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The best things to do in Dallas's Deep Ellum

“Traveling Man,” one of a series of three statues by Dallas sculptor Brad Oldham, dominates the skyline.

In Dallas, a vintage neighborhood gets its groove on.

No place in Dallas can claim as many ups and downs as Deep Ellum has endured. The compact downtown district developed in the 1870s as a home to Dallas outsiders, particularly African Americans and immigrants. It was named Deep Elm—after one of its main roads, Elm Street—though the slow, drawled Ell-um, as pronounced by the early residents, became commonplace and stuck.

The economy was strong in those early years, with a major cotton-processing plant and a Ford automotive plant based here. In the 1920s, Deep Ellum was a hotbed of blues music, but the area fell into neglect over the next several decades. It briefly revived in the 1980s and ’90s, when punk and grunge groups took over the old blues venues. Then the neighborhood was largely abandoned again. Until recently.

Forward-thinking, community-minded developers have given new life much of the vintage quarter’s 180 acres, which are filled with the city’s largest collection of buildings more than a century old. A palpable energy emanates from new businesses occupying thoughtfully renovated storefronts, and a few of Deep Ellum’s hardy survivors are finding new patrons. Another Deep Ellum revival has arrived.

No need to worry that the neighborhood is going mainstream, though. Innately hip Deep Ellum will never lose its edge.

What to do

a Mural titled the Devil and Robert Johnson

On nearly every street in Deep Ellum, you’ll find public art, particularly 42 local murals commissioned by developer Scott Rohrman, whose 42 Real Estate is leading Deep Ellum renaissance. 

One popular eye-catcher is Cosmic Journey, a vivid desertscape and city skyline mash-up by Lesli Marshall on the back of Pecan Lodge’s building.

Across the street, find Daniel Driensky’s The Devil and Robert Johnson, (pictured above) depicting the famous guitarist whose landmark record was made nearby.

Another head-turner, Traveling Man: Walking Tall (pictured at top), is a 35,000-pound steel robot that stands almost 40 feet high near the DART light rail’s Deep Ellum station. Crafted by Dallas sculptor Brad Oldham, the smiling bot is one of three in a series: The first installment is The Awakening, showing the tin man coming up from underground; and the second is Waiting on the Train, in which the robot strums a guitar while trains and cars pass back and forth. Collectively, the “traveling men” welcome us to revel in Deep Ellum’s revival, urging us to spend time on its streets, listen to its music, and embrace its journey.

Since 2005, Kettle Art Gallery has been the area’s premier showcase for emerging and established North Texas artists. The airy gallery hosts one-night shows as well as longer exhibits devoted to either solo artists or groups. 2650-B Main Street; 972-834-6989.

Kettle cofounder Kirk Hopper established his own gallery nearby in 2008. Kirk Hopper Fine Art exhibits the work of one or two artists at a time, with styles including realism, pop art, and abstracts in painting, sculpture, drawing, mixed media, and photography. 3008 Commerce Street; 214-760-9230.

Life in Deep Ellum, a multifaceted cultural center, is home to the local contemporary arts–focused Umbrella Gallery. 2803 Taylor Street; 214-651-0633.

Where to shop

Cool and quirky boutiques now inhabit former storefronts.

Jade and Clover stocks scarves, candles, and cacti, and offers a build-your-own terrarium bar, as well. 2633 Main Street, Suite 150; 469-730-2264.

You’ll find a selection of stunning baseball bats (made on-site) as well as surfboards and snowboards at Warstic, owned by musician Jack White (formerly of The White Stripes) and Ian Kinsler, a former Major League Baseball player who played eight seasons with the Texas Rangers. 2816 Main Street; 844-WARSTIC (844-927-7842).

Edgy fashionistas will like Flea Style (formerly called The Dallas Flea), founded by a veteran lifestyle editor with a passion for vintage goods. 3009 Commerce Street; 469-520-3222.

Don’t miss Deep Ellum Denim, purveyors of raw selvedge denim for men and women. 3107 Commerce Street; 515-992-9139.

Where to listen to music

Sons of Hermann Hall in Dallas

Deep Ellum’s musical heritage is richer than that of most Texas cities. Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Robert Johnson, and Bessie Smith were among the blues and jazz legends who rose to fame here in the 1920s, decades before the Old 97’s and the New Bohemians came along. Great music from solo artists and bands still plays from a multitude of stages.

Sons of Hermann Hall (pictured above) showcases Texas singer-songwriters, acoustic jams, and regional dance hall bands in a vintage building. 3414 Elm Street; 214-747-4422.

Go to Trees to see metal bands, rappers, and indie performers. 2709 Elm Street; 214-741-1122. 

The spacious Bomb Factory continues to shine. Recent big-name performers include Erykah Badu, Dwight Yoakam, Kacey Musgraves, and The Killers. 2713 Canton Street; 214-932-6507.

