Ladies, let’s mess with Texas

Dallas is known for big business, big hair and big controversy (“Who shot JR?”, “Who really shot JFK?”)—but with development totaling over $10 billion taking place, this North Texas town is quietly shaking the dust off its old image, transforming into one of the most sophisticated and diverse cultural destinations in the U.S. You’d think the locals would get all hoity-toity, but Dallasites just won’t shake their southern hospitality. They couldn’t be prouder of their “new” old town, and it shows—especially in the lesbian community.

The best time to “do Dallas” is in the fall, when the temperatures drop and LGBT events heat up. September kicks off Dallas Pride’s weeklong celebration culminating with the 24th annual Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade (September 16th, dallasprideparade.com). Pride week also includes the popular Gay Day at Six Flags (September 15th, in Arlington), a Kinsey Sicks concert (September 14th, Lakewood Theater), Gay Bingo (September 15th, Lakewood Theater), and numerous dances and parties. From September 28 to October 21 the mega State Fair of Texas (bigtex.com) takes place, where LGBT Texans celebrate National Coming Out Day with an unofficial “Gay Day at the State Fair” (October 14th, comeout.org). November 2–11 the film festival Out Takes Dallas (outtakesdallas.org) screens the latest in international and local lesbian and gay films. On November 17th the LGBT community throws the biggest party of the year—the Black Tie Dinner (Adams Mark Hotel ballroom, blacktiedinner.org)—a fundraiser for HRC and LGBT-supportive non-profit organizations that serve North Texas. In its 25-year history, the dinner has distributed over $10 million dollars, raising $1.24 million last year alone.

Begin your visit by checking into one of the city’s 20 “TAG-approved” hotels (Travel Alternatives Group, tagapproved.com). For a luxurious and centrally-located home base, stay at the Westin City Center (650 North Pearl St, 214-979-9000, westin.com/citycenterdallas) in the center of the downtown arts and financial district, near world-renowned shopping (the original Neiman Marcus) and fine dining. Hotel ZaZa (2332 Leonard St, 800-597-8399, hotelzaza.com), located in the uptown arts district, is itself a work of art. Reminiscent of a Mediterranean villa outside, this upscale boutique hotel and spa is the unparalleled favorite among the Dallas elite and visiting celebrities. Browse the website to marvel at their ultra-posh “concept suites,” each with a unique personality (Czar, film noir bombshell, rock star) and decadent amenities.

Dallas has several arts and entertainment districts within a three-mile radius of downtown, including Greenville Avenue, Knox-Henderson, West Village, West End, South Side, newbie Victory Park, and LGBT stomping grounds Oak Lawn and Oak Cliff. Each offers a distinctive style. Deep Ellum (deepellumtx.com) is the city’s live music hub, offering everything from punk to blues; Uptown is the heart of the antique district; and the downtown area is packed with attractions like the JFK Shooting Memorial Site—The Sixth Floor Museum (411 Elm Street, 214-747-6660, jfk.org), and the phenomenal Dallas World Aquarium (1801 N Griffin St, 214-720-1801, dwazoo.com). With more than 160 museums, and galleries, and over 115 pieces of public art, the Dallas/Ft. Worth area makes North Texas one of the foremost arts destinations in the country.

Plan to spend at least one day exploring the Downtown Dallas Arts District (artsdistrict.org), the largest urban arts district in the U.S. Of the numerous major cultural institutions, the Nasher Sculpture Center (nashersculpturecenter.org) is an absolute must-see. Stroll among its collection of 20th century sculpture, including large-scale works by Calder, Matisse, Rodin and Naguchi in indoor and outdoor garden galleries. Next door, the Dallas Museum of Art (dallasmuseumofart.org) has over 20,000 works representing every time period and culture, with programs for all ages. The Trammell Crow Collection of Asian Art (crowcollection.org) houses fine arts and crafts representing every Asian country, from Buddhist sculpture to Japanese screen painting. Don’t miss the impressive 28-by-12-foot sandstone façade of an 18th-Century Indian residence. And even if the Dallas Symphony is on vacation, the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center (dallassymphony.com) is still worth a peek to marvel at the $81.5 million-design by renowned architect I.M.Pei.

Fair Park (214-421-9600, fairparkdallas.com) is a beautifully landscaped 227-acre national historic landmark with the second largest collection of 1930s Art Deco architecture in the U.S. (Miami Beach has the largest). Just two miles east of downtown Dallas, the expansive site was created to impress the 7 million visitors of the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition, and houses nine museums, six performance facilities and the annual State Fair of Texas. The Park’s many attractions include the Texas Discovery Gardens, Museum of Nature and Science, African American Museum, Dallas Aquarium, Dallas Summer Musicals and The Women’s Museum (3800 Parry Ave, 214-915-0860, thewomensmuseum.org)—created to bring life to the voices, talents, achievements, aspirations and stories of women through multimedia exhibits on history, the arts, health, business, stereotypes, images and more. Educational programs and special events, like the upcoming “Girls Who Rock! Music Festival” (during the State Fair), are regularly offered.

