Larry McMurtry Calls Dallas ‘Second-Rate’

There’s some good reading in the February Texas Monthly–on newsstands but not online yet–including several interesting takes on the state’s biggest cities. But one essay, by the estimable Larry McMurtry of Archer City, isn’t likely to be reprinted by the Dallas Regional Chamber. Writes McMurtry:

If I were to anatomize the six major cities more or less in order of urban merit, I would now put Houston first by a large margin: it’s a great city. Next would come Austin and Fort Worth. … Dallas I haven’t enjoyed since the sixties, when I could still scout books at the Harper’s big bookshop in Deep Ellum, where my son now often performs. Dallas is a second-rate city that wishes it were first-rate.



  • LDR4

    First-rate? Pssh, that’s for suckers in filthy Houston. Here in Dallas we strive for World Class!

  • Tim Rogers

    Being defensive is the surest way to lose such an argument, if such an argument about city supremacy is even worth having. But I’ll offer this: not long ago I was talking to the head of the Dallas outpost of an international firm. That firm was looking at opening an office in either Houston or Dallas. I asked him why they chose Dallas. He said, “We did a lot of research and found that we wouldn’t be able to attract smart, young people to Houston. Dallas is seen as a much better place to live.”

  • sooieeehog

    When was the last time James performed in Deep Ellum?

    • Brad

      Saw him and Sons of Herman last year.

  • PabloniusMonk

    Geez, McMurtry, if you’re rating cities by the calibre of their book vendors, aren’t you bound to favor only the dwindling capital cities of publishing? I liked 1972’s All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers, but, please oh great Archer City curmudgeon, refrain from rating our cities. Spare me.

  • downtownworker

    The fact that his first choice is Houston “by a large margin” says it all. It would be a far more credible assessment if he said Fort Worth or Austin were the best.

  • mparsons

    Sure, Houston is a great city (and voted one of the coolest cities in America by Forbes Magazine recently); you cannot compare these major cities to one another, as they are completely different, and each have unique traits. Comparing Fort Worth to Austin even is like comparing apples to oranges–they are completely different! Same goes with the rest. Austin is great for many reasons, but I’d never live there for the traffic and crowded real estate alone. Houston has a great arts scene and foodie culture, but it has its downsides–weather being a big factor, and it is, as Tim Rogers’ source pointed out, is a bit old-school generation-wise. Dallas, I believe, is the best in all worlds–we have a fantastic cultural scene, amazing dining scene and a new restaurant/food truck popping up every week it seems, mild weather comparatively-speaking (no floods), lots of landmarks/history/museums, younger generations prosper here, great colleges and universities, the BEST shopping bar-none, and an ever-evolving music scene. AND Fort Worth is just a measly 45 minutes from here, so we can enjoy that part of town and get a little dose of Americana whenever we please! We are surrounded by lakes and recreation, our neighborhoods are evolving, the list goes on and on. This guy seems a bit ill-informed, or biased, or both.

  • mdunlap1

    That’s silly. There really aren’t very big differences in the two cities as far as attracting Millennials goes. They are both sprawled out, car-dependent, highway-wrecked cities surrounded by – and largely shackled by – uber-Republican, theocratic suburbs.

    I’m no fan of Houston, but it at least has a serious university, a downtown grocery store (a pretty nice one at that), and a real commitment to bike infrastructure (sharing system moving from 3 stations to 20 in the next few months).

  • Victor Cager

    Dallas is my hometown but he’s right. Even Fort Worth is more culturally sound….and it’s referred to as “Cowtown”!!! Come on Dallas…at least one real Jazz lounge would be a good start.

  • Kirsten

    You don’t consider SMU a “serious university”? Many, including me, would disagree.

  • Brendan

    Perhaps we should accept what he says and then figure how little it would take to turn Dallas’ downtown around. It’s starting to get close, people. A good bookstore/coffeehouse, maybe a jazz lounge or three like Victor Cager suggests. It’s just not that far off.

  • Tim Rogers

    Shane Keller does business development for our D Custom division. He’s a good buddy, and he spent the last two years living in Houston. So I asked him to share his opinion of the two cities. Shane writes:

    Houston has no sense of itself. Houstonians seem to be unaware or even apologetic for the great things Houston has going for it.

