Free (or Cheap) Fun in Highland Village, Texas

This Dallas suburb makes watching paint dry seem like a preferred weekend option — and we mean that in a good way.

We shouldn't have to tell you the best time of day to visit Highland Village's Sunset Point. photography by Ryan Jones
The best suburbs of Dallas are clearly great places to live, but should you want to visit them? D Magazine online editorial intern Ryan Jones was dispatched to make a day of it in each of our top-ranked cities.The challenge: he’s got only $5 at his disposal. He’s already explored Parker. Next up, Highland Village: No. 2 in our 2010 ratings.

You know the knock on generic bedroom communities: most don’t offer enough options for a decent night out. Too often what passes for entertainment in the ‘burbs roughly equates to watching paint dry. While Highland Village, a small town situated on the shores of Lewisville Lake, is no exception to this rule, they’ve found a way to make drying paint a big draw.

That’s because local artist Richard Nunez is always creating colorful works on canvas inside the Wine Cat Bistro, a new restaurant and wine bar that sits in an ordinary strip mall a few blocks away from the city’s biggest shopping center. Wine Cat doubles as Nunez’s studio, and the artist paints live in house almost every hour the restaurant is open.

If you’re curious as to his style, just take a look around Wine Cat — all but one painting in the bistro is by Nunez, and many depict celebrities from Michael Jackson to Marilyn Monroe. He says a painting usually takes three to six hours to complete, and his work is often up for sale, so that diners can bring home much more than a doggy bag.

The ambience inside Wine Cat is set by dim lighting, black tablecloths, and a dark wood bar, a far cry from the feel of most chain restaurants that populate the suburbs.

The workspace of artist Richard Nunez, who paints live most nights at Wine Cat Bistro.

“We’re an oasis,” says Adrian Weaver, Wine Cat’s owner. Weaver’s not new to the world of wine — he previously ran a different bistro, Adrian’s of Argyle, and started a wine store in Denton — and he’s happy to offer his expertise if you can’t decide on your own. To keep the wine list fresh, Weaver never orders the same wine twice, and there’s also a selection of beer and spirits at the bar.

Wine Cat has a weekday happy hour (4 to 6 pm) with dollar draughts and a dollar off house wines, and you can often catch live music on Friday and Saturday nights. But your best bet might be Thursday nights, when you can get free wine tastings from 6 to 8 pm and grab something to munch (the stuffed calamari comes highly recommended) while you watch Nunez work.

For those looking to get outdoors, Highland Village has a handful of parks that serve as great distractions on summer days. Pilot Knoll and Copperas Branch provide direct access to Lewisville Lake, but each require a $10 admission fee and can get swamped on the weekends.

Then there’s Sunset Point, a small park nestled along the south shores of the Hickory Creek Arm, which is part of the lake. I had a few gripes with this place: it’s located at the end of a winding residential street, which made it tough to find, and as soon as you set foot on the grounds, you’re greeted by a sign that outlaws, among other things, alcohol, weapons, and vandalism.

Seriously? What’s a park if not a place to drink, shoot your gun, and damage public property? Clearly these are the greatest of all time-honored park traditions, and Sunset Point wastes no time in taking them from you.

After overcoming a wave of disappointment, I settled in to see what Sunset Point did have to offer. Frankly, it’s a stretch to call it a park, mostly because it’s small and there’s really nothing by way of amenities. But a few patches of grass make for good picnic spots, and the elevated views are great for gazing on the lakeside homes across the creek. Mostly Sunset Point’s purpose is exactly as its name suggests: it’s a great spot for watching a sunset.

You can take in the view from your car, lounge in your own lawn chair, or find a seat on the slope that leads down into Hickory Creek and listen to the water splash against the rocks on shore as the sun slowly creeps behind the houses on the horizon. It’s almost as fun as watching paint dry.