What to Do in Deep Ellum, Dallas' Coolest Neighborhood

Friday the 13th is a big deal in Deep Ellum, the hipster haven hiding in plain sight on the eastern flank of downtown Dallas. Because whenever that infamous date strikes, large lines of people materialize here at midnight.

The cause for their arrival is artistic, not arcane: Each Friday the 13th, without fail, beloved local inking establishment Elm Street Tattoo throws open its doors for the entire 24 hours, decorating the denizens of Dallas for a mere $13 each.

The Elm Street Tattoo Marathon is a perfect distillation of this diverse neighborhood—a melting pot of invention, music, and artistry that positively crackles with convivial creativity. Often compared to Brooklyn’s Williamsburg or San Francisco’s Mission District, it’s bohemian but urbane; an edgy enclave with a big heart and big aspirations.

Originally dubbed ‘Deep Elm’ (a nod to its main thoroughfare, Elm Street), it was pronounced “Ellum” by early residents 150 years ago, and the name eventually stuck. Today it’s the mural capital of Texas, with more than 150 carefully painted compositions splashed across its old brick buildings, as well as the epicenter of Dallas’ live music scene.

Deep Ellum has long been famed for its iconic concert halls, like the now-closed Bomb Factory and Canton Hall, and Trees (where Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain infamously got into a fist fight with a bouncer on stage before storming out onto Elm Street, mid-gig). But in recent years it’s also become a major food spot. Add a burgeoning rooftop cocktail scene, a collection of avant-garde art galleries, an ever-expanding roster of quirky artisan shops and boutiques, and a newly opened, wow-worthy Kimpton hotel, The Pittman, and you have a neighborhood with a faster pulse and a deeper soul than anywhere else in the Big D.

Where to shop

Deep Ellum is the most walkable neighborhood in Dallas, and that makes it perfect for a laidback day of shopping. A great place to start is Flea Style, a beautifully curated emporium of new and vintage clothes and homewares, with a breezy ‘Texafornia’ vibe and a dedicated hat bar where you can choose, alter, and customize your own Stetson.

A short walk down Commerce Street (which runs parallel to Elm), you can find Deep Ellum Denim, a jean-lover’s Mecca, selling the best selvedge denim from around the world, with a cold beer always on hand. Complete your look at Sneaker Politics, an achingly cool new arrival in an old recording studio on Main Street selling some of the rarest and most sought-after sneakers in the country.

If clothes shopping isn’t your scene or you’re looking for something a little different, the magical Deep Vellum Books’ left-field literary itinerary is always a treat. Warstic, a bespoke baseball bat maker (co-owned by Jack White of White Stripes fame, no less), offers its own café and batting cages, and is usually full of grown men wearing the gleeful expression of small boys allowed to stay up past bedtime.

Mozzarella Co., a long-standing artisan cheese grocery, is arguably one of the most enticing spots of them all. Not only are there more than 50 exquisite handmade cheeses to choose from—the valiant of palate should go for the ‘bierveza,’ a brie that’s bathed in beer for five weeks—but they also run extremely popular cheesemaking and cocktail classes every other Saturday.

What to eat

When most people think of Texas barbecue, they think of Austin. But that’s blasphemy to Dallasites, who’ll tell you that the best BBQ joint in the entire state is right here in Deep Ellum. Pecan Lodge has the awards to back up that lofty claim—dozens of them lining the walls and shelves of this temple to the smoky arts. The restaurant has a long list of celebrity fans, including Michael B. Jordan and Leonardo DiCaprio, who have both been here for the trademark 13-hour brisket; so tender and moist that it seems held together by sheer power of will.

For something a little more well-heeled, Stirr is a buzzy neighborhood restaurant and bar where locals come to see and be seen while eating high end comfort food, washed down with craft cocktails (the standout is the spicy, mezcal-laced Don’t Fear the Reaper).

At the opposite end of the spectrum, hole in the wall Revolver Taco Lounge is the most beloved taco spot in Dallas. Easy to walk past but impossible to forget once you’ve eaten here, it serves up an epic roster of riches including a punchy pulpo with fried leek and jalapeño salsa. (Plus, on Tuesdays you can get their trademark al pastor tacos for $2 each).

Where to drink

Deep Ellum has always had rhythm pumping through its concrete veins, but in recent years a thriving cocktail bar scene has grafted itself onto the live music landscape. And the beauty of this neighborhood is that everything is packed tightly together, creating prime bar-crawl territory.

Start at Shoals, an underrated diamond in the rough at the downtown end of Elm Street, with its vegan menu, vinyl records, and brilliant cocktails (roll the dice on their surprise half-price “B side” drink of the week, or just reach straight for the perfect pisco sour). On Friday and Saturday nights you’ll often find someone playing the old church organ next to the bar, drinkers gyrating along.

If organ grinding isn’t your thing, take it up a notch by heading to elegant Harlowe MXM on the corner of Main and Malcolm X, where its swanky side bar, Trick Pony, serves up specialist craft cocktails to a jovial polyglot crowd. The dual establishment boasts one of the best roof terraces in Deep Ellum, although lovers of alfresco imbibing (and show-stopping views of downtown Dallas) should also check out Vidorra, the Green Room, and Wit’s End.

If you’re more of a hophead, make a beeline for Braindead Brewing Company, where their unofficial mission statement is to do weird well (think funky IPAs, fruity sours and ballsy Belgian-style tripels). Here, you can sit indoors and enjoy tastebud-twisting tipples by the brewing tanks they were mixed in, or relax outside on the perennially sun-drenched patio. Braindead is an excellent distillation of Deep Ellum in general, a neighborhood with so many quirky sides and angles that it almost defies geometry. This charming, diverse, compelling place has always had its own soundtrack; now it has everything else for the perfect party, too.

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