Oak Cliff does gayborhood differently

Posted on 23 Jun 2011 at 7:59pm

In the city’s second-largest collection of gay-owned businesses, gay and straight mix nicely

VIEW MORE PHOTOS FROM BISHOP ARTS

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

None of the gay business owners in Bishop Arts could say exactly how many of the other business owners in the Oak Cliff neighborhood were gay.

That’s because “no one cares about your color or if you’re gay or straight,” said Hunky’s owner Rick Barton at his Bishop Arts restaurant. Barton recently served as president of the Bishop Arts Merchant’s Association.

In the early 1980s, the Bishop Arts District began when a gay couple opened a restaurant in a corner space of an old warehouse in an area that was once the busiest trolley stop in Dallas.

That space later became Vitto, a gay-owned Italian restaurant and today is the coffee shop, Oddfellows.

Bishop Arts differs from Cedar Springs in a number of ways. The Oak Lawn street is a busy, four-lane thoroughfare that leads to Love Field, while the Oak Cliff neighborhood has a small-town feel that winds along several side streets off two-lane Davis Street.

Oak Lawn has plenty of bars. But while alcohol sales in restaurants were approved for Oak Cliff in November, bars, taverns and dance halls were not. So Bishop Arts remains a collection of restaurants, art galleries, stores, a gym and professional offices.

Barton said that the stores in Bishop Arts are all “mom-and-pop” affairs.

“That’s what’s cool about Bishop Arts now,” he said.

Barton called Oak Lawn lively, hopping and contemporary, while Oak Cliff, he said, is a little bit retro.

“People come and stroll and window shop,” he said. “It’s a small-town feeling.”

Paul Kirkpatrick and Mike Harrity opened Bishop Street Market 15 years ago. Harrity said each of the last three years he has seen record sales.

Before opening, the couple looked at Lakewood and thought about Oak Lawn, but rents scared them away. At the time, he said, rent in Bishop Arts was “dirt cheap.”

“I had my business here eight years before my parents [who live in North Dallas] would come down to see it,” he said.

“If you want to be killed …,” he said his mother warned.

Now, Harrity said, the area has become a major destination for people from around the city.

“People don’t stumble on us,” he said.

Michael Amonett owns Alchemy Salon. He is also president of the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League.

He said those in Bishop Arts need to be vigilant to keep the area from looking like Uptown and filling with chain stores.

The largest chains in the area now are Café Brazil and Gloria’s — both local, homegrown businesses.

The new Gloria’s is actually the relocated original that opened 25 years ago, several blocks away. Earlier this year, the restaurant moved into Bishop Arts in the renovated Firehouse No. 15, the same vintage as the fire station on Cedar Springs Road.

And attorney Chad West opened his law firm in a restored house on Bishop Avenue next to
Gloria’s. He recently expanded his business with a new office in Fort Worth near Keller.

West is a big Bishop Arts booster.

“To me, you have the benefit of a large city but the feel of a small town,” he said. “Go to lunch, see your neighbors and wave to them.”

Future plans will bring more people to the area while adding to the retro, small town atmosphere. A new trolley line from Downtown to Methodist Hospital that runs over the Houston Street Viaduct should be running by 2014. Then, the next link would extend near — or possibly through — Bishop Arts.

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