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The Best D Magazine Stories of 2021, According to the Editors

We had a busy year in 2021. Here are our editors’ favorite stories from the year, each of which will show you a little more about the city we call home.
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Blank Spaces: Though former parks director L.B. Houston promised places for families to have a picnic, landscaped areas, and more, this is what the former neighborhood looks like today. When the fair isn’t in operation, these parking spots are rarely used. Elizabeth Lavin

Tim Rogers, Editor, D Magazine

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Ah, yes. The ol’ year-end sampler platter of favorite stories, a clever way to offer content on the blog during the holiday downtime. Sounds easy, right? Wrong! This is a highly politicized operation. One must select one’s favorite stories with the primary consideration being an equal distribution of favoritism across coworkers’ work and that of favored freelancers. So fraught! But what if one thumbed one’s nose at courtesy and rather than give shine to Richard Patterson’s deeply personal story about Dallas’ finest furniture store; or Zac Crain’s epic historical investigation into the racism that displaced 300 Fair Park families; or James Dolan’s melancholic tale of growing up with a father who was a hitman; or Eve Hill-Agnus’ review of Meridian, which she’d later name the restaurant of the year; or Peter Simek’s profile of Mayor Eric Johnson, which, several months later, seems to have led the mayor toward a self-reflection that has made him a better leader; or Mary Glenn’s bizarre, almost unbelievable account of how a squatter took over her house for nearly a year — what if one ignored all that and one instead selected only one’s own stories? Radical!

Did you know Dallas is now home to the country’s fourth-largest working bell? It’s true. I was the only journalist to cover its arrival. Similarly, I was the only person brave enough to write about the weekend on which I was loaned a $250,000 McLaren. In another example of my eagerness to write about myself, I profiled 97.1 The Eagle’s Ben Rogers and Skin Wade and inserted myself into the story as an untrustworthy omniscient narrator. I exposed Mavrello Ballovic and adopted the voice of lesbian chickens living in Plano before focusing my reportorial skills on a Highland Park woman who refused to obey the town’s new topiary ordinance. Then I wrote the most touching lost-dog story this city has seen in a generation.

See you in 2022. If you dare. (For FrontBurner readers, there is more after the jump.)

Zac Crain, Senior Editor, D Magazine

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I thought Peter Simek did a good job profiling someone who had no interest in being profiled when he wrote about Mayor Eric Johnson in May (“Invisible Man”). In a way, the hole in the middle left by the mayor’s lack of participation reflected the way he has disappeared from the lives of people who were once close to him.

I always love putting together the microfiction packages each summer, and this one—our fifth!—was no exception. Harry Hunsicker’s piece, “Last Tango in Dallas,” was especially good. Just a real mastery of the form, a full tale told in less than 1,000 words. Much harder than most people might think.

I enjoyed Eve Hill-Agnus’ return to regular restaurant reviews (which we paused at the onset of the pandemic), and so I could point to any of them. But I think I will single out the first one, her take on Ame from July. She always goes beyond what lands on the table.

My Father, the Hitman,” from October, is what you always hope for as a magazine editor: a great story well told that comes out of nowhere and just lands in your inbox. James Dolan’s piece about his mysterious malcontent of a father is a crime story, a conspiracy story, a whodunit, but mostly it’s about family and the violence it can inflict without raising a finger.

Finally, Richard Patterson’s essay from November, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being Wlodek Malowanczyk,” is so many things: a great profile of the titular owner of Collage, the furniture and art store in the Design District; a snapshot of what it’s like to be an outsider in Dallas; a sharp-eyed appraisal of the city in general; a brief history of modern furniture. Mostly it’s a good example of what it’s like to be the recipient of an email from Patterson, better known as a painter even though he’s a better writer than most people you will meet.

Kathy Wise, Executive Editor, D Magazine

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I have to pick our September cover feature, “78 Women Changing the Face of Dallas.” What a wild ride. It was conceived of by Christine Allison, our editor-in-chief and CEO, and grew to fill a conference room with all the resumes and portraits of possible contenders for our first ever women’s issue. It reached a fevered pitch of raised voices and tears (admittedly mine) as final cuts had to be made. It involved a team of 14 writers and editors; our intrepid staff photographer, Elizabeth Lavin; and our art director, Kevin Goodbar. And it culminated with a photo shoot in the lobby of the Adolphus Hotel for the 17 OG influencers we dubbed “The Grande Dames.” Former mayor Adlene Harrison hugged community activist Anita Martinez; Dr. Gail Griffin Thomas held the handbag for Kay Bailey Hutchison; Regina Montoya made room for Mollie Finch Belt on the blue velvet couch. It was epic. You will be able to read it online soon: we’ve been saving its release for the launch of our new website.

