Texans are not supposed to complain about the heat. Not in the spring, not in the summer, not in the fall. We acknowledge the heat, of course, but it’s more like the sky being blue or the ground being underneath our feet. It’s a fact. And just like we can say, “Big sky today,” we can say, “It’s a hot one.” And then we’re supposed to move on.
But even when we (okay, I) don’t talk about it, the weather affects everything. And when it’s so hot for seven months out of the year, all things begin to be viewed through the prism of heat. Whitehall Exchange, the new bar in Bishop Arts, feels like a heat-defying place. It sits on the corner of North Bishop Avenue and West Seventh Street, with three large awning windows that swing out over the sidewalk. The windows close onto granite tile-topped counters so that you can sit inside, on tall chairs, and look outside, or you can sit outside, on stools built into the sidewalk, and look inside. When the windows are thrown open, which is as often as possible and sometimes in hotter weather than I’d have thought, it can be hard to get one of the coveted seats.
Much of the rest of the bar is breezily well-appointed—sleek, even. The interior is filled with dark wood and exposed brick. The walls handpainted by the owner radiate an urban cool; ditto the restored tin ceiling. The designs are largely the handiwork of Cretia Drydale, formerly of Cretia’s on McKinney and currently of Cretia’s in Bishop Arts. The bakery sells Whitehall some of the dough for its pizzas, rolls, and sundries. (Yup, there’s food.)
The box planters outside are almost lush. The wooden benches lining the sidewalk are nice, too, protected as they are by big umbrellas. You can watch in comfort as the Bishop Arts world moves: the valets come and go in front of Hattie’s, the people wander back to their cars from Eno’s. At night, the boutiques are lit white, the expensive glass doodads and decorators’ finds sparkling in windows.
On our visits, my husband and I enjoyed the neighborhoody feel of Whitehall, small groups and foursomes of various ages and divergent sartorial styles hanging out. Some drank wine from thick, colored, ’70s-reminiscent glasses, a lot drank craft beer from bottles, and a few sipped cocktails from martini glasses.
In the months since Oak Cliff has gone wet, a handful of bars have opened. The Oak Cliff Social Club has a glossy, heavy-wood backdrop behind the bar and a pool room that looks like it was imported from a hipster’s basement. Ten Bells Tavern opened at the end of June and has been built inch by inch by its owners. It has a superfriendly feel—no TVs, windowless dark inside, and bright, bright outside patio. It’s easy to walk from one bar to another or to find one and settle in.
And walking is a good way to wander into Whitehall Exchange. It’s an idiosyncratic place, a half step off the digital grid. The phone number listed is used for the back-up credit card machine, which means that it’s hard to actually call the place. There are two flat-screen TVs and a computer for entering orders, but there’s no website, no listed email, and the Facebook page has very little information on it. Apropos, perhaps, for a place with a trolley mural on its exterior wall and a name honoring the old Oak Cliff telephone exchange.
One quiet date night, we bought a curried chocolate bar from Dude, Sweet just a few blocks up and unfolded the candy at the table. We perused the half-price wine list. The lists are updated three times a year, and we caught a night when an entire list of wines was being phased out and sold at half price. We went through requests for two or three (sold out) before settling on a pinot from Oregon.
Our pinot was good, though we didn’t need a whole bottle and left some for the server. The chocolate was surprising (curry!), but we didn’t need a whole bar and left that for the server, too. We were sated. Sitting outside—among the flower boxes and looking through the open window—was satisfying. Hokey as it sounds, in the midst of the heat of summer, it reminded me that fall would come again.
WRITE TO INTOABAR@GMAIL.COM.