Tag Archive: M Streets

Anywhere but Starbucks

Remember when Starbucks was an honest-to-goodness coffeehouse?  Back when the help had enough tattoos that their flesh looked like wallpaper, enough piercings to set off an airport metal detector at 50 paces, and just enough of that cooler-than-thou attitude? Back when people were still reading newspapers?

Me, too… but barely.

I knew it was the end of an era when the soccer mom in line ahead of me brought rush hour to a halt while she agonized over whether to order the scone or the muffin. (I finally told the cashier to just give her both and put it on my tab, to the applause of everyone in line behind me.)

Where did it all go so wrong?

Maybe it was when Starbucks started selling more sandwiches than music CD’s, or when they began offering food-and-beverage “pairings” (a Happy Meal by any other name…).  Maybe it was when they began pumping out more frozen drinks every summer than a Dairy Queen, or when you couldn’t indulge yourself in the coffeehouse experience because the tables were all taken by not-actually-customers seeking only free wi-fi.

“All of the above,” is not a bad answer, but at the heart of Starbucks metamorphosis into a McDonald’s clone is its expansion into suburbs and Interstate rest stops.  That’s when the cashiers started to look and talk like they would fit in at least as well in a Dunkin’ Donuts.  It’s when patrons at the inside counter started taking a back seat to lengthening lines of drive-thru customers.  It’s when pre-teen kids started showing up for after-school treats at Starbucks instead of Baskin-Robbins.  (I expect any day now to see the first Starbucks with its own Playland or the Starbucks logo perched on the roofs of delivery cars.)

Fortunately, urban Dallasites don’t have to settle for so little, because independent coffeehouses are taking up Starbucks’ slack.  These are my top anywhere-but-Starbucks picks for Dallas, in no particular order:
DRIP COFFEE is located in the Park Cities on the south side of Lover’s Lane just east of the Dallas Tollway.

Drip coffeehouse, Dallas

Drip coffeehouse, Dallas

It has a Euro-contemporary ambiance that exudes passion for coffee.  Foodservice is limited to light fare that complements coffee.

The walls are hung with contemporary art, which makes it feel as much like a gallery as a coffeehouse.

Drip coffeehouse, Dallas

Drip coffeehouse, Dallas

Drip coffeehouse Dallas 02

Drip Coffeehouse, Dallas

Its bright, uncluttered modern minimalism generates a tranquility all its own.

More about Drip at http://www.dripcoffeeco.com



WHITE ROCK COFFEE is located on East Northwest Highway just east of Audelia.

White Rock Coffee, Dallas

While the stone walls and steel roof are charmingly Texana, this is a a newly-built-for-the-purpose structure, which along with its movie marquee style sign creates for me an off-putting first impression.  Fortunately it gets nothing but   better inside.

White Rock Coffee, Dallas

A high, open-bean ceiling opens into loft seating that has an intimate feeling without the claustrophobia… kind of like sitting in a tree house.

White Rock Coffee, Dallas

White Rock Coffee, Dallas

It’s not unusual to find the tables downstairs almost mostly empty, but the loft filled with silent laptop users.  Barstools and a counter along the loft railing look down on the dining area.

These guys are serious enough about coffee to roast their own, and serious enough about social responsibility and sustainability that the place is both a Certified Fair Trade Roaster and a Certified Rainforest Alliance Roaster.

There’s light entertainment here several nights weekly and an open mike night on Tuesdays.

More about White Rock at http://www.wrcoffee.com









Pearl Cup coffehouse, Dallas

Pearl Cup coffehouse, Dallas

THE PEARL CUP is located in a can’t-miss-it-lime-green building at the corner of Henderson and McMillan, just a couple of blocks north of where Ross meets Lower Greenville.

Metal tables, exposed rafters, concrete floors, and brick walls produce an industrial loft ambiance, although there’s plenty of art hanging.

Pearl Cup coffehouse, Dallas

Pearl Cup coffehouse, Dallas


The crowd here is a mix of young apartment dwellers, students and (more so on weekends)  M Street  homeowners. The menu is mostly limited to goes-well-with-coffee items.

Pearl Cup coffehouse, Dallas

Pearl Cup coffehouse, Dallas

There’s counter seating and table seating inside. There’s also patio seating when fickle Dallas weather permits and, of course, wi-fi.

More about Pearl Cup at:  http://www.thepearlcup.com
CORNER MARKET is located on Lower Greenville at McCommas.   It’s in the same building that houses the Buffalo Exchange recycled clothing store, a block south of the Granada Theater.

Corner Market, Dallas

Corner Market, Dallas

It connects through inside doors to a neighboring florist shop on one side and the Society Bakery on the other, creating the feeling of a covered urban market.

Corner Market, Dallas

Corner Market, Dallas

The crowd here is a bit older than at nearby Pearl Cup, a mix of Lower Greenville renters and – particularly on weekends – a big infusion of M Street homeowners.

