Free (or Cheap) Fun in Allen, Texas
Light up a stogie and play with your pooch at the city's shops.
The best suburbs of Dallas are clearly great places to live, but should you want to visit them? D Magazine online editorial intern Ryan Jones was dispatched to make a day of it in each of our top-ranked cities.The challenge: he’s got only $5 at his disposal. He's already explored Parker, Highland Village, Colleyville, Southlake, Prosper, Highland Park, University Park, Flower Mound, and Murphy. He rounds out his safari with a visit to Allen, No. 10 in our 2010 rankings.
The truth is that almost every one of my encounters with cigars have ended in hacking and wheezing. I know nothing of flavorful undertones, my cutting skills are subpar to say the least, and I'll nod uncertainly when you try to explain what Altadis is. Let's just say that I'm no connoisseur of stogies.
But I wasn't about to let anyone at Havana Jim Cigars know that. The unmistakable smell of cigar smoke hit me before I even opened the door, and once I made my way inside, I was greeted by a cluster of leather chairs, a black felt pool table, and three massive wall-mounted TVs that are usually showing whatever sport's on tap for the day. Havana Jim is one of the few havens left for smokers in a time when laws and regulations are forcing them to take their habit outside. Owner Jim Gauch opened the lounge in late 2009, hoping to build a place where cigars were rolled, sold, and enjoyed all under one roof. Here you'll find a few in-house blends complemented by cigars from Padron, Arturo Fuente, Savinelli, and Nestor Miranda to name a few, and Gauch won't close the shop each night until the last guest decides to head home. Single cigars can be had for under $5 — a patron recommended Ambos Mundos Toro No. 1 or No. 2 — and Thursdays and Saturdays offer free drinks until the alcohol runs out.
Havana Jim is just one of dozens of stores and restaurants housed inside the Village at Allen shopping center, which, along with Watters Creek and Allen Premium Outlets, makes up the First Triumvirate of retail in this upscale suburb. Aside from shopping, the Village has a few other free time-killers, like the Canine Commons outdoor dog park, and Canine Kids, specially designed for pups under 20 pounds. The Grove is loaded with kid-friendly activities, from an authentic train caboose to a village of playhouses to a Texas-shaped hedge maze, and the Grotto is equipped with four oversized chessboards that are always ready for a game (just call security to get the pieces). Inside the Allen Events Center is the Community Ice Rink, which has open ice time almost every day, and a $5 admission charge (plus a $3 skate rental fee) will get you inside and out of the sun.
But as far as the shopping went, much of what the Village (and the other Allen retail centers, for that matter) had to offer was a bit out of my price range. So, to stay on budget, I ventured away from the big three in search of something more fiscally friendly.
Open for all of three months, Thrill of the Hunt is a small thrift store sandwiched between the Best Little Bakery in Texas and Crazy Tomato pizza on Main Street. Racks of clothes occupy the middle of the main room, but the garments are framed by an odd assortment of goodies. Owner Rebecca Graves finds everything from cutlery to body lotions to posters, board games, and puzzles. Each day she offers a new recipe at the cash register (chicken salad with pecans and hard-cooked eggs when I was there), and signs warn children not to let their parents run amok in the store.
I ventured into an even smaller back room, where books, stuffed animals, and statues all carried price tags under $5. I caught myself getting excited every time I glimpsed a cheap tea cup or an interesting figurine, so I sought out the items I felt would most redeem my manhood: a copy of Goodfellas (guns!) and a vintage pennant for the Milwaukee Bucks (sports!), which rang up at a total of $4.33 — and left the store with my masculinity intact. Now if I could only learn to smoke a cigar...