“Herstory” buffs should also mosey on over to Dallas’ sister city, Fort Worth, to take a gander at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame (1720 Gendy St, Ft Worth, 800-476-FAME, cowgirl.net). Well worth the 30-minute drive west, it’s the nation’s only museum dedicated to honoring women who exemplify the pioneer spirit of the American West. Created in 1975, the museum preserves the history and impact of western women from the mid-1800s to the present: the pioneers, artists and writers, tribal leaders, entertainers, social activists—and of course the cowgirls, from Patsy Cline to Barrel Racers. The artifacts, photos, films, and interactive exhibits are a wonderful testament to the true and enduring strength of women.

Located a mere three miles southwest of downtown Dallas in the eclectic Bishop Arts District (in Oak Cliff), the kitschy cool Hotel Belmont (901 Fort Worth Ave, 866-870-8010, belmontdallas.com) is a pristinely renovated mid-century modern motor lodge with a superb hilltop view of the entire city, and just blocks away from gallery-lined North Bishop Street. Check out Zola’s Everyday Vintage (414 N Bishop, 214-943-6643, zolasvintage.com) for fun retro threads and unique accessories; stop for some pop at the gay-owned Soda Gallery (408 N Bishop, 866-946-SODA, thesodagallery.com), stocking almost 200 global varieties; and unwind at attitude-free Barbara’s Pavillion (325 Centre St, 214-941-2145, myspace.com/oakcliffpav)—a quirky-fun bar with a friendly mixed crowd and year-round patio.

A warm, welcoming, and all-around fantastic city to visit, Dallas is also a wonderful city to live in. Although the red-state status gives Texas a bad rap, they actually have the third highest number of same-sex-headed households in the country (behind New York and California). With sprawling gay-populated residential districts, over 20,000 acres of parkland (406 parks & 550 recreational facilities), and a remarkably large variety of LGBT special interest groups, clubs and charitable organizations, Dallas has become a popular place to put down roots. From The Women’s Chorus of Dallas (twcd.org) to the Texas Gay & Lesbian Rodeo Association (texasgayrodeo.org), there’s plenty to get involved in, including gay and lesbian sports leagues for just about every sport imaginable (Team Dallas was a huge presence at the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago). The North Texas Womens Softball League is naturally a big hit with the local lesbians, both on and off the field. During the season (ntwsa.net for schedule), Sunday afternoon games are quite the Sapphic social event. Don some SPF and watch the action in Trinity View Park (just west of downtown in Irving).

Lesbians of faith have a home in Dallas as well, with over 50 gay-friendly places of worship in the DFW area including Congregation Beth El Binah (bethelbinah.org) and the mega Cathedral Of Hope (5910 Cedar Springs, 214-351-1901, cathedral-ofhope.com)—the largest LGBT progressive Christian church in the world, with over 30,000 members nationally. Both gay, Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Jo Hudson and Dean/National Pastor Rev. Michael S. Piazza are dedicated to promoting the values of compassion, inclusion, tolerance and hope.

Local politics have also become increasingly liberal, with much progress achieved by previous Mayor Laura Miller, a genuine champion for the LGBT community. There are five out city and county officials including City Councilman Ed Oakley who narrowly lost the recent mayoral race to Tom Leppert, a conservative who nonetheless will walk in the September Pride parade. The Sheriff of Dallas County, Lupe Valdez (lupevaldez.com), is now legendary for her historic victory over the favored opponent, a republican three-decade veteran, in the 2004 election. After a 28-year career in law enforcement, the former migrant worker is now the highest ranking law enforcement officer in Dallas; the only female sheriff in the State of Texas; and the first woman, first Hispanic, and first openly gay individual to be elected sheriff in this heavily Republican county. Valdez said “My election is proof that Dallas is an accepting place.”

Dallas’ official gayborhood, Oak Lawn, is just a few miles north of downtown and is easy to explore with nightlife, restaurants, stores, hotels and residential living all within walking distance. Just 20 years ago, Oak Lawn was a dodgy, transitional neighborhood, and then the gay cavalry rode into town. Now, the Oak Lawn/Cedar Springs area (sometimes referred to as “The Crossroads”) is the nexus of gay life in Dallas. The four-block stretch of Cedar Springs Road between Oak Lawn Ave and Douglas Ave is the main drag (taken literally at the Rose Room, 3911 Cedar Springs, where local celebutante divas perform nightly), with tons of shops, great restaurants and over 10 bars and nightclubs. Most mainly cater to gay men, but lesbians and revelers of any persuasion are always welcome.

The one nightspot on the block devoted to the ladies is Sue Ellen’s (3903 Cedar Springs, 214-559-0707, caven.com, open daily), which attracts a varied yet largely younger set looking to get their groove on. Thursday–Sunday nights feature live music. Sue Ellen’s features a huge game room that’s jam-packed on weekends.