There are plenty of pastries and chocolates in the display case here,  but the food menu is mostly deli – heavy on salads and sandwiches that earned it Dallas Observer Best Of in the Sandwich category.   The coffees are quite good, too. (No web site.)








ESPUMOSO COFFEE  is located in an old Bishop Arts District streetfront store between 7th and 8thStreets just across from Eno’s Pizza Tavern.

Espumoso Cafe, Dallas

Coffee is the undisputed centerpiece of a light menu of smoothies, ice cream, desserts, and pastries.  The house specialty is a selection of homemade empanadas.

Espumoso Cafe, Dallas

The piped-in music can get a bit loud, but the place is uncrowded during the day and although seating is limited the couches are quite comfortable.

Espumoso Cafe, Dallas

Espumoso Cafe, Dallas

And they have by far the coolest T-shirt of any Dallas coffeehouse.

More on Espumoso at:  http://www.espumosocaffe.com










THE OPENING BELL is located in the historic Sears Building in Southside On Lamar, a block from the DART Rail Cedars Station (the Dallas nighttime skyline looks incredible from here, especially since the convention center hotel has lighted up.)  This place has the look of a Greenwich Village or North Beach coffeehouse.

Opening Bell coffeehouse Dallas

To begin with it’s a basement walk-down.

Then there’s the life-sized poster of Townes Van Zandt, and the small stage and microphone set up in one corner.

Opening Bell coffeehouse Dallas

Opening Bell coffeehouse Dallas

The place serves pastries and sandwiches, but more importantly also beer and wine.  Wi-fi is free and its within stone-throwing distance of Brooklyn’s Jazz Café and the Absinthe Lounge, Poor David’s, and Gilley’s.  http://www.openingbellcoffee.com




There are  7 important attributes which separate these urban gems from the Starbucks Devolution:

  1. The architecture includes a ceiling of old tin tiles or exposed rafters and/or an exposed concrete floor.
  2. The décor exudes a funky or artsy one-of-a-kind ambiance.
  3. It has no drive-thru.
  4. Drinks consumed on-premise are served in ceramic cups instead of paper cups.
  5. The limited food menu pays homage to the caf-o-holic customer base… and it’s all hand-printed on a chalkboard.
  6. The staff has the requisite number of tats and piercings, dresses in black both on and off the job, and looks totally caffeine-wired and/or sleep-deprived.
  7. There is one and only one location.

P.S. Local chain Café Brazil is a noteworthy exception:  These people never let their restaurant business get in the way of their coffee business, and the people-watching – surely an important component of a great coffeehouse – can’t be beat.  I recommend the locations on Lower Greenville, in Deep Ellum, and in Oaklawn; best viewing around 3AM on just about any Sunday morning. http://cafebrazil.com


Riding the Dallas rails

If anyone had told me when I first moved to Dallas in 1976 that there would be light rail here within in my lifetime I’d have laughed.  At the time only a handful of U.S. cities had light rail, almost all of them east of the Mississippi.

Today I live within walking distance of DART Rail’s Mockingbird Station, my portal to over 70 miles

Dallas’s Mockingbird Station

of track connecting 55 stations.  Its puts me within easy reach of healthcare at Baylor Dallas (4 stops), Texas Health/Presbyterian (3 stops), and UT Southwestern (8 stops).  I’m within also within a no-drive range of events at Victory (6 stops), Arts Plaza (2 stops), and Fair Park (5 stops), as well as of restaurants and entertainment at West End (5 stops), Southside (7 stops) and Deep Ellum (3 stops).  I often take my bicycle on the train to access biking trails otherwise beyond my reach, and to get to and from stations quickly and conveniently.  When the DART Orange line is completed in 2014, DFW International will join Dallas Love Field as a rail-accessible airport.

DART Rail might well not have happened because the “obvious” benefits of light rail had failed to move Dallasites until the last century had drawn nearly to a close. The few rails carrying trolleys and inter-urban trains were deserted and removed or repurposed soon after serious freeway construction began in 1948.  Most Texans migrated directly to automobiles from horses; both seemed better suited to the wide open spaces.  Texans also seemed to lack the herd mentality to queue up for the next train, and the pedestrian mind-set to walk to and from stations.  So what if rail schedules were more reliable than fickle freeway traffic and rail fare far cheaper than driving and parking a car?  So what if rail reduced pollution and was safer?  So what if urban rail was a game-changer for the many large households with two few cars… or those with no car at all?

What finally moved Dallas leadership to action is that highways can only carry so much traffic before further growth is choked off and cities can only expand outward; Dallas was in danger of becoming the hole in the donut of its far-flung suburbs’ increasing prosperity and prominence.  A vibrant central business district is dependent on urban rail to deliver its workforce daily.  As the cost of

Dallas’s Pearl Station

single-family housing in desirable urban neighborhoods becomes increasingly unaffordable, condos and apartments will fill the gap as long as light rail lets them put fewer cars on the streets.  One has only to look at the blocks surrounding more mature DART Rail stations like CityPlace, Mockingbird, and Cedars to see a big uptick in new apartment construction and the retail goods and services that follow it, many of them ‘mom-and-pop’ businesses.  Mass transit can be a powerful engine of redevelopment.

