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Nightlife on Elm Street
Dallas, TX

by Scott Westerfeld
"When you go down to Deep Ellum,
Put your money in your shoe.
Cause those ladies down in Ellum,"
[something, something, something] "...you."
      -- Reverend Horton Heat
Okay, so my memory's not what it used to be. And, damn it, Deep Ellum's not what it used to be. But the Reverend's still kicking, at least.

The name "Deep Ellum" is a drawling corruption of "Elm" Street, which itself extends two ways out of downtown Dallas. Westward we shall call the Historical Route, which takes you past the Schoolbook Depository Building and a certain grassy knoll. But if you're looking for foxes other than knoll-obsessed Mulder, head eastward out of downtown -- and into the clubland known as Deep Ellum.

When I hung out there in my high school days, I really did put my money in my shoe. Ellum was a domain of junkies, abandoned factories, and crumbling railroad tracks. Dashing between clubs such as Cafe 500 and Profit Bar was for the fleet, brave, or numerous. Acts such as Screaming Jay Hawkins, the aforementioned Rev, and Edie Brickel made the danger worth it. But we all know how the urban renewal story goes. By the early eighties (yo, BG, any rules against dating myself?) The Artists had moved in. My then-girlfriend lived there, occupying a defunct air conditioner factory and commuting to work at a design company in the suburbs. (Whenever I accidentally say "postmodern" and someone asks me what the hell it means, I say, "Living in an air conditioner factory downtown and working in the suburbs.") Of course, artists draw money, and Dallas gentrifies faster than any other city on earth. Think New York with stupider money and no rent control. Your favorite dive can transmute in the time it takes an oil billionaire to say, "Dang! Wouldn't this little ol' place make a rootin'-tootin' fern bar!" So Deep Ellum sprouted neon overnight. But gentrification is as persistent and unavoidable as those perfume sprayers at Neiman Marcus, so don't complain. Just try not to let 'em get you in the face.

Deep Ellum still has rough edges, and more importantly, it's one place in Big D where you can park the car and walk from bar to bar. Taking your date on a hunting trip, searching for the vibe you both like, is a great way to find out how well you two connect. It's much better than one of you picking a place and hoping the other appreciates the Steely Dan tribute house band (see below).

So put your credit card in your shoe and promenade. You can check out fellow promenaders or grab some Coronas and create your own street corner scene. Or if structure is your bag, take this patented Historical Tour of the original Deep Ellum hangs, the joints that put the "crowd" back in Crowdus Street, each one guaranteed to be pre-neon:

Club Dada -- Eclectic as all get out: poetry, performance art (including an actual Steely Dan tribute band; see "postmodern," above), and blues. Great patio.
2720 Elm, at Crowdus. 214-744-DADA

Art Bar and Cafe -- Mellow coffeehouse vibe, changing exhibits of often-quite-good art; DJs spinning house, techno, and retro.
2803 Main, at Crowdus. 214-939-0077

Club Clearview -- Ancient rock joint. (I think I saw Gary "Cars" Neuman there, but it could have been Tom Tom Club.)
2806 Elm, at Crowdus. 214-939-0077

Trees -- Where the big names play; regale your date with such historical anecdotes as "Kurt Cobain got into a fistfight here in '91."
2709 Elm, at Crowdus. 214-748-5009

One -- Ellum's oldest gay-friendly hang (my source claims it's in a "nookie slump") though recently refurbished as it enters its second decade. (The club, not my source.)
3025 Main, at Hall. 214-741-1111

For further Dallas nightclub info, use the irreplaceable www.guidelive.com.

Scott Westerfeld is the author of Polymorph and Fine Prey. His third novel, Evolution's Darling, will be published by Four Walls Eight Windows in the spring of 2000. There is something funny about him.

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