One Memorial Day weekend a couple of years ago, as I was driving through peaceful urban canyons in downtown Dallas, I began to worry that a smart bomb had been dropped near the convention center. Where was everyone? I’d forgotten that on this weekend, the state’s city dwellers, as genetically programmed as salmon, migrate en masse to cool bodies of water. This year around 350,000 of them will descend on Lake Texoma, some 50,000 will clog the Guadalupe River, and 50,000 more will roast on the coast at South Padre. If you’re looking for a relaxing holiday, why not buck this trend? I for one would head into the heart of Dallas, where museums aren’t crowded, hotel rates are rock bottom, and reservation lists at even the trendiest restaurants are full of holes. Some might argue that the business district is snooze city on any weekend—or even weeknight—but I’m here to warn you that Dallas seems hell-bent on revitalizing its center, a concentrated area of historic and modern high-rises flanked by the West End and Deep Ellum.
Nothing broadcasts the fledgling renaissance louder than the red neon Pegasus on the roof of the old Magnolia Petroleum Building, smack-dab in the middle of downtown. We all know the story of how this winged pony, who sprang from Medusa’s neck after Perseus lobbed off her head, pranced around releasing springs and muses wherever his hooves struck the earth. (Okay, so I didn’t know that until I read about it on a rock in the artsy fountain next to the building. Greek mythology wasn’t offered at Bellville High.) In 1934 Magnolia Petroleum (later Mobil Oil) crowned its corporate headquarters, the tallest building in Texas when it opened in 1922, with a fifteen-ton Pegasus revolving atop an oil derrick. The flying horse became a mascot for the booming metropolis. Then, in 1974, the aging steed stopped spinning. Three years later Mobil abandoned its downtown digs and turned the structure over to the city. In 1997 Pegasus blinked out and the gods of urban revival wept—but not for long. That same year Denver developers bought the 29-story building and converted it into a swank 330-room hotel. And as part of Dallas’ millennium celebration, Pegasus—well, a $600,000 reproduction; the original is now behind Plexiglas at the Dallas Farmer’s Market—was relit at the turn of the century.
The minute I stepped inside the Magnolia Hotel on a recent weekend, my inner decorator squealed with pleasure: a totally chintz-free zone! You could call the style Prairie Zen deco, a sort of Restoration Hardware meets Tokyo via Radio City Music Hall: dark-wood accents, frosted glass, curvaceous seating. And while a hotel this size offers the anonymity I find so comforting, the staff, without exception, was as welcoming as the decor.
Although the hotel was designed primarily for businesspeople on extended stays, weekend interlopers can take advantage of the great rates on its expansive rooms, no two of which are alike. One of the