Peter Simek, Senior Editor, D Magazine

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being Wlodek Malowanczyk

Richard Patterson’s piece is about so much more than the closing of Dallas’ best furniture store. It’s about friendship, love, shared passions, alienation, displacement, homelands, and what this city looks like through the eyes of outsiders who have lived here too long to feel like foreigners, and yet have never quite felt at home.

My Father, the Hitman

Some stories require a lifetime before they are ready to be told. James Dolan’s deeply personal, endlessly fascinating, and ultimately heartbreaking account of growing up with an absent father whose life was never on the up-and-up is one of those stories. It reads like a crime thriller but resonates with a sense of loss and love that are the gifts of the author’s hard-won wisdom.

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Bowing Up: Carrie Marcus Neiman launched Neiman Marcus with her older brother, Herbert Marcus, and her husband, Al Neiman. This portrait was made circa 1907, the year they opened the store. Courtesy of Carrie Marcus Neiman

How Carrie Marcus Did It With Style

Dallas loves to tell itself the stories of its Merchant Princes—the hutzpah-rich entrepreneurs who built this city on the back of solid sales pitch. But Jerrie Marcus Smith’s account of her great-aunt Carry Marcus—a founder of Nieman Marcus—lends a personal touch to hagiography. The book excerpt allows us to peer behind the heavy silk curtains of Marcus’ Swiss Avenue home and into the lives and loves of a vanished Victorian Dallas.

The Accommodation Tanked 30 Years Ago. It’s Time to Try Again.

To mark the republication of The Accommodation, Jim Schutze reflected on what has changed—and what hasn’t—since the publication of his seminal history of Dallas race relations in 1984. Hopeful yet sober, Schutze shows that, even though he no longer churns out weekly copy, he remains the most informed, insightful, and entertaining commentator on Dallas life, politics, and culture.

The Fair Park Lie

We’ve written about the history of the neighborhoods around Fair Park many times throughout the years and reported on the ways in which the city and the State Fair of Texas preyed on these communities. But what we never have done is put this definitive history down in a form that would force the city to look it in the face. One of the points Jim makes in his piece about the Accommodation is that today, unlike 1984, Dallas is more willing to talk about its dark past. Zac Crain’s history of Fair Park helped demonstrate this.

Eve Hill-Agnus, Dining Critic, D Magazine

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“The Dawn of the North Texas Distillery Golden Age” (January 2021)

We started the year with a sip or two in our rollicking distillery feature. There were discoveries to be made among newcomers, and the characters came to life, including Chris Trevino, the LiquorHound, who was at the center of the profile about a postal carrier who owns 2,500 bottles of rare liquors. He is the nose and palate for the award-winning Sherman distillery Ironroot, and posed with his one-eyed chihuahua Sandy. In terms of service packages, this one was one of the most thorough and visually engaging.

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Shop Steward: Coursey says his father “always had a reasonably well-equipped workshop just for playing in.” He has used his own studio, which he built himself a few decades ago, to build enough furniture to put two kids through private school. Elizabeth Lavin

”Don’t Call Him a Genius” (print title) (March 2021)

Zac Crain did something beautiful in this piece about a genius furniture-maker/da Vinci of Dallas. It’s a profile he builds up in quiet scenes. Zac has an uncanny ability to match his storytelling to the person profiled, and here, for a moment, we have the privilege of feeling up close and riveted by a reserved man’s brilliance.

“A Dirty Story About Clean Linens” (March 2021)

As the restaurant industry was collapsing around us in March 2020, I heard a rumor that AltLinen (then called Kind Linen), a tiny laundering start-up, was revolutionizing the reality for restaurateurs one napkin at a time. Like David, they were taking on one of the Goliaths of the linen industry, offering laundering services without burdensome contracts and slews of hidden fees. One year later, I wrote a profile that got behind the scenes of the restaurant industry—and I was glad that in this moment when it mattered, we could humanize the issue.

“78 Women Changing the Face of Dallas” (September 2021)

I’m not sure I’ve ever been so moved and proud as when we decided to give over the entire magazine to pay homage to the powerful, creative, courageous women who move and shake Dallas. The forceful photography by Elizabeth Lavin also gave me chills.

“The Fair Park Lie” (November 2021)

Another masterpiece by Zac, but this time a piece of civic journalism. Through interviews and deep reporting, he lays out a sweeping and damning portrait of racism as it concerns land appropriation and the ousting of Black families from South Dallas to create a parking lot adjacent to Fair Park. He articulates something we knew but perhaps couldn’t articulate about the staggering inequalities and injustices in our city. Ultimately, Zac’s article reminds us of what it means to be part of a city, what it means to own anything, and what it looks like to be systematically ignored.

