South Lamar Street was in warp-speed party mode on a Saturday night. Big Bill Morganfield held forth with the blues in Poor David’s Pub, Dixie Rex Band rocked Gilley’s, and a bachelorette party in full Jersey Shore regalia was admiring the Dallas skyline from NYLO Hotel’s rooftop pool bar.
In mid-afternoon that same Saturday: crickets. My feet and my husband’s made the only sounds on South Lamar’s sidewalks.
When development started creeping up on the area formerly known as the Cedars about 10 years ago, some folks had visions of Austin’s South Congress Avenue dancing in their heads. The seed are sown. There’s music here. There’s a good restaurant. Century-old Sears warehouses have been turned into apartments. Last August, South Lamar even got a hotel. But retail shops and more restaurants have resolutely refused to get with the program and spring up on vacant lots. So, no South Congress anytime soon.
That doesn’t mean it’s not a good base of operations for a tourist visiting Dallas. It has a stop on the Dallas Area Rapid Transit line that can zip you downtown for more food and cultural offerings.
And the NYLO is a delightful boutique hotel with a restaurant and the aforementioned rooftop infinity pool and bar, staffed by gregarious and efficient barkeeps. NYLO (1325 S. Lamar St., bit.ly/WFYpki) is among four hotels from the Carrollton-based affordable-chic brand. If Aloft is the younger brother of W, then NYLO feels like Zaza’s little sister, decorated with heavy drapes, bold paintings, chandeliers and quilted furniture. A brightly painted piano stands in the cement-floored lobby, and the 76 rooms in the 1910 building — originally a coffee company, then part of the Sears complex — feature exposed brick, wood and concrete, comfortable beds and closets behind curtains. The place is hip and efficient, not fancy, and rates starting around $130 are highly attractive. But bring earplugs if you’re sleeping here on a weekend; South Lamar stays up late.
Poor David’s Pub, a locally loved roots-music club that moved here in 2004 from busy Greenville Avenue, is right next door, along with Bill’s Music, which prides itself on its aisles and aisles of vinyl. A block down is the Gilley’s four-venue complex, complete with mechanical bull.
On the other side of NYLO tower sit the South Side on Lamar apartment lofts in the reinvented Sears warehouse. Opening Bell Coffee — it brews a great cup and offers moist muffins, too — is in this building, and the basement features galleries and artist and clothing design spaces. We walked down the hall and admired what we could see through the studio windows, but we wondered why, on a Saturday afternoon, not a one was open. Isn’t Saturday a big day for spending money?
To be fair, though, people might not come out in the afternoon for just the artists. This is where retail comes in. Bill’s Music was open, but until nightfall, I didn’t see anyone in there. More stores are needed.
Across the street from South Side on Lamar is — guess what? — the cop shop. The looming presence of the five-story Jack Evans Police Headquarters has to make the loft residents and clubgoers feel safe here, though I didn’t see a single officer during my 24 hours on South Lamar. The police station also houses a small historical display featuring a vintage police car, but it, too, is closed on weekends.
Next to the police station and directly across from NYLO is arguably the big kahuna of the neighborhood, a popular restaurant called Cedars Social — or maybe a bar with food called Cedars Social; that’s how the owner has characterized it to several food critics. And I get that, now that I’ve eaten there.
It’s cool, and it knows it, well enough to have no sign whatsoever on the building and to email people with reservations, “We politely insist that you respect a two hour turn time for your dining experience.”
We needn’t have worried about that. We ordered five small plates, each hefty enough to share — three hot and two cold. Within five minutes, all of our food had arrived, so crowding the table that when our cocktails arrived 10 minutes after that, our waiter had trouble finding a home for them. We did our best to conquer our hot plates before they cooled but didn’t quite get there. Our fast eating, though, had us paid and out the door within 45 minutes. We would have been out sooner if the glass of cava I ordered to accompany my food hadn’t been poured a few minutes after our plates were cleared away.
That said, we really liked the food, especially a cold cod dish with caviar, a beautiful pork belly and three sturdy short rib tacos. And the cocktails — we’d already heard they were the stars of the show — were sublime. Mine, dubbed Summer in London, was silky with Plymouth gin, lemon juice, orange juice, cane syrup and cucumber. My husband went rogue and, instead of any of the fancy craft cocktails on the long drink menu, ordered an old fashioned. It was anything but old-fashioned, served neat with the essence of fruit but none of the typical muddled fruit. He loved it.
This wasn’t dining, though. It was a studiously random approach to eating and drinking. Thus, I’m looking forward to more restaurants on South Lamar, along with an influx of retail. Surely it’ll happen someday.