    It has a better climate than Dallas — warmer Winters and only slightly warmer Summers. The access to the ocean is completely under-marketed. Downtown Houston is only 45 minutes from Galveston. For that matter, you can leave the heart of the city and be in an oceanside bar in just over 20 minutes. There are hundreds of great two hour road trips (the barbecue trail, Roundtop, Lake Charles, the Farmers’ Market circuit, Freeport, etc.). Every neighborhood is filled with neighborhood bars and restaurants (even in the suburbs) so you can avoid the restaurant-chain-shock you find in parts of Dallas. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo might be the most underrated three-week event in the United States. Minute Maid Park makes the Ballpark at Arlington look like a joke and Reliant Stadium is far superior to Jerry—World (yeah, I said it). The tailgate scene at a Houston Texans game might be the best sports experience in Texas. Almost everything I’ve listed comes as news to Dallasites because Houston just doesn’t promote itself very well.

    Traffic is the “kick-in-the-nuts” of living in Houston. If you show up an hour late for a meeting, the person you are meeting will assume you ran into traffic and not give you the slightest bit of grief. You can’t do anything about, so you might as well just learn to live with it. Seriously, there was a common drive I made at various times of the day. I could make it in 15 minutes with no traffic, but it usually took me 30 minutes. In bad traffic it could take an hour and a half or longer. The traffic is not time-of-day centric. You’ll hit traffic delays in rush hour, late morning, afternoon, evening and even the dead of night. And if you plan on driving anywhere near the Galleria, you’d better take your blood pressure medicine first.

    Houston is not a particularly attractive city. The architecture isn’t great. There are a few pretty neighborhoods, but not many areas with any real character. Is it weird that the fourth largest city in the United States can’t sustain an amusement park? I think so.

    Houstonians are easy to approach and generally friendly. They absolutely hate Dallasites for being fake and pretentious, and they might be justified in thinking this. I get why McMurtry dislikes Dallas, and I think what he dislikes the most are the people. The perception that Dallasites are douchebags is justly earned (Jerry Jones, Most Eligible Dallas, even the Top Chef episodes filmed in Dallas made the city look like a haven for miscreants).

    Dallas is everything that Houston is not and vice versa. To me, it feels like Dallas vibrates at a faster pitch. Whereas Houston feels more blue-collar, Dallas seems more refined and cliquish. The top end of the restaurant and bar scene here is clearly better. In my opinion, Dallasites are more in tune with what is going on in their city politically and culturally. Dallas’ worst neighborhoods seem safer and cleaner than Houston’s worst neighborhoods. I also think there is a larger racial gap in Houston than in Dallas. Houston seems more segregated. Again, just my opinion.

    So where do I prefer to live? Since I grew up here I would have to side with Dallas, but that may also be biased because most of my friends live here. In the two years I spent in Houston, the Dallas landscape changed to a shocking degree. I barely recognize downtown and the number of new office buildings, high-rise apartments, bridges, road expansions, etc. is difficult to grasp. She make look different, but Dallas feels the same. It just feels, well, more Dallas-y.

    If only Dallas was near the ocean and Reliant Stadium was located in Preston Hollow…

  • mparsons

    What do you mean when you say more culturally sound? You have been to our Arts District, yes? Also, for ‘real’ jazz, see the Balcony Club.

  • Glenn Hunter

    Great comment, Shane.

  • Avid Reader

    That’s also silly. Most millennials who are contemplating Dallas or Houston will pick based on the job, but if given a straight choice Dallas would be the favorite. Saying Dallas is sprawled out like Houston is comical; car-dependent, sure. Not real sure on how either democrat leaning city having surrounding suburbs that lean republican is any kind of general negative unless you would rather just silence everyone from their own opinions.

    I never really thought of SMU as a serious university either, can’t fault that point. However, what I really agree with in your comment is that what makes a true first rate city is a grocery store downtown and bike infrastructure. How are those not the top two indicators for every city survey?

  • David Hopkins

    Hey Larry, your mom is second rate.

    (Do not know Larry McMurtry’s mom. Just being defensive.)

  • Paul

    I can understand where McMurtry’s coming from on Dallas. But Houston as the greated city in Texas? Really? I grew up in East Texas and thought I knew hot, but there’s nothing like the oppressive humidity of Houston between May and October. Exit Hobby during those months and it almost knocks you to the ground. Add in horrible traffic, sprawl, and ugly, unchecked development for grins. And Galveston may be just an hour away, but its not exactly Miami Beach.