Where to eat

Pecan Lodge barbecue, Dallas

You’ll find a fresh crop of restaurants and food-focused entrepreneurs.

Barbecue go-to Pecan Lodge (pictured above) claims the longest lines in town, as crowds clamor for smoky beef brisket, pork ribs, and jalapeño sausage. 2702 Main Street; 214-748-8900.

New competition comes from Terry Black’s Barbecue, an Austin import and a casual market-style barbecue joint with pre-order options. 3025 Main Street; 469-399-0081.

Purépécha is a cozy, 14-seat space beyond an antique wooden door within Revolver Taco Lounge. The mother-son team of Juanita Rojas and Regino Rojas prepare the specialty here, a prix fixe, eight-course traditional Mexican meal. There are two seatings nightly. 2701 Main Street, Suite 120; 214-272-7163.

Café Salsera covers Latin American cuisine with an addictive Cuban sandwich and tuna ceviche. Also on the late-night menu: salsa dancing. 2610 Elm Street; 469-518-1500. 

For gigantic pies, go to Serious Pizza, which lets you customize your slice, build a calzone, or go lean with a salad. 2807 Elm Street; 214-761-9999.

Longtime favorites remain popular as well: Since its opening in 2003, Local continues chef-owner Tracy Miller’s slow-food efforts. Her roasted beets with goat cheese, pan-seared lobster cake over leek-endive salad, and herb-rubbed lamb loin with lavender-honey jus add up to a stellar dinner in the clean, modern interior of a 1908 hotel building. 2936 Elm Street, A; 214-752-7500.

Still going strong, The Free Man Cajun Café and Lounge serves extraordinary boudin balls, oyster po’boys, and étouffée. The space evolves at night into a comfy bar with live Dixieland jazz and swing. 2626 Commerce Street; 214-377-9893.

AllGood Café is especially swingin’ at breakfast time, when choice meals include chicken-fried steak topped with eggs and sausage gravy, and the Mega-Egg Sandwich, which layers fried eggs and shaved ham with avocado and cheddar on toasted sourdough. 2934 Main Street; 214-742-5362. 

Where to sip

Braindead Brewing in Dallas

Many of the best watering holes also have good eats.  

Braindead Brewing (pictured above) churns out mighty fine ales, wheat beers, and stouts on-site. It also serves sublime beer-friendly food such as a dipping skillet filled with queso, spicy ground beef, and guacamole; and the aptly named Coma Burger, incorporating bacon, onion jam, and other goodness. 2625 Main Street; 214-749-0600. 

Deep Ellum Brewing Company’s Taproom and Kitchen pours its own brews, including a popular Dallas Blonde and Deep Ellum IPA. The IPA jalapeño hummus is addictive, as are loaded tots and pulled pork tacos. They’re best enjoyed on the patio, where you can often catch live music. 2823 St. Louis Street; 214-888-3322.

The sister company, Deep Ellum Distillery, is winning fans for its Friday-Sunday happy hour, serving cocktails crafted with its new All-Purpose Vodka. 2880 Clover Street; 214-888-1256.

Newcomer The Sandbar Cantina and Grill brings the beach to this urban setting. The tropical escape offers 10 sand volleyball courts, local music, drinks like the Sunburn and the Skip and Go Naked, as well as noshes such as cucumber-crab salad, avocado fries, and half-pound burgers with all the trimmings. 214-647-1424; 317 S. Second Avenue.

High and Tight Barbershop is a 1920s barbershop up front and a cocktail lounge with live music and dancing in back. Bartenders whip up originals such as Mayahuels Awakening, which blends tequila and mescal with vanilla-laced cold-brew coffee, bourbon bitters, and cinnamon. 2701 Main Street, Suite 180/190; 214-741-1744

Then there’s triple-threat Adair’s Saloon, a grungy 1970s throwback dive, where Jack Daniels on the rocks and PBRs are the go-to-drinks, the cheeseburgers speak of a well-seasoned griddle, and the live music is always free. 2624 Commerce Street; 214-939-9900.

Where to stay

In the district’s heart, Deep Ellum Hostel is a new boutique hostel with private suites and dorm rooms; amenities include a communal kitchen and complimentary breakfast, and there’s an adjacent bar and snack joint, Booty’s Street Food. Dorm rooms from $33; two-person queen, $119; four-person en-suite, $139. 2801 Elm Street; 214-712-8118; 

Nearby is Hall Arts Hotel, a lovely, new 12-story hotel brimming with original artwork. From $299. 1717 Leonard Street; 214-953-1717;

How to get around

Consider taking DART to Deep Ellum and exploring the district on foot. 

Parking in Deep Ellum is free until 6 p.m. at most parking meters, and some streets aren’t metered. Surface lots scattered around the neighborhood fill quickly in the evening. 

For more info: Visit Dallas, 800-232-5527.

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