocce court—cheers me right up. Instead of dye-soaked maraschino cherries, staffers use fresh blackberries and sprigs of mint for garnish. We watch a mixologist muddle thyme and strawberries for a complicated drink called a Jagger's Lips, and I am heartbroken by how good it tastes, because I will never be able to re-create it at home.

I want to repay Lauren for introducing me to these new places by taking her to Reunion Tower, but I'm slightly concerned. I'd ventured down this nostalgic path once before in the late '90s and regretted it: Between the brass railings, maroon carpeting, and wilted food, revisiting the tower that had enchanted me as a child felt deflating. But last year, after a two-year renovation, Wolfgang Puck reopened Five Sixty, as it's now called, which lured us in with the prospect of a happy hour where certain cocktails and pan-Asian appetizers only cost $5.60 apiece, instead of the usual $12 to $22. As we step off the elevator, Lauren squeezes my hand and says, "This is fabulous!" My heart skips a beat, too. Glamorous gray-velvet sofas and glinting cocktail tables spread out before us, and as the panoramic view slowly unfolds—it takes 55 minutes for the restaurant to make a single rotation—I slip right back into a state of pure wonder. High above the distant red-neon rooftop Mobil pegasus, I can make out the blue Ferris wheel at Fair Park, the Trinity River corridor, and the birds gliding far below.


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