Matt Goodman, Online Editorial Director, D Magazine

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Zac Crain’s “Fair Park Lie” is a piece that highlights why local news is so important. First, it was collaborative: the researcher Elizabeth Johnston, the Dallas Public Library, Paul Quinn College, the nonprofit Dallas Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation, and the artist Riley Holloway all dedicated time and energy to bring to life a story about how Dallas stole land from Black homeowners decades ago. This incident left a gash between Fair Park and the community that the city and its partners still have failed to solve. Zac’s story explains that history and looks forward, never letting the city off the hook for the damage it did to so many.

Elsewhere, Richard Patterson’s profile of our mutual friend Wlodek Malowanczyk was a terrific portrait of the man and doubled as an exploration of being a foreigner in a new home. I loved many things that ran in the print magazine—the September issue on the women that make Dallas great, Eve Hill-Agnus’ clever and fascinating profile of a punchy linen upstart, Alex Macon’s accounting of all the new parks downtown, Peter Simek’s deep-dive into understanding the mayor and his unveiling of the real history of the Dallas Express.

But we need to talk about the web. Whether you know it or not, Rosin Saez and Taylor Crumpton have sent a newsletter out every week of this year. Taylor has shared her family’s history and her connection with Juneteenth, profiled artists who are using public space to make the city look at how it’s developing, and introduced you to a new radio host at 97.9—all while telling you the best things to do that weekend.

Rosin’s is a weekly must-read if you’re interested in dining, highlighting old standards (hello Aw Shucks! Goodbye Great American Hero!), laying out the history of tiki bars in Dallas, walking you through the wide variety of local markets, and following restaurants as they bounced back from damage sustained from the winter storm.

Writing these weekly newsletters on top of everything else is hard work, and making them as vibrant and alive as they did is even more difficult. Subscribe to FrontRow and SideDish if you haven’t already. Most of this you’ll get only if you’re subscribed.

Mike Piellucci’s StrongSide sports section blew the doors off our site. I think everyone would agree the quality of the journalism—storytelling, but also analysis—is top tier, and he has consistently written and edited pieces you won’t find anywhere else. His profile of Dale Hansen is required reading. How do you write something new about that man? Mike did.

I’ll leave you with Alex Macon. He’s the lunatic who accepted the assignment to start a daily newsletter about the city. He has built it into a must-read each morning, highlighting a few of the things you need to know—a school lockdown that went unreported, the push to make the city’s mascot the Woofus, an examination of the city’s plan to fight violent crime—and sprinkling it with quotes, numbers, and links to stories from our competitors that he feels are important. If you’re reading this, you should subscribe.

Each of them have earned a spot in your inbox.

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Pacific Plaza in downtown Dallas, one of the region's most walkable neighborhoods. Courtesy of David Wood for Parks For Downtown Dallas

Alex Macon, Senior Digital Editor, D Magazine

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The November issue of the magazine was beyond impressive and Mike Piellucci’s StrongSide has re-introduced good writing to Dallas sportswriting. I imagine everybody else is singing those particular hosannas, though, and what I really most enjoyed in 2021 was the dining coverage from Rosin Saez and Eve Hill-Agnus. Another year of COVID-related kicks in the pants for restaurant workers also saw a lot of resiliency and creativity from the “dining scene.” Nobody covered it better.

Taylor Crumpton’s online arts section was reliably wonderful, with this recently published guide to 10 Essential Dallas Rap Tracks getting in under the wire as one of my favorite things on the site this year.

And in 2021, if you wanted to know what was happening at City Hall and why so much of Dallas is the way it is, you needed to be reading Peter Simek (going long here on the mayor) and Matt Goodman (on the cost of bureaucratic dysfunction). If you subscribe to one D Magazine newsletter, it should be the one I started writing this year. But if you subscribe to two, Goodman’s “D Brief” is required reading for anybody who cares about this city

Rosin Saez, Online Dining Editor, D Magazine

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Let’s run it all the way back to the beginning. I’m quite proud of the “The Dawn of the North Texas Distillery Golden Age” feature we all put together for the January issue. As some were observing Dry January, we at D said, “Nah. Booze.” When they zig, we zag! But, really, the stories are about so much more than bourbon and swilling moonshine. Therein find distilleries born from family recipes that go back generations, beyond the Prohibition era, and tales of a postal carrier with the sharpest palate in the state.

