At lunchtime on a Friday, I sit in a tall booth at City Tavern and spin stories. The bicycle cop passing the time with the bartender across the wooden bar is, in my mind, actually wondering if Eddie has been in lately, if Eddie might give him a call now that he’s made parole. The guy with the paunch and the starched shirt is a city editor from a bygone era, thinking about afternoon deadlines and listening to the steady beat of downtown life passing outside the window. And the woman with the coifed hair and good shoes sticks out so much that I’m sure she didn’t choose this place with its roughened wooden grooves. Her companion must have picked the Tavern, that guy she looks like she’s getting ready to pitch something to—PR services, interior design? Lunch turns into early afternoon, and the people come and go like this is their place, like this is where downtowners hang out.
I’ve been away from downtown for a while—something on the order of 15 years—and I’m struck by the mix of people I haven’t seen anywhere else in Dallas. New lofts have grown up, and space that was lifeless after dark not so long ago now pulses. When I return on a Thursday night, a clubby sort of music plays in City Tavern, in sharp contrast to the Texas-by-way-of-Johnny-Cash country band setting up, the snap-button shirts rolled up their forearms, revealing long lines of blue ink sexy as a rockabilly bass. A mix of people from the manically hair colored to the youthfully well-to-do hang out in equal measure, many drinking shots of Jack Daniel’s followed by Pabst Blue Ribbon chasers (that pair of drinks is called the Dirty Dusty, City Tavern’s signature special, $4). Some people surely come for the music. The owner and the general manager are two of the four guys who own Club Dada, one of Dallas’ best-known music venues. “Dada,” the word my friends and I whispered to each other when we were trying to sound cool in high school. Dada in Deep Ellum, our teenage shibboleth.
I am here with a woman I knew only vaguely in my teens, the sister of my high school friend who has so many of the same references I do. The music starts, is good and loud, and my friend has a cold. I can barely hear her. We move to the handful of tables outside, watch downtown coming to life. I feel sure the guy with the punk hair and skateboard sitting alone next to us, who surely can hear us, must be scoffing at our late-thirtysomething conversations, about privilege and children, religion and our high school memories. I realize that I have become the ordinary older person I used to wonder about, glancingly, when I was a hipster in bars.
Across the street, the velvet ropes are out. Next door, a line forms at Plush. The valets are doing steady business—$10 my friend paid—but there are parking garages across the street, and, really, insiders say, parking (and driving) is so much easier if you just stay off the valet-heavy, oft-congested Main Street and park in one of the garages on Elm. But I didn’t know that then, and, at the end of my night, I walk blocks through the 90-plus-degree night, back to my car parked by a distant meter.
I pass people of all ages coming from dinner, and younger people beginning their nights out in short skirts and cool blouses, lit by neon and stoplights. I hear the footsteps of single men who cross the street or give me a wide berth, as if to signal they mean me no harm, and the soft stride of a fast-talker I know will ask me for something if I engage him or respond to his ebullient “You have a great night.” The energy in his voice cuts through the rolling beats coming from a passing car. I am buoyed and light.
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