Features

Dallas Revisited

1 Apr 2022 by Tom Otley
Dallas (istock.com/4kodiak)

Investment and redevelopment have transformed Dallas into a thriving city in which arts and culture abound, and there are fabulous places to eat at the end of a long day’s fantastic sightseeing.

Dallas comes with more preconceptions than most US cities, and most of them are wrong. It’s a major conurbation, with the greater Dallas area home to well over seven million people and growing quickly, yet you could walk around Downtown all day and wonder where all the workers are. The regional offices of major financial institutions are present; there are new and refurbished hotels, bars and restaurants, yet the vanishingly small number of shops (apart from the beautiful original 1914 Neiman Marcus building on Main Street) shows that people come here to work and then leave in the evening, heading to the suburbs.

What makes it even more surprising is that pre-Covid, 27.7 million people visited Dallas annually for a total economic impact of US$8.8 billion. In the last 25 years over US$2.5 billion has been invested in Downtown Dallas and the population almost tripled between 2000 and 2010, and now stands at 13,000 people.

What’s also unexpected is there so much to see and do in the centre of Dallas – shopping aside. Within walking distance of Downtown you have world class art galleries and museums, interesting architecture, successful urban regeneration and sites of real historical interest including, of course, Dealey Plaza and the Sixth Floor Museum located on the top of the infamous Book Depository from where JFK was thought to have been shot. You’ll also get a warm welcome from Texans.

Dining in style

To dispel the last preconception, the only cowboy hats and boots we saw during our stay were on smartly dressed ladies out on a Friday night in the exclusive Monarch restaurant. This glamorous, deliberately over-the-top, wood-fired, modern Italian restaurant is on the 49th floor of the newly reopened and refurbished The National, formerly the First National Bank Tower. If you prefer Japanese cuisine, take the stairs to Kessaku on the 50th floor and walk around the entire building with unrivalled views of Dallas at night, seeing as far as Fort Worth on a clear evening.

The National Bank building was designed by architect George Dahl in the mid-1960s but had been empty since 2010 before undergoing a US$460 million restoration. It now has 324 apartments, four restaurants and a 219-room hotel as well as some office space. However, walking around it the first impression is the nine-floor-high base to the building which has a dazzling façade of 17,000 pieces of marble from the same quarry as the Parthenon (nothing understated here). The skyscraper rises above this in dark glass with white detailing (apparently to resemble bankers’ suits). It had lain empty for over a decade before refurbishment.

On the ground floor there are several shops including Lucchese, where you can buy off-the-shelf Texan fashion as well as made-to-measure boots – they can take up to six months to make, though – and there’s a flower shop, barber and small art gallery. At the moment the apartments are available for rent in the hope that people will then be tempted to buy, though with monthly rent starting at more than US$2,500 per month, other districts might provide more affordable homes for young upwardly mobile urbanites. Meanwhile, Downtown needs to continue its regeneration.

The Statler - credit Romaro Olivares/Unsplash

Dallas was founded in the 1840s and owes its early development as a trading hub through the railroad network. The discovery of oil and gas in the early 20th century powered its growth, with the financing and associated wealth helping to create the city that is still in evidence today. For the visitor, the billions spent on the centre of Dallas in recent years means it is possible to enjoy buildings restored to their full glory.

The Statler – originally The Statler Hilton when it opened in 1956 – has a fabulous mid-century glass and porcelain exterior with a lovely arc to the frontage. Its diner, Overeasy, is a good spot for breakfast. Next door is the 1953 Central Library, like the Statler and the National, designed by George Dahl, and now home to the Dallas Morning News.

It’s not all history, though. A new addition to the centre is AT&T Discovery District. We sat there one warm February afternoon and watched the preparations for the NBA All-Star Game on the giant screen, sipping drinks bought from one of the multiple outlets of the newly built Exchange on the Square.

To one side is the 1931 Art Deco-style Dallas Power and Light Building, now home to Pegasus City Brewery’s taproom (its original Brewery Tap House is still open in the nearby Design District). Then there is the Adolphus Hotel, originally built by the founder of the Anheuser-Busch brewery, Adolphus Busch, in Beaux Arts style, and now majestically restored and part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection.

Perot Musuem

An uptown whirl

Downtown shades into Uptown as you walk towards the Arts District, where essential stops are the Dallas Museum of Art with a permanent collection of more than 25,000 pieces along with various visiting exhibitions, and the Renzo Piano-designed Nasher Sculpture Center. If you have time, visit the smaller Crow Museum of Asian Art to see its exquisite collection of lacquer and jade objects, and if you have a science bent, or better still have youngsters with you, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science is in a Brutalist-style building with a unique glass-sided escalator high up on one wall. The expansive space holds enough interactive exhibits, and dinosaur skeletons, to keep the most hyperactive child occupied for a morning.

In the evenings, there is the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center where on a Saturday evening, we watched the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in a programme of Tchaikovsky and Bruch, while a Sunday matinée offered Madame Butterfly in the neighbouring Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House.

If that all sounds a little high brow, visit Deep Ellum, which takes its name from its main drag – Elm Street – that runs into Downtown. It is a low-rise neighbourhood of bars, clubs, independent shops and boutiques, along with some great restaurants, including a few with extensive vegetarian and even vegan menus, which in Texas really is saying something. Although if you want excellent smoked meat, Pecan Lodge was doing great business when we walked past (no queue, but it was late-afternoon by then) and is famed for a 13-hour brisket.