One of the buzziest restaurant arrivals of the year had to be Shoyo. In the summer, Jimmy Park finally creaked open the doors to the hardest 12 seats to get in the city, an omakase-only sushi mecca. Just before he did so, though, I spent an afternoon with him and master sushi chef Shin Kondo, observing the painstaking, meditative ways of omakase prep. It was fun to write this one, “The Brillant Craftsmanship of Jimmy Park’s New Omakase Sushi Restaurant Shoyo.”

Speaking of brilliance, there are too many Eve Hill-Agnus hits from which to choose, but choose I must. Our fearless dining critic delved back into restaurant reviews after the weird and rough hand 2020 dealt the industry—the challenges of which are still very much present. One of her first was Meridian, the long-awaited restaurant from chef Junior Borges. In her review, which begins with her sitting solo at the bar, I feel very much in that same moment with her. To be whisked away in her words in “Junior Borges’ Brazil” was to live in Eve Hill-Agnus’ treatise of it.

I was glad to see the brief but necessary return of Dallas Hates Pedestrians, the recurring column about the woes the city puts anyone on foot—or, especially in a wheelchair—through as they walk about their day. In this particular missive, Matt Goodman calls out the ill-planned sidewalk renovation project in Deep Ellum, in which bricks for several blocks were undone all at once, closing several sidewalks in one of the most walkable zones in the city. (No, there weren’t any alternate routes. And I saw, more than one time, people in wheelchairs in the road because of it.)

This year, the addition of senior digital editor Alex Macon’s reporting and quippy writing on FrontBurner, as well as inside his daily newsletter LeadingOff, made following daily Dallas news an actual delight, rather than a slog.

My other colleague and desk buddy (though, Alex, who sits on the other side of me, is likewise my desk fellow), Taylor Crumpton has covered Dallas arts and culture in a way that no other publication in the city even comes close to. Her Dallas in Pop Culture series on Fridays is a light-hearted yet insightful salve after long work week. Her reporting on Beyonce’s Western-inspired Ivy Park collection was simultaneously about Dallas’ roots in Black cowboy culture and Crumpton’s own fashion fangirling.

Taylor Crumpton, Online Arts Editor, D Magazine

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One Year Later: How Dallas Hospitality Staff Worked Amid a Pandemic” by Eve Hill-Agnus and Rosin Saez

When Gov. Greg Abbott allowed businesses in the state to fully reopen, Eve Hill-Agnus and Rosin Saez interviewed hospitality workers about their worries of working at full capacity. For many, the pandemic forced them to re-evaluate the lack of social support for service workers, critique unsafe working environments, and cherish the relationships among their co-workers in the hospitality industry. As we monitor the ever-growing omicron variant, this story serves as a reminder to be hospitable to the service workers—the backbone of our city’s food service industry.

How Two Dallas Cowboys Reality TV Shows Reveal a Gender-Based Double Standard by Paige Skinner

For those born and raised in Dallas, America’s Team and the Women Behind Them hold a special place in our heart. Parents dress up their children as Cowboys players and cheerleaders for Halloween. Other high school and college women train their bodies until the long-awaited audition on Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making The Team. The football team and cheerleading squad represent Dallas’ and Texas’ ideals of masculinity, femininity, and athleticism. Paige Skinner analyzes the two Cowboys organizations, through their respective reality shows, to identify and reveal gender-based treatment between the two programs. Skinner’s piece places the Cowboys organizations in societal conversations about equitable pay and better working conditions for professional cheerleaders.

Voices From Camp Rhonda Near Dallas City Hall” by Matt Goodman

Prior to joining D Magazine, I was a social worker who worked with youth experiencing homelessness in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. The issue of homelessness is dear to my heart, as a former homeless youth who has family members experiencing homelessness. In the past, media coverage about homelessness did not prioritize the voices and experiences of those experiencing the conditions. Thankfully, the media have changed, and professionals like Matt Goodman believe in centering the voices of those encampments and their housing advocates. I believe stories like this humanize those experiencing homelessness and encourage readers to change their perspectives on our houseless neighbors.

Dallas’ Bright Lights Are Killing Migrating Birds” by Alex Macon

Birds? Yes, Birds. What I love about Alex Macon’s writing is his ability to report on overlooked activities in Dallas, like the impact of the light pollution on migrating birds. Prior to his story, I had no idea about Texas’ position on a national migration route for birds or local efforts to shut down lights for birds to fly safer throughout the streets of Dallas. If these topics interest you, I encourage a deep dive through Macon’s archive to discover UFOs in Dallas, mysterious statues, and, of course, his take on all the latest news in Dallas.

