x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

The star of the South

My kind of place: Half a century on from JFK’s assassination in the Texan city, David Whitley finds a modern, bold, brash destination.

Downtown Dallas, as seen across the Trinity River, allows visitors to explore a real Texan city without encountering too many tourist traps. Getty Images
Downtown Dallas, as seen across the Trinity River, allows visitors to explore a real Texan city without encountering too many tourist traps. Getty Images

Why Dallas?

Insecurity isn’t something that plagues Dallas. It chases money rather than love. Big, brash and business-minded, this sprawling Texan behemoth isn’t a city where being trapped behind tour groups or running a gauntlet of touts is ever likely to be an issue. Yet that allows visitors to disappear into real life rather than sigh in dissatisfaction through endless just-for-tourists experiences.

When you start delving in, mini personalities emerge. The Arts District shows a desire to do culture as well as commerce; the Deep Ellum neighbourhood retains a creative, dressed-down heart; uptown has a youthful, skittish enthusiasm for sampling the latest hot restaurants. Efforts to dig beyond first impressions will bring rich rewards.

A comfortable bed

The Joule (www.thejouledallas.com, 001 214 748 1300) is the most spectacular spot in downtown Dallas – it’s pretty much an art gallery and social gathering point as well as a hotel. Rooms have rich dark woods, no expense spared on the beds and a feeling of authoritative luxury. Deluxe rooms cost from US$293 (Dh1,078) a night.

A more affordable – and considerably jauntier – downtown option is the Indigo (www.ihg.com/­hotelindigo, 001 214 741 7700). The staff are warm, and there’s a bizarrely out-of-place beachy feel to rooms – which cost from $171 (Dh629). But the building is also a historical landmark – it was the first hotel ever built by Conrad Hilton.

About three kilometres east of the centre, the Belmont (www.belmontdallas.com, 001 866 870 8010) has done a wonderful job in smartening up an old motel. Its sense of retro kitsch is cleverly married to smart rooms and top-drawer city views. Doubles from $130 (Dh477).

Find your feet

Dallas is inextricably linked to the assassination of President John F Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Two white crosses on Elm Street mark where the bullets struck, conspiracy theorists try to win over converts on the infamous grassy knoll and the former Texas School Book Depository building where Lee Harvey Oswald supposedly shot from now hosts the Sixth Floor Museum (www.jfk.org, 001 214 747 6660). It does a gripping job of tracking the day’s events and the aftermath, plus the various investigations into what happened and who was behind it.

On the other side of Dealey Plaza is the former courthouse, now the Old Red Museum (www.oldred.org, 001 214 745 1100). It tells the Dallas story, from backwater river crossing to major world city, and gives an insight into the city’s ferociously business-minded character at the time. The building is also home to the tourist information centre – pick up the leaflet that maps out the key public art installations and use that as an engaging walking route. The Cattle Drive – 49 bronze bulls being “driven” through Pioneer Plaza – is the most ambitious piece, while the Nasher Sculpture Center ­ (­www.nashersculpturecenter.org, 001 214 242 5100) is the best of the arts museums.

Meet the locals

The 5.2-acre Klyde Warren Park (www.klydewarrenpark.com) in the downtown Arts District has been a massive hit since opening in late 2012. Food trucks gather here, workers stop by for lunchtime picnics, while yoga lessons and live music gigs add to the sense of community.

Book a table

Dallas likes its power-dining steak restaurants – you don’t have to look too far to find one – but the city’s most regal fine-dining experience is the French Room (www.hoteladolphus.com/dining/the-french-room, 001 214 742 8200). Decked out like Louis XV’s private banqueting hall, inventive dishes include Nova Scotia halibut with lobster risotto or duck breast with foie gras, white chocolate rice pudding and glazed peach. Three courses cost $80 (Dh294).

For something more casual, Deep Ellum, to the west of downtown, is the most likeably rootsy area of Dallas, wearing its blues history on its sleeve and still hosting plenty of live music. Twisted Root ­(www.twistedrootburgerco.com, 001 214 741 7668) is the best place to fuel up. You can choose a wide range of toppings to go on top of exotic (and excellent) burgers made from the likes of buffalo, turkey, emu, elk or venison. Half-pounders cost around $10 (Dh37).

Shopper’s paradise

Highland Park Village (www.hpvillage.com) was the world’s first planned shopping mall, and it’s still Dallas’s favoured high-end credit card-buster. Beretta Gallery trades in country chic and Madison offers sparklingly expensive homewares.

Downtown, Nieman Marcus (www.niemanmarcus.com, 001 214 741 6911) is the prestige department store and Wild Bill’s Western Store (www.wildbillswestern.com, 001 214 954 1050) is the spot for stocking up on Texan souvenirs such as Stetsons, colourful leather cowboy boots or enormous belt buckles.

What to avoid

Driving is almost essential in Dallas, but it’s a pretty terrifying experience at night – street lighting is awful and reflective markers on the road are rare. This makes it incredibly difficult to see road markings – especially if it’s raining. Either be prepared for this, take a taxi or use public transport – which is decent between major areas.

Don’t miss

Fans of the Dallas TV series should head to the Southfork Ranch (www.southforkranch.com, 001 972 442 7800) – the Ewings’ small-screen home. It’s approximately 40 minutes’ drive from central Dallas, in Parker, and the tours are full of behind-the-scenes gossip.

Getting there

Emirates (www.emirates.com) flies direct from Dubai to Dallas from Dh5,595 return including taxes, and the flight takes 14 hours.

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