Just across the street, gay-owned country-western bar the Round-Up Saloon (3912 Cedar Springs, 214-522-9611, roundupsaloon.com) boldly proclaims itself “The Home of Good Times & Good People”—and rightfully so. Even though dudes far outnumber the dames here, there are always ladies in attendance. The giant dance corral is the main draw (it’s so heartwarming to see a dance floor full ’o cowboy couples boot-scootin’ arm-in-arm!), but the Round-Up also has specialty bars, including a beer garden, game room and tequila shack.

Maple Avenue is the other nightlife strip in Oak Lawn, just a few blocks west of Cedar Springs. Of the five clubs to explore here, a muy good time is guaranteed at the aptly named Kaliente (4350 Maple Ave, 214-520-6676, kaliente.cc). It’s crowded on the weekends due to the smoldering DJ & live sets of great Salsa and Tejano music, and their gorgeous drag shows. All are welcome, but the predominantly Hispanic LGBT crowd comes to dance, dance, dance—so rhythm-challenged wallflowers beware!

Your visit to Dallas must include an evening (or two, or three…) at the “lesbian Cheers”—Buddies II (4025 Maple Ave, 214-526-0887, buddiesii.com, open daily). The largest lesbian bar in Texas can’t just offer great drinks, excellent live music and DJs, and a bumpin’ dancefloor—heck no. They had to include a swimming pool, sun deck, full sand volleyball court, giant game room, and their own softball team.

Oak Lawn is a great place for lesbians to stay as well, with two comfy places to crash (just stumbling distance of the nightlife). The gay-owned Daisy Polk Inn (2917 Reagan St, 214-522-4692, daisypolkinn.com) is a newly renovated B&B literally oozing with charm, and phenomenal breakfasts. The hospitable resident ghost, Daisy, makes sure her guests feel right at home. Located on the intersection of “The Crossroads”, the historical landmark Melrose Hotel (3015 Oak Lawn Ave, 800-203-3232, warwickmelrosedallas.com) recalls a romance and elegance from a bygone era. In addition to providing comfortable and spacious rooms, the hotel has an old European-style Library Bar offering nightly entertainment, and serves a fabulous Sunday brunch in their restaurant, the Landmark.

With over 6,500 dining options throughout the city—supposedly more restaurants per capita than NYC—there isn’t a palate on earth that can’t be satisfied in Dallas. But remember, everything’s bigger in Texas and that usually applies to the portions as well.

LGBT gastronomers naturally flock to the Oak Lawn eateries: Hunky’s (4000 Cedar Springs, 214-522-1212) for a burger fix; eclectic Buli Café (3908 Cedar Springs, 214-528-5410) for an iced cappuccino on the go or a delicious panini (served in an old-school metal lunchbox that can also be purchased); and Al Biernat’s (4217 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-219-2201, albiernats.com) for first-class dining with flair and a 650+ wine list. Catch up on the local gossip or nurse a post-revelry hangover with brunch at the classic Original Market Diner (4434 Harry Hines, 214-521-0992); the trendy retrofied Lucky’s Café (3531 Oak Lawn, 214-522-3567); or The Bronx (3835 Cedar Springs, 214-521-5821), known for their outstanding weekend brunch.

Outside Oak Lawn there are still plenty of standout eateries. In the Bishop Arts District/Oak Cliff, Tillman’s Roadhouse (324 W 7th St, 214-942-0988, tillmansroadhouse.com) is a hip yet comfortable place serving a modernized version of the Texas roadhouse menu (divine desserts too—save room!); and over in Deep Ellum things are not always as they appear to be at the self-proclaimed “most original Mexican restaurant in Texas,” Monica’s Aca y Alla (2914 Main St, 214-748-7140, monicas.com). Lesbian owner and chef Monica Greene is a Dallas legend who even ran for public office two years ago. Consistently rated one of the top 10 restaurants in Dallas, Monica’s also has live music, salsa lessons and the best margaritas in town.

If you’re ready to rent that U-Haul, find your dream homo home through Dallas’ No. 1 realtor, Lory Masters (lorymasters.com), owner of Master Realtors, a 20-year-old firm that focuses on the lesbian and gay community.

When traveling to DFW, book your flight through Dallas’s own American Airlines Rainbow TeAAm (aa.com/rainbow). Once in town, public transit (dart.org), taxis and even a trolley (mata.org) are available, but a rental car is recommended for exploring all that the Big D has to offer (note: in addition to flights, car rentals can also be booked through aa.com).

For more info: Dallas GLBT Visitor’s Bureau (glbtdallas.com); Dallas CVB (visitdallas.com/diversity); Dallas Voice (dallasvoice.com, free weekly, print version available in LGBT areas); DFW GLBT Visitor’s Guide (lambdapages.com, print version also avail.); Dallas Tavern Guild (dallastavernguild.org, LGBT listings & events, including Pride).

What Do You Think?