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Our First Dining Critics Were Untrained and Unafraid

Not to mention, unaware of the gastric consequences.
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nancy nichols and nick badovinus
Nancy Nichols (with chef Nick Badovinus in 2013) often wore costumes to public events so she could continue to dine in anonymity. Courtesy

Blame calzones for ending the tenure of this magazine’s first-ever dining editor. To hit a deadline, David Bauer consumed eight of the Italian turnovers within a few days, and the ricotta cheese did him in. In truth, Bauer never set out to cover food. In 1974, he was a long-haired and bearded Dartmouth grad looking for a job in journalism because, he says, “I couldn’t think of anything else to be.” 

“The first person you’re going to hire is not going to be that hippie, right?” said D Magazine’s founding publisher, Wick Allison, after editor Jim Atkinson brought Bauer on board. Some months later, when Allison announced that someone would need to build a dining directory modeled after the one at Philadelphia Magazine, Bauer volunteered. 

“Except for the fact that I liked to eat, I had no credentials, no expertise,” Bauer says today. 

His mini-reviews gave Dallas its first taste of dining criticism: “An old Market St. warehouse brought back to life and loaded with antiques. … It’s possible the spaghetti is also antique,” he wrote in the magazine’s first issue. Word got around among the city’s restaurateurs to watch out for “a guy who looks just like Jesus.”

Inexperience aside, Bauer did have an ace up his sleeve. His girlfriend at the time was Nancy Nichols. Longtime readers will recognize the name, as Nichols was D Magazine’s dining critic from 1996 to 2015. But back in the 1970s, she was not a writer at all. Nichols had worked the line at a buzzy Austin restaurant called MarCo’s and then served as a chef and waitress at La Cave in Dallas, which she claims was Dallas’ first authentic wine bar. “But The Grape fights me on that every time,” she says. So while Bauer could write, Nichols knew food and often joined him on dining expeditions. 

When Nichols burned out on life in the kitchen, Bauer encouraged her to pursue whatever it was she loved. A lifelong sports fanatic, Nichols cold-called the number for the Dallas Black Hawks hockey team and got Eric Nadel, the team’s director of PR and radio broadcaster, who was new to Dallas and looking to staff up. While working for the Black Hawks, Nichols was recruited to be the general manager of the Dallas Diamonds, the short-lived women’s pro basketball team. Over those years, she dated a handful of men in media who, she says, all vacation together to this day. “I call it the Nancy Nichols’ Old Boyfriends Club,” Nichols says, emphasizing that this was the 1970s.

Nichols ate at 28 restaurants in 19 days and then sat down at her typewriter and sobbed. She had no idea how to write. 

After more than a decade in California and an eight-year marriage, a newly divorced Nichols returned to Dallas and ended up in the D Magazine marketing department. One day, Allison showed up at her desk and told her to find the 10 best new restaurants and write them up in three weeks. Nichols ate at 28 restaurants in 19 days and then sat down at her typewriter and sobbed. She had no idea how to write. She went back to Allison. 

“Nancy, do you know who Tom Wolfe is?” Allison asked. Nichols had, indeed, heard of Tom Wolfe. 

“Vroom, vroom,” Allison told her. 

“OK,” Nichols replied, “you want to elaborate on that?” 

Allison told her about Wolfe’s breakthrough Esquire article, which was essentially pages and pages of notes taken from the scene of a hot rod show.

“Just write about what you saw, what you did, what you heard, and all that kind of stuff,” Allison said. “Just go be Tom Wolfe.”

“I did it somehow, but it was painful,” Nichols says. She went on to do it again and again, eating her way through Dallas for almost two decades, until food bit back. Nichols penned the saga of her medical mystery, which also served as the announcement that her dining critic days were done, in the March 2015 issue. The title: “My Job Nearly Killed Me.” 

Though Nichols and Bauer’s romantic relationship ended in the ’70s, the two still speak regularly, and she says that he’s on her list of people she’d call if “I ever went to China and got thrown into prison.” As for Bauer, he eventually trimmed his hair, shaved his beard, and went on to a long career at Sports Illustrated. Still, “that hippie” never strayed far from the D Magazine family. He married Allison’s sister-in-law, the younger sister of the magazine’s current editor-in-chief and CEO, Christine Allison. 


This story originally appeared in the May issue of D Magazine with the headline “Hippies, Hockey, and Haut-Brion.” Write to [email protected]

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S. Holland Murphy

S. Holland Murphy

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