Good Times in Big D

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-By Serena Makofsky

Sunset in Bamboo in ThailandSure, San Francisco has black-clad coffeehouse style and New York has international sophistication, but don’t write off Dallas. Texas, the land of all that is Brobdingnagian, has a star in Dallas, whose motto is:

“Live large. Think big.”

How big? The country’s ninth-largest city boasts seemingly infinite options for the culture vulture, most notably the most expansive urban art area in the United States, covering 19 blocks. It’s got its own version of Madrid’s Prado in the paintings by Goya, Picasso, and Velazquez at theMeadows Museum, and then there’s the African American Museum, with galleries dedicated to folk art as well as art and artifacts. You’ve just hit cosmopolitan cowboy country.

Downtown Dallas has the illustrious Dallas Arts District, an embarrassment of riches covering 68 acres. Kick things off right at the Dallas Museum of Art, which tours the world and eras through the Clark and Frances Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, Mexican stone sculptures, Gandharan Buddhist art from the second century, 19th-century American silver, Pacific Islands textiles, and Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings. Admire the Picassos and Giacomettis at the Nasher Sculpture Center, and venture out to the garden area to see the glimpse of sky through James Turrell’s sculptural structure, “Tending Blue.” This free-standing building is one of Turrell’s skyspaces, wired to create optical effects that correspond with natural light cycles and atmospheric conditions. What this means is that, if you come at sunset, you’re in for a spectacular show.

Across the street, a cool, postmodern glass and stone space houses the Trammel & Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art. A landmark representation of Chinese jade figures is the highlight, as well as the hanging walkway brightened by suspended origami creations and, on the first floor, a Bamboo and Maple Garden.

Anchoring the uptown segment of the arts district is the AT&T Performing Arts Center, a complex of cultural hotspots bordering the ten-acre Elaine D. and Charles A Sammons Park. The Dallas Opera, Dallas Theater Center, Texas Ballet Theater, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, and Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico call this center home. In the surrounding neighborhood, you can see Cubist-inspired avant-garde art at the MADI Museum and major shows in the upscale galleries along McKinney Avenue.

It wouldn’t be Dallas if you didn’t have yet more options. Five minutes from downtown, the Bishop Art District is centered around the crossroads of West Davis Street and North Bishop Avenue. Don’t let the small town atmosphere fool you–this neighborhood holds brew pubs, DIY workshops, salons, vintage clothing shops, chocolate boutiques, and Artisan’s Collective, a gallery of finds by regional artists and craftspeople. Northwest of downtown, the Design District consists of a hodgepodge of industrial spaces, designer goods warehouses, alternative galleries, and cheap housewares shops, as well as over 100 galleries and antique stores, many of which are gay-owned. Craighead-Green Gallery represents contemporary painters, photographers, and sculptors, and Artisan Style shows work by gay and lesbian artists. Check out the provocative shows at the dynamic Dallas Contemporary Art Space.

One recent addition to the Design District is the Goss-Michael Foundation. Armando Gonzalez of the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau explains,

“It’s a great museum that was founded by the famous George Michael and his partner Kenny Goss. It houses their personal collection as well as exhibitions the integrates British contemporary art with local talent.”

The collection that Wham! hits built is at turns gorgeous and audacious, sparking intrigue with pieces along themes of homoerotic sexuality, sensuality, and mortality. The darlings of Britain’s yBa Movement, including publicity monger Damien Hirst, have a chance to shine in all their Euro-chic glory in these gleaming galleries. Dallas Voice art critic Arnold Wayne Jones emphasizes,

“You won’t see this stuff anywhere else. And that’s enough reason to seek it out.”

When night falls in Big D, many people head for the Strip, also known as the Crossroads, the intersection of Cedar Springs Road and Throckmorton Street. You’re at the epicenter of Oak Lawn, one of the country’s liveliest, busiest gay neighborhoods. Four decades ago, Dallas police raided the Village Station, a club located at this intersection, and arrested 12 people doing the bunny hop, charging them with public lewdness. A core group fought the charges, sparking highly publicized trials and increased scrutiny of the local police. The accused were acquitted or cases dismissed, energizing the local gay pride movement. Two contemporary sites alluding to neighborhood pride include the Cathedral of Hope, an LGBT mega-church, and the Legacy of Love Monument and garden, which pays tribute to beloved locals who have passed on.

Oak Lawn offers many ways to celebrate gay lifestyle. Go boho with your own carafe of flavored java at Cafe Brazil, secure evening wear at the underwear and fetish boutique Skivvies, cruise the carnivore crowd at Hunky’s burger joint, and then narrow down your choices of bars. According to tourism expert Gonzalez, “It’s difficult to pick a favorite gay bar/club because Dallas has so many that fit different niches.” He singles out two major venues, the Round-Up Saloon, one of the nation’s largest country and western bars, and Sue Ellen’s, famed for being Lady Gaga’s go-to club. The two-story lesbian bar has pool tables on the open patio and hosts two-step lessons on weeknights. The notorious Havana has cheap drinks and a roster of cabaret acts. But it wouldn’t be Dallas if it didn’t offer a massive entertainment complex with several concurrent distractions, among them a dance floor, a two-level patio, and a decadent lounge with wild drag shows. It’s Station 4, which locals call S4, and it’s not to be missed.

If the whirlwind partying has put you in need of a detox, slouch toward King Spa and Sauna to be reborn. This Korean palace of pleasure transcends the descriptor of day spa, offering traditional Asian de-stressing treatments, soaks, and hot and dry steam baths in a series of rooms lined with different healing minerals. At the dining area, sip on Sanghwoa-tang, a simmered mix of Chinese herbs served in hot bowl with pure honey drops, and sample dim sum, dumplings whose name means “a little bit of heart” and that have a flavor that captures the Dallas experience–surprising, fabulous, and definitely something you’ll want to try again.

© Copy Right Protected. All Rights Reserved. 2-3-2011

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