Dallas’s Design District

This once-industrial enclave has been reborn as the city's trendiest new spot. Here's a guide to the area's acclaimed restaurants, chic stores, and daring art galleries.
Photo courtesy of Lower Oak Lawn

Five years ago, you’d have been hard-pressed to find a cocktail-craving thirty-something headed to a haute bar in Dallas’s Design District, a once-industrial enclave centrally located close to the Main Street District, near downtown. But now the Design District is attracting new retailers, deep-pocketed developers and plenty of shoppers, thanks to a slew of buzz-worthy restaurants, chic stores and daring art galleries opening up alongside brand-new apartments and lofts.

While the area’s moment as the city’s “it” district has finally arrived, this historically hard-working part of Dallas has been a destination of sorts since the 1970s. Several decades ago, furniture and antique dealers set up shop in manufacturing warehouses to showcase global goods. “It’s always had a great ethos,” said Michael Ablon, whose real estate development firm, PegasusAblon, purchased 42 of the warehouses, showrooms and galleries in 2007 and in 2009 opened the area’s first main residential complex, where one-bedroom lofts now go for up to $1,500 a month. “We thought, let’s keep that authenticity and supplement it, not replace it,” Ablon said.

To get a sense of the district’s culture, head to the Meddlesome Moth (1621 Oak Lawn Avenue, 214-628-7900, mothinthe.net), referred to by one loft-living resident as the Design District’s version of the Cheers bar in Boston. Friendliness and familiarity seem bred into the staff and clientele, but that is where the Moth’s similarity to the famous East Coast bar ends. The centerpiece of this gastropub is the long, sleek bar where fashionable young professionals enjoy cocktails or a pint of one of the forty beers on tap, which include hard-to-find brews like Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout. The owners of the bar took care to preserve the warehouse’s past—it was once a tile showroom—by maintaining its original tile flooring, a patchwork of shapes, colors and textures.

The district’s newest restaurant is Oak (1628 Oak Lawn Avenue, 214-712-9700, oakdallas.com), helmed by the chef Jason Maddy, the former chef de cuisine at the Mansion on Turtle Creek. Designer firm Plan B puts an upscale spin on the neighborhood’s mercantile vibe. Wood tables are lit with fixtures ranging from arched floor lamps to modern chandeliers, and a large media screen against the back wall features a tree rustling in the wind. The carefully plated seasonal dishes include bites of crispy pork jowl nestled next to tender octopus and wild Alaskan halibut with thinly sliced asparagus and sharp baby turnips. Leave room for salty crème brulee paired with a stack of delicate chocolate, caramel and shortbread cakes.

Culture enthusiasts can’t miss the district’s avant-garde galleries and museums. The Goss-Michael Foundation (1405 Turtle Creek Boulevard, 214-696-0555, gossmichaelfoundation.org), co-owned by the singer George Michael, has more than five hundred pieces by 75 artists from the U.K. like Damien Hirst. Swing by before July 28 to see a special exhibit of works by Adam McEwen, best known for his text-based compositions.

Dallas Contemporary (161 Glass Street, 214-821-2522, dallascontemporary.org) has been established since 1978 but relocated to the Design District two years ago after outgrowing its former space. The non-collecting museum commissions work by artists; current exhibits include performance and sculptural work by the Vienna-based artist Erwin Wurm and a series of photographs by Zoe Crosher. Of-the-moment art continues at Circuit 12 Contemporary (1130 Dragon Street, Suite 150, 214-760-1212, circuit12.com), with site-specific installations by Eddie Villanueva, as well as Michael Dotson’s vibrant, geometric landscapes.

High-design shopping, however, reigns these wide, sunny streets. Though large souvenirs like furnishings are the Design District’s sweet spot, small mementos can be found at f. is for frank (1216 Manufacturing Street, 214-749-0709, fisforfrank.com), where the designers Shoshannah Frank and Casey Melton create architectural jewelry cast in pewter and plated in 24-karat or rose gold. Otherwise, hit showrooms that are open to the public—meaning they do not just cater to designers and interior decorators—to give your home a top-to-bottom makeover.

New stores include the Rug Company Handmade (1626 Hi Line Drive, Suite B, 214-760-4888, therugcompany.info), with rugs by Kelly Wearstler, Tom Dixon and Diane von Furstenberg. Order bespoke furnishings, like replicas of 18th- and 19th-century English Country tables and chairs, at the recently opened Highgate House (1230 Dragon Street, 214-537-0154, highgatehouseonline.com). Those on the hunt for unusual accent pieces will not leave empty-handed after visiting the Griffin Trading Company (159 Howell Street, 214-747-9234, griffintrading.com). “There’s no method to my madness,” Stephen Hansrote, the owner, said of his collection, which ranges from antique trophies and bumper cars to mid-century Italian drawer chests and vintage neon signs.

Once you have filled your U-Haul with new furniture, refuel at the new Off-Site Kitchen (2226 Irving Boulevard, 214-741-2226), where the chef Nick Badovinus makes burgers with caramelized onions and serves what he calls Oklahoma-style sweet tea—surely an illegal libation on this side of the state line. “We’re more in the install district—that is, where the guys swing the hammers and install the floors—than the Design District,” Badovinus said, with a laugh, of his semi-derelict outskirts location.

In another five years, we’ll see about that.

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