Developer Shawn Todd isn’t one to shy away from a challenge. Even in Dallas, a market of visionaries and big thinkers, he stands out. The founder of Todd Interests is known for transforming segments of the city by taking derelict buildings and redeveloping them into vibrant properties.
In East Quarter, he’s using both adaptive reuse and new construction to create a much-needed connection point between Deep Ellum and downtown Dallas. But The National, at 1401 Elm St. in the core of the city, is his most impressive project yet—and it’s hard to imagine how he will ever top it. The $460 million price tag set a record for historic renovations in Texas.
The 52-story, George Dahl-designed landmark sat vacant for a decade before Todd stepped in to succeed where others had failed. What once was a ghost building is now a bustling vertical mixed-use property of unmatched quality.
The National’s upscale residential component is 95 percent leased at among the highest rents in town. The restaurants are doing well (especially Monarch, with its weeks-long wait for reservations), and the 219-room hotel—Thompson Dallas—was named by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the world’s best new properties for 2021. (When it’s the Dallas accommodation of choice for celebrities like Harry Styles, Rihanna, and Elton John, you know you’re doing something right.)
The 1.5 million-square-foot property has an international feel, and that is 100 percent intentional, Todd says. The design team includes his daughter, Caroline Todd of Todd Interiors, plus Simeone Deary Design Group and Heidi Lightner Architects.
It’s not easy to create a space that’s ultra-luxe yet also welcoming, but that’s the vibe at The National. The ambiance is carried through in the hotel rooms and suites, which offer all the comforts of home—and then some. The quality comes through in everything from the selection of rugs, furnishings, and art to the thoughtful layout of the spaces and extras—like a table next to the soaker bathtub and full-sized bottles in a fully stocked bar. Views of downtown and Uptown from The National’s city-center location enhance the urban experience.
Along with a 14,000-square-foot ballroom and a two-acre pool deck on the 9th floor, amenities at Thompson Dallas include a full-service spa. Arrive early to dip in the hot-and-cold plunge pools or luxuriate in the steam room, infrared sauna, or under a rainfall shower, all found in the locker rooms. The spa offers an extensive array of treatments, ranging from a celestial black diamond facial (using 111SKIN’s anti-aging collection) or botanical oil crush (exfoliating body scrub) to a poultice massage that uses steamed herbal compresses. During a recent visit, I kept it simple and experienced an organic aromatherapy massage, emerging both relaxed and revitalized. (The high-tech beds are amazing.) I’m already planning a return visit to try Thompson Deep Sleep, a session that focuses on the head, feet, and lymphatic system.
Dining and Nightlife
Thompson Dallas has enhanced downtown’s dining scene with the addition of four restaurants. At Nine at The National (open for breakfast, lunch, and brunch), mains range from Smoked Salmon Benedict to Fluffy Sourdough Pancakes (with blueberry butter, lemon curd, and anise cinnamon syrup) and sides include house-made chicken sausage and marinated peas). Texas Melon Salad, Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho, and a Bluefin Tuna Burger are among the menu for lunch.
Kessaku (which means “masterpiece” in Japanese), is a cocktail and sake lounge on the 50th floor. An intimate, 60-seat venue (designed to feel like the kind of hidden club you’d find in London), the menu is built around simple nigiri, sashimi, and rolls, but mostly focuses on liquid offerings, with an extensive selection of sake, Japanese beer and whiskeys, and cocktails such as a Kyoto Old Fashioned (Iwai Japanese whisky, red snapper-filtered sake, Bianco vermouth, Peychaud’s bitters, and citrus).
Catbird, a “jewel box” restaurant on the 10th floor, has a large terrace and is intended for happy hour, dinner, and late-night food and drink. Offerings range from Smoked Bone Marrow with olive relish and toasted sourdough to Lamb Chops with chimichurri, za’atar, and pine nuts. Those opting for dessert will have a hard time choosing between the Tropical Cheesecake Parfait with spiced coconut and mango-pineapple compote and the Catbird S’more, a tableside flambé show that involves a fudge brownie with cinnamon ice cream, vanilla bean meringue, and a smoked bourbon pour.
But it is Monarch, where you can guarantee a window seat with a $125 deposit, that has gained a cult following in Dallas. Diners are greeted with champagne in the lobby to enjoy on the elevator ride up to the 49th floor.
During a recent visit there with a friend, our long, leisurely meal began with a bump of delicious Ossetra caviar; a full tableside order comes with potato crisps, potato blini, chives, egg, and crème fraîche. Next up was a delightfully fresh Crudo with salmon, Hamachi, and tuna, topped with marinated shallots, capers, parsley, and lemon vinaigrette. We then went all in, with an Alaskan King Crab leg—prepared to perfection.
Pacing ourselves, we split a Caesar (little gem lettuce, lemon, parmesan, confit garlic, and warm olive oil croutons) while mulling over the main courses. We both decided on entrées that showcased Monarch’s house-made pastas. I opted for Whole Maine Lobster Spaghetti, a dish that was somehow light while also bursting with flavor; my friend chose a house specialty—Fire-Roasted Lasagna Diane, with mini meatballs, ricotta, and a scrumptious cheese crust. (Pro tip: Order the smaller option—it is a sinfully rich dish.) To complement, we split the Wood Oven-Roasted Oyster Mushrooms, with Calabrian pepper jus and parmesan aioli; it was one of my favorite things about the entire meal.