The combination of mass transit and affordable urban housing breeds communities that cut across divisions of race and class.  Adding a healthcare institution to this mix puts the process on steroids.  The DART Rail Baylor Station is the hub of  redevelopment that’s doing more to revitalize Deep Ellum and adjacent neighborhoods than decades of failed initiatives.  Maple Avenue is being transformed by the intersection of DART Rail with UT Southwestern.  The same goes for the intersection of educational institutions and rail; the day is not far away when UNT students will be able to ride urban rails from the Denton campus to the South Dallas campus.

To my great delight, I’ve found that it’s at last truly possible to live an urban lifestyle in Dallas, Texas, and light rail is an important part of the reason.

Bicycle perspective

I blogged earlier about the way in which open windows free us from the quarantine of our airsealed homes and reconnect us to our neighborhood surroundings.

Opening windows is a good first step, but because it goes no further than to let the outside seep in seems to invite action far less passive.  It would be a delusion, though, to think that driving through the neighborhood fits the bill.  Most times we are as firmly airsealed into our vehicles as into our homes, consumed by the chatter of passengers, the blare of the radio, or the distraction of a cellphone.  My East Dallas neighborhood sprawls from Mockingbird Station to the lower end of White Rock Lake, and at almost any time of day plenty of dog walkers, joggers, and baby carriage pushers immerse themselves in the neighborhood at a pedestrian pace.

Bicycling, though, seems to strike a balance distinctively well-suited to this neighborhood.  It plunges the rider into the outside at a pace fast enough to deliver ever-changing scenery that’s still revealed slowly enough to be taken in fully.  Here, where most homes were built in the 1920’s and ‘30’s, it produces a particularly rich experience.  Trolleys and early autos and horse-drawn transit all

Home in Dallas’s Lakewood neighborhood

still shared these streets in their earliest days, and it’s reflected in the neighborhood’s intimate scale.  Here you can still see storefronts built in small clusters no further away from any home than a few blocks’ walk or a couple of trolley stops; more ambitious shopping in a vibrant downtown was within easy reach.   Here there is no tract housing; houses were still hand-crafted one at a time and today they present block after block of charming architectural diversity.  Here churches and schools are less often located at major crossroads and more often nested deep within the neighborhoods they serve.  Here trees are far older than homeowners, and in summer their filtering canopy renders the Texas heat and glare benign.  The Rustbelt neighborhood into which I was born and where I spent my early childhood was not unlike this, and each time I traverse it I’m also reconnected to a past that holds many warm memories.

Every time I drive through the suburbs there seems to me a sameness to them that throws a bland drape over existence there and I can’t wait to get back to my own turf.  Metropolitan Dallas sprawls across the landscape, continuously filling out and filling in.  Its neighborhoods are diced up by expressways that just as often separate as

Another home in Dallas’s Lakewood neighborhood

join together, and inhabited more and more by those born elsewhere who have little sense of Dallas’s soul. I’ve lived in nearly twenty different cities, some with far more going for them than others, but it’s been my experience that where you live in a city is at least as important as what city you live in.  Dallas’ soul is alive and well here in East Dallas, and the lives of those who live here are richer for it.

Chilling in Dallas

An antidote for the sweltering Dallas heat presents itself at 6AM every morning.  Even though eighty degree heat clutches at me as I walk the bicycle out to the street, in only the time it takes to crank through the gears my airstream becomes a steady breeze that chases it away.

1930’s Boat house on White Rock Lake

All across East Dallas a blanket of air chilled by lawn sprinklers hugs the ground beneath the shade of 90-year-old trees.

The route is a time machine that begins in the 1930’s and reaches backward for 50 more years:  Greenland Hills… Vickery Place… Lower Greenville… Swiss Avenue… Junius Heights.  Then it follows the paved Santa Fe Trail until it emerges from the trees at the old art deco public boathouse to reveal White Rock Lake brightening in faintest dawn.

Much of the route is well sheltered by overhanging trees, but nearly half of it circles the lake.  Ducks and geese are beginning to stir along the shoreline, die-hard fishermen are casting lines, and on occasion a lone oarsman pushes a scull through the water ahead of a solitary wake.

Fishermen at dawn on White Rock Lake

These summer doldrums beg for a cooling breeze to skate across the water, but even when the lake is becalmed and glassy the mere sight of so much water seems to refresh.

The rising sun finally catches the brightly colored sailboats bobbing at anchor around the marina and beyond them the downtown Dallas skyline glows a shade of  rose.

Not much further down the trail the cultural center which now occupies the 1930’s bath house is still hours away from opening.  Below the dam the spillway carries only a trickle of water, its parched stone terraces looking like some fairytale giant’s staircase.

The sun arcs toward another 100-plus-degree day, but I arrive home to begin the day thoroughly chilled out by my sunrise excursion.