Deep Ellum

Many of the immediate attractions of Dallas are easily walked and, in a piece of visionary city planning, Klyde Warren Park has been created over the Woodall Rodgers Freeway which means you can walk from Downtown to Uptown without noticing the freeway. On a Sunday morning we watched a friend take part in an annual 5km run starting in the park, which is being extended west towards Field Street to open an extra space that will be called The Jacobs Lawn (the plan also includes a three-level enclosed special events pavilion and an ice-skating rink).

Further afield

That evening we had margaritas outside under a warming gas burner at El Camino followed by a Tex Mex meal, while another day we used the same route to walk further and reach the beginning of the Katy Trail, a 5.6km stroll along the former Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, commonly called the K-T and eventually the Katy. The trail takes you up to Knox, a superb example of urban regeneration connecting the parks north of Dallas and allowing you to look into backyards, people-watch and stop off at the Ice House, which is a beer garden, and burger and Tex Mex restaurant. The Katy Trail starts at its southern end at Harwood Park which is also undergoing development; the last of eight parks being completed. When finished, Downtown will have added 23 acres of green space in the city’s core over the past 15 years.

Visiting other districts close to Downtown is more challenging. In theory, the Dallas Area Rapid Transport (DART) system ought to be the means of exploring neighbouring districts. It connects the massive airline hub of Dallas Fort Worth (home to American Airlines), but we were warned off using it by locals for our first ride into town from the airport and instead got an Uber. Then when visiting local attractions and chatting with Texans (everyone is very friendly and helpful), they all indicated that we should not use the DART; advice that I assume is linked to the number of the city’s homeless and vulnerable people who congregate at the stations. Watching the empty DART trains passing every few minutes over a five-day period, their smartly liveried but largely empty carriages gliding by on rails and negotiating the city centre streets, it seemed a missed opportunity. We were told at busy times pre-Covid some used it, but the idea of it being a mass transit system clearly hasn’t been realised. The convenience of car travel, ease of parking and the ubiquitous freeways all undermine the case for it, as did its speed – it is slow over longer distances.

Wide angle view of a DART light rail train at a station in downtown Dallas (istock.com/Davel 5957)

For visitors to use the Go Pass app and so enjoy ‘contactless’ travel, you require a zip code, though we found a way around that by simply putting in our hotel’s zip code, and I was told later through the help chat (after we had left Dallas) that you could simply enter ‘00000’ into that to then use the app.

Room for improvement

Instead, we used Uber a lot, and when it was sunny, walked back from Deep Ellum under the North Central Expressway which is several lanes of elevated freeway. It was a short and pleasant walk, but you certainly wouldn’t do it at night. There are plans for John W Carpenter Park, which was just north of where we were, to be extended under the freeway and provide a more scenic way of connecting the two, and more generally, finding a way of making Dallas walkable.

To the south of here, the area between Commerce, Main and Cesar Chavez has been renamed East Quarter and there is development and redevelopment taking place, including 300 Pearl with 18,600 sqm of office space, 2,322 sqm of retail space, and 336 luxury apartments, and 2200 Main, a former 1930s Cadillac manufacturing facility, which is available for lease.

The other emphasis should be on the airport, which though it has had significant investment still has some very long queues for visitors – 90 minutes for US immigration isn’t unknown, but the airport wasn’t busy, just badly organised and with only a couple of immigration booths open. Dozens of international travellers were missing their connections, yet there was just a shrug from those attendants who could have helped.

There’s no doubt that there is both the determination – and the optimism – to fix a lot of these problems. The redevelopment of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center has been approved (it will remain open while this occurs), and with the Dallas Fort Worth population projected to reach 10 million people in the 2030s, ranking in size behind only New York City and Los Angeles, the prospects are bright.

Dallas CityPass

The website citypass.com offers access to four sites for US$49 per person – Perot Museum of Nature and Science, and Reunion Tower GeO-Deck, with a choice of two out of the following three: Dallas Zoo, George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, or Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum.

HOTELS

Dallas has a total of 34,000 hotel rooms, with 15,000 in the Downtown core, and another 5,000 coming (Dallas is in fifth place nationally for the number of rooms under construction). Reviews of the Adolphus, an Autograph Collection Hotel, and The Thompson Dallas will be in Business Traveller’s May edition. New hotels include:

HARWOOD HOTEL

This new 20-storey luxury hotel is in under construction in Uptown’s Harwood District, close to the American Airlines Center and the Dallas Arts District. Architectural renderings show a sculptural white building with cantilevered upper floors, and a swimming pool and garden on the roof.

JW MARRIOTT

This new 15-storey hotel is scheduled to open in 2023 in the heart of Dallas’ Downtown Arts District. The 283-room hotel is set to feature a 2,300 sqm grand ballroom and meeting space, spa, restaurant, lobby bar, fitness centre, and a rooftop pool deck and bar.

INTERCONTINENTAL DALLAS

The new hotel will be at Cityplace Tower, in Uptown, with panoramic views of the Dallas skyline. Plans include a rooftop infinity pool and lounge plus over 1,950 sqm of event space.

FOUR SEASONS

Coming in 2025, a Four Seasons 240-room, resort-style hotel in Dallas’s Turtle Creek neighbourhood, close to the original Rosewood Hotel, situated between Uptown and Highland Park. This will be a US$750 million high-rise with a rooftop pool and garden space.

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