Strip on the verge of a comeback

Posted on 04 Feb 2010 at 6:02pm
By John Wright | News Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

Hunky’s moving by mid-February; 2 new restaurants, 1 new bar plan to open on Cedar Springs soon


SUBWAY THE GAY WAY | Chet Whisenant, owner of the Subway franchise set to open on Cedar Springs, says the new sandwich shop will be a "concept store," with flatscreen TVs, a living room area and extended hours on weekends. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

Dallas’ gay entertainment district, frequently written off by those who say LGBT people will assimilate, appears to be poised for something of a comeback.

Three new businesses, all at least partly gay-owned and -operated, have announced plans to open in the next few months on the Cedar Springs strip, an area plagued by vacant storefronts for the last several years.

The new businesses are a Subway franchise, a fast-casual Tex-Mex eatery and a nightclub.

"It’s almost like a miracle if you want to know the truth, because the economy is horrible, and we’re all feeling it," said Scott Whittall, co-owner of Buli Café and president of the Cedar Springs Merchants Association. "These places leasing up in this kind of economy, that’s amazing."

Whittall sparked controversy recently when he criticized plans for the Subway, saying the strip has traditionally been occupied by independently owned businesses. But he conceded that chains are inevitable and said he was pleased to learn that the franchise owner is gay.

"The worst thing for the strip is to have empty spaces," Whittall said. "We’re just hoping that all the new merchants that come on are as excited as we are about preserving the street, about re-beautifying it, and about bringing back the glory days of Cedar Springs."

Chet Whisenant, owner of the Subway franchise, said he plans to open by mid-March in the newly renovated building that once housed Crossroads Market, which closed after nearly three decades in late 2008. The Subway will occupy the portion of the building that was devoted to a bookstore. Hunky’s Hamburgers is getting ready to move across Throckmorton Street into the portion of the Crossroads building that was devoted to a coffee shop.

Whisenant, who lives in Plano with his partner, said the new location will be a "concept store" for Subway, featuring things like flatscreen TVs, a living room area and extended hours on weekends.

"We’re trying to make it a little weird, to make it fit into the strip," Whisenant said. "We want to cater to the bar crowds. … We’re trying to do something a little bit flashy for a Subway."

Hunky’s owner Rick Barton said he plans to move his iconic burger joint, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, across the street next week.

"I hope to be open definitely for Valentine’s weekend," Barton said, adding that he doesn’t view the new restaurants