Mike Piellucci, Sports Editor, D Magazine

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StrongSide has been running for only a little more than a quarter of a year, so you’ll have to forgive me for being self-serving and keeping my list focused on sports content for the benefit of anyone who hasn’t spent much time in D’s newest section.

I’ll begin by being extra self-serving and promoting two of my own stories: my profile of Dale Hansen on his last night in broadcasting and another of Jason Witten, who made a surprising choice to coach high school football at a small private school in Argyle. But our list of great stories hardly ends there. Laken Litman’s time with Sonny Dykes is even more fascinating after SMU’s former head coach jumped ship to TCU, while Jamey Newberg’s piece on Owen White’s improbable resurgence after three years between competitive games is a great read. I loved Jarrett Van Meter finding a women’s junior college dynasty out in Athens, and I loved Iztok Franko, our man in Slovenia, introducing us to Luka Doncic’s trainer. And who wouldn’t be impressed by Satou Sabally after Jonny Auping’s story?

We’re also here to do the smartest work in town. That means Jake Kemp showing why Micah Parsons is a generational talent, David Castillo’s deep dive into why the Stars don’t score enough goals, and every item in Dan Morse’s weekly “Cowboys Number to Know” series (this one might be my favorite). Roberto José Andrade Franco taught us about the Mexican Super Bowl, while Dorothy J. Gentry is only getting started in her great coverage of the Wings. Oh, and if you’re down on the Mavericks, let Brian Dameris explain the bigger picture—and how Keanu Reeves changed his life.

Already, we’re doing sports coverage differently than anyone in town. We can’t wait to do so much more of that in 2022.

Jessica Otte, Executive Editor, D Home

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D Home, July/August – 10 Most Charming Houses 

For one thing, it’s just really fun to get in the car and drive around Dallas, looking at all the real estate riches this city has to offer. But since we’ve shifted our focus from “beautiful” homes to “charming” ones two years ago, we’ve found the stories behind them have changed direction, too. We love a stately mansion as much as anyone, but there’s something about a cozy Tudor that a homeowner has poured their blood, sweat, and tears into that is hard to beat. Once the issue was on newsstands, we received a touching note from a previous owner of our cover house that was so pleased to see how well the home had been cared for since she and her late husband had vacated it. Homes aren’t just brick and mortar; they’re the product of the people who live in them, and maybe no story we do at D Home shows this better. 

D Home, Sept/Oct – Best of Big D: Home & Garden Edition

For the D Home edition of our annual “Best of Big D” celebration, we profiled the people behind nine of the winning businesses. This is an especially tricky time to own a shop, restaurant, or hotel, and we wanted to hear from local stalwarts to find out what they attributed their long-term success to, how the last few years have impacted the way they do business, and, most of all, what they love about what they do. Each one is different, but their passion for what they do rings through. 

D Home Nov/Dec – How Dallas Does the Holidays

In a declaration that is going to put me squarely in the “Most Basic” category, I love the holiday season, so our holiday issue is always my favorite to work on. And because our magazine has such a long lead time, we go to press on that issue long before I’ve actually trimmed my own tree or bought a single gift, so it helps me get into the holiday spirit early. This year, we stepped inside the homes of four area families to see how they celebrate the season. I got so much inspiration from their décor ideas and traditions. (Designer Jessica Barefield’s tradition to record an original holiday song each year is #goals. If only I had any musical talent to speak of.) We also polled thirtysomething local tastemakers to find out how they celebrate the holidays—the places, gifts, dishes, and traditions that the holidays wouldn’t be complete without. Their great ideas helped me create my own holiday to-do list.

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor, People Newspapers

I had several favorite stories this year, but one that comes to mind first is a recent one. I spent a day with the principal and assistant principal at Withers Elementary. I hadn’t been inside a classroom (something I used to regularly do) since everyone went home in March 2020. Wendy Miller and Miosha McCann are constantly in motion, and both were pretty candid with me about what post-lockdown school has been like—busy, tough, and filled with an incredible amount of worry.

My other favorite started like a lot of stories start—in the middle of covering a different story, with a late-night email. Author Anastasia Higginbotham’s book, Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness, had actually first made its appearance in the Critical Race Theory discussions when a parent insisted it was being used in classes, during public comment at a Highland Park ISD school board meeting. This summer, as the state Legislature debated House Bill 3979, her book was waved around again. So I emailed her to see if we could chat.

And finally, another one of my favorites was one that (nepotism alert) my son, who we affectionately call our youngest intern, wrote. He dug into his Texas and railroad history lessons to draw a parallel to what he feels Texas needs to do with its grid. 

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The Editors

The Editors

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