Other mains on the menu include Wild Halibut, Bronzed Sea Scallops (with conserved pepper arancini, chantarelles, English peas, and bacon cava sauce), Comte-Crusted Filet Mignon, Wood-Grilled Chicken, and Bistecca Alla Florentina, a 40-oz. porterhouse charred in the coals, with lemon, arugula, hearth olive oil, and sea salt. Wood-fired Butcher’s Reserve items range from an 8 oz. Japanese A5 Filet Kagoshima to a 45-Day Dry-Aged Tomahawk. And if you really want to impress, there’s an Alaskan King Crab feast—wood oven-roasted legs with lettuce wraps, spicy mini buns, tableside rigatoni; the limited-availability item is priced at $1,000.
I don’t know how my friend and I managed, but we somehow saved room for dessert. I was tempted by the Chocolate Soufflé, Pineapple Cake, and Toffee Cake Pudding, but our waiter (who had moved to Dallas from New York City and says he took a job at Monarch because it reminded him of being in the Big Apple) convinced us to try the Chocolate Cake—layered with chocolate budino, peanut butter, and banana mousse, and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It was a good call—and a perfect ending to a memorable meal.
The Story Behind the Holiday Décor
Early on in crafting plans for The National, Shawn Todd was determined that it have a florist shop that could do the type of magnificent seasonal installations one would find at the Mayfair in London. His design team recommended Shane Friesenhahn, owner and principal designer of The Botanical Mix, who has been practicing his craft for more than 25 years. The two had a meeting of the minds and began talking about a lease deal that would give Friesenhahn expansive space on The National’s first floor. During those discussions, Todd showed the florist a photo of a “shockingly stunning” Christmas tree on display at Annabel’s, a private club in England. “Can you do that?” Todd asked.
The result is a show-stopping, 55-foot tree built around the Elm Street entrance of The National. Todd’s goal is to create a place for memories, like the kind he has of taking his children to New York City when they were young to see the holiday displays at Bergdorf’s. “I want this to be a place that families will visit for generations,” he told me, as he and I and Friesenhahn toured the lobby. “I want kids to come back when they’re 30 with their own children and talk about how they visited The National when they were young.”
Installing the tree is a three-day process that requires a crane. “Downtown Dallas hasn’t seen anything like this,” Friesenhahn says. “The vision came from Shawn—we collaborated, basically, and topped it with a Texas star.”
This year, Todd and Thompson Dallas stepped up efforts to bring in local traffic with 12 Days of Thompson in the lobby. Visitors are treated to live holiday music and can buy hot cocoa and cocktails, with each purchase including a chance to win hotel stays, spa visits, dinner at Catbird, gift certificates to Lucchese (located in the hotel’s lobby), and more.
Programming has been key, says Todd, who focused on activities that would leave a lasting impression. The programs began Dec. 12. Upcoming activities include a Wreath-Making Class and Sips with The Botanical Mix (6–8 p.m., Dec. 16), Abraham Alexander & BTWHSPVA Gospel Ensemble (7 p.m., Dec. 16), The Christmas Ball presented by Shane & Shane (7 p.m., Dec. 17), Ornament Workshop and Happy Hour (6–8 p.m., Dec. 18), Dallas Cowboys Holiday Brunch (noon, Dec. 19), Christmas Vacation and S’Mores Bar (6 p.m., Dec. 20), Sushi and Holiday Martinis with Monarch and Kessaku (5–6 p.m., Dec. 21), Holiday Pie 101 in Chef Jeramie’s Kitchen (6–8 p.m., Dec. 22), High Tea and Gingerbread House Workshop (5–7 p.m., Dec. 23), and Gratefulness Giveback (5–7 p.m., Dec. 24).
Todd says Thompson Dallas has been doing very well, attracting both local guests and national and international travelers. The wedding business has been exceptional, he says, and he expects corporate travel to pick up next year. “It has been a blessing, and we are excited for 2022,” he says. “It’s fun to see everything open up again. The world is what the world is. We are not going to live in fear; we’re going to move forward in faith.”
Here’s a look at how four other DFW venues are celebrating in style:
- Omni Dallas Hotel The downtown Dallas hotel has created its first Santa Suite. It’s adorned with Christmas tree in the living room, smaller trees scattered throughout, plush holiday blankets and pillows, fireplace garland, and holiday dishes to dine on—all while overlooking the city skyline. A stay in the two-bedroom suite includes a welcome amenity of sweet treats, crafts for the kids, a hot cocoa station as a turn-down amenity, and a $400 hotel credit.
- Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas The Four Seasons is celebrating the holidays with various festive dining options, from a traditional, turkey-and-ham, Christmas Eve dinner, to a six-course New Year’s Eve Champagne Celebration. The hotel will also offer a five-course Christmas brunch and Breakfast with Santa for the kids.
- The Ritz Carlton The luxury hotel in Uptown is getting jovial with discounts on spa treatments during its multimillion-dollar renovation. It’s also offering special Christmas Eve menus and afternoon holiday tea times. The Ritz’s in-house Fearing’s restaurant will also be showcasing a Christmas Eve dinner and four-course New Year’s Eve meal.
- The Henry Part of The Union in Victory Park, The Henry has created a holiday pop-up called St. Henry’s Winter Wonderland on its rooftop bar, showcasing festive drinks, bites, and décor. I recommend starting with a Nog on the Rooftop (whiskey, egg, cream, nutmeg, and cinnamon) and the baked brie—both are great takes on holiday classics and provide cozy Christmas warmth. The Seared Diver Scallops are a must for dinner, and the restaurant’s signature—and massive—banana split is the perfect end to a fun holiday outing. —Kelsey J. Vanderschoot