  • Daniel

    Book/album title: The Kick-in-the-Nuts of Living

  • Framton

    I like the Ballpark…

  • DowntownDM

    Astute observations, Shane. I lived in Galveston/Houston for 30 years and am nearing 27 years in Dallas. I’ve always compared the two cities this way: Houston is like the wildcatter, audacious and unconcerned about image; Dallas is like a business exec, careful and absorbed by what other people think.

  • Jackson

    Forget Dallas v Houston for a moment, let me just say something about Larry: Regardless of his writing talent, he has one of the most dyspeptic personalities of anyone you’ll ever know. If he’s in a sour mood it’s a good day, and he’s always been like this. Unpleasant and insufferable are words that don’t do him justice.

    Oh, and the acorn that is son James didn’t fall far from the tree, either.

  • billholston

    I like your point about defensiveness Tim. These articles always invite me to consider what I love about Dallas. I find Dallas a much more interesting place than it was even five years ago. For one thing I think interesting neighborhoods make for a great city, and that’s a growing phenomenon here in Dallas. First, I love Oak Cliff. I love eating at Nova and walking to a show at the Kessler, something I did two weeks ago, to watch Denton act Seryn, and Austin’s David Ramirez. I also love La Michocan for the ice cream Eno’s for Pizza and Dude Sweet Chocolate. I love our homegrown arts community, like Kettle Art and Art Conspiracy and just how nurturing so many artists were to my teenage son Fred. I love Expo Park, the Meridian Room, and now Craft and Growler, which has quickly become a premier craft beer spot, and a great place for conversation. Central Trac Art residential arts is just around the corner I love our quirky neighborhood in East Dallas, five minutes to White Rock Lake, gourmet tacos at Good2 Go and beers at Goodfriend Beer and Burger. I love the fact that every time I drop into Goodfriend I meet someone I know. It’s a fantastic neighborhood spot. It helps that they support my non-profit with a donation, with enthusiasm, because they are community oriented. Downtown, I love our new Klyde Warren Park. I also love walking to the Arts District for a food truck at noon. The Patio Sessions are a great way to hear local music by the way. There’s the Nasher; the newly free DMA, and of course the new Perot museum. And of course, Booker T. Washington School for the Performing Arts.
    No, we don’t have an ocean, but I’ve chronicled quite a few local nature spots for hiking. Saturday we hiked in the Trinity Forest, saw Ospreys and Bald Eagles and ended with tacos at the absolutely amazing barbacoa at
    We have things that don’t fit the Dallas stereotype. I love that SMU’s Embry School of Human Rights is one of five human rights undergraduate programs in the Country.
    I happen to think our city has much to offer. Do we have room to improve sure? I’d love to see us take better care of our parks and nature areas. I’d love us to resist the urge to pave any trail. I’d love to see us spend money on things like prairie restoration, and open our Trinity River to more accessible canoe and kayaking.
    I wouldn’t compare us to Houston or anywhere else, or claim to be first class or second class. Who cares anyway? I love visiting Houston and Austin, and find their particular charms. But all things considered, I love living here.
    Hey, Lonesome Dove was one of my favorite books of the eighties. I read it on Molly Ivins’ (who lived in Austin, Houston and Dallas) recommendation, but I wouldn’t really think he’s an expert on what makes a city first rate.

  • Dubious Brother

    I’d like it much better if it were in downtown Dallas, DART accessible, with a bunch of good bars and restaurants within walking distance and they played National League baseball there.

  • Bill Marvel

    Three-shirts-a-day Houston “has a better climate than Dallas”??? And this person does your business development? God help D!

  • ChrisNFW

    Not really sure why Texas Monthly continues to publish Larry’s rants. He’s an author who has enjoyed some financial success, but hardly an expert on much of anything other than his own tastes.

    • Brad

      Dude knows a lot about Texas history.

    • Michael

      McMurtry’s writing is why. He writes terrific essays about everything for the New York Review of Books. He has spent a lot of time traveling all over America; read his book ROADS. I agree with one of the earlier commenters–I think it’s the people in Dallas that he has little affection for, since they are pretty arrogant and rude, at least from my experience. McMurtry is about as well informed a writer as anyone I’ve read. I think his personal library is close to 30,000 books and his bookstores in Archer City had over a half million books at one time.

  • anstersaldana

    That’s a great analogy. Good example: Dr. Red Duke still drives his old beat up pick-up truck to work in the Medical Center.

  • anstersaldana

    Hit the nail on the head, Shane. Totally agree about the under marketing of the proximity to the ocean, HLSR and definitely Texan’s tailgating. And maybe you could even count the Kemah Boardwalk and Galveston’s Pleasure Pier as a substitute for a major theme park?

  • anstersaldana

    I think that McMurtry is simply trying to create buzz. The rivalry between the state’s two largest cities (sorry San Antonio) is as old as Texas itself and always guarantees heated arguments. I live in Houston and love certain things about it, but I also love things about Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. I would be perfectly happy living in any of those fine Texas cities. I think we are truly blessed to live in a state that’s big and diverse enough that we even have the privilege of comparison (think Georgia, Massachusetts, Illinois, New York, etc.).

  • Nathan Keller

    Good call on Kemah and Pleasure Pier. I certainly don’t want to demean either one by saying they aren’t major theme parks (on the level of SeaWorld or Six Flags), but they are small. Still, what’s not to love about any amusement park, regardless of size, near the ocean?

    The point I was trying to make in my original point to Tim was that Astroworld went without a whimper and there hasn’t been a real demand for a replacement. Again, it just feels like Houston is a major metropolitan city that, at times, seems to be afraid to be a major metropolitan city…and that is a shame.

  • Lost in Plano

    I’ve lived in Austin, San Antonio, Fort Worth and Dallas. I’ll take San Antonio over any of them. My rank, in order: SA, Fort Worth, Dallas, Austin, then Houston . I lived in College Station for 4+ years, and that was as close to Houston as I want to get.

  • Phan

    Who the hell is Larry McMurtry? Not worth googling

  • Gary Brady-Herndon

    Native Texans have always felt Dallas was a northern city in disguise, a carpetbagger in urban planning.

  • Gary Brady-Herndon

    Native Texans have always thought this. Dallas is a carpetbagger in urban planning clothes.

  • Brett Moore

    1) Make a post comparing Dallas & Houston
    2) Watch the commentariat go crazy
    3) ???????
    4) Profit!

  • Haha

    Does anyone really think SMU is a serious university anymore? I just feel like they have stayed so stagnant. They are so homogeneous, that the only people that think SMU is a serious university are the people that go there or went there. It’s a good education, but it’s no Ivy south anymore.

  • Avid Reader

    Shane or Nathan?

  • Nathan Keller

    Either. I go by Shane, but Nathan is my first name. You can call me Steve.

  • bshirley

    Enjoyed the comments.

    My impression is houston’s worse neighborhoods seems safer and there a larger racial gap in dallas than in houston. I’m sure those impressions are entirely because of our perspectives, and objective measures would likely show them close. I’m familiar with the “scary/transitional” houston neighborhood and not afraid to approach it. Anywhere else, it’s not the same situation.

    As to “top end restaurant and bar scene”, not knowing how you define top end, I’m not sure how to respond. If you mean “high cost”, I have very little familiarity, but otherwise i don’t there is a huge difference between them (i know our respective towns’ foodies often energetically debate this).

    I would concur that *many* Houstonians *are* unaware of all the things going on in the city, but there’s still enough that know what’s going on to support it happening. That’s why i love any big city.

    My suggestion when you are in Houston: stay off the freeways as much as possible. It’s like judging a person based on his colonoscopy.

  • bshirley

    p.s. i’ve met “Houstonian’s” (usually suburbanites, but not always) who have lived in town for 5-10 years and are not aware that we have a marathon or an artcar parade, both of which attract several 100 thousand people

  • Framton

    Agreed on everything except the NL baseball part, but it is a nice park.

    Do you really like pitchers hitting? Do you watch those at-bats and go, “Man, now this is pro baseball!” I really don’t get the appeal of that format, as if somehow inserting an inept hitter into every lineup makes the game better.

  • pogue25

    What’s his basis for calling Dallas a second rate city?

  • GMC

    Yea, I guess you are pretty spot on about SMU not being a real university. These rankings probably mean nothing.

    Go to the various sites if you want to confirm.

  • Brandon

    As someone who has lived in Texas for just five years, I don’t get this constant Dallas vs. Houston refrain. They are both great cities. Houston and Dallas are different, but that’s a good thing. It’s nice having another major metro area just four hours south of us with different things to do and a distinct atmosphere. I also don’t undrstand why Dallas is always separated from Ft. Worth. To the rest of the world, it’s DFW, not D and FW. Between our two cities, we’re a great metro area. Lastly, Austin is terribly overrated. It’s materialism parading as bohemia. A second-rate city for sure when compared to similar places like Denver and Portland. People ask me why I chose to live in Dallas over Austin and I always say “Have you ever actually been to Austin?”

  • MercuryGuy

    Dallas IS second rate and ugly, geographically speaking. Not many major cities have almost no geographical reason to exist outside of being somewhat central. I think he also might have meant to say that Dallas has had to borrow culture from other places because it is cultureless. After all, it was created out of nothing.

  • mikecoll

    I’m a Houstonian, but I’d put the blame on the fact that Larry grew up in North Texas near Dallas. In the Last Picture Show, the rich kids had parties in Dallas and went to SMU. The poor kids worked at the pool hall, got drafted, and were hit by cars. I suspect that he still has some class-based resentment. As for my 2 cents — I enjoy both cities. I do think that our downtown, after decades of neglect, has gotten a little more vibrant than yours, and I think that our fine arts scene (HGO, Alley, Menil, MFAH) is better. I think that the restaurant scenes are comparable, but the hot restaurants in Houston seem to get more national press, for whatever reason. You beat us on traffic, of course, and urban planning (we have none). Comparisons and rivalries are silly, though. They’re both great towns.

  • crittertwits

    What I find ironic is that the local mainstream paper always references new plays and eateries in Dallas as ‘just as good as’ or ‘better than New York’. This is so ridiculous and wannabe. I can assure you when a new entertainment or venue opens in NYC, they don’t concern themselves with comparisons to Dallas, LA, London, or whatever. They just are what they are, good or bad, and that’s it. This NEED to be more than you are, or better than the next guy is not limited to Dallas, but it sure is prevalent among the many with a local zip code and a chip on their shoulder.

  • TexasForever

    McMurtry is one of the smartest Texans still alive. And he’s right–Dallas is full of rude, obnoxious wannabes. I’ll take Austin, Fort Worth, or Houston over Dallas any day. Nouveau riche abound; drivers are rude and cut you off like they’re at NASCAR. I love my Texas, but Dallas I now avoid.

  • Holly Price

    First of all, nothing in Texas is second-rate! Second, how can you call Preston Hollow, HP, Turtle Creek, the Arts District, Bishop Arts, Deep Ellum, Arboretum, Perot Musuem, Nasher, DMA, Meyerson, Winspear…list goes on…SECOND RATE? Seriously?! He must have gotten ripped off at Northpark or something. Ignorant statement.

  • Adam Dixon

    Ironic someone banging out novels such as Streets of Laredo and Dead Man’s Walk while also living in Archer City would have the nerve to approach the subject of second rate.

    • Michael

      What have you written lately, pal?

  • Adam Dixon

    Ironic someone banging out such novels as Streets of Laredo and Dead Man’s Walk while also living in Archer City would have enough nerve to approach the subject of second rate.

  • Adam Dixon

    Iroonic someone banging out such novels as Streets of Laredo and Dead Man’s Walk while also living in Archer City has enough nerve to approach the subject of second rate

  • miz j

    Anyone who thinks Houston sucks based on their time outside the loop needs to come for another visit. The Orange Show, Beer Can House, Art Car Parade, Ninfa’s, Uchi, Feast, Hay Merchant, Discovery Green, Phoenicia Mkt, Fitzgerald’s, Miller Theater, Breakfast Klub, Vieng Thai and the list goes on. And that doesn’t include the museums, theatre, ballet, opera, symphony… Come on back for another visit. Skip the Galleria and being stuck at Aunt Jane’s place in Spring [or other ‘burb]. p.s. the reason women in Houston have such beautiful skin? the humidity 🙂

  • kyndbrah

    i like both cities but i live in and prefer Dallas. Houston is a lot more expensive to live in the loop or the Heights and it just seems so much bigger and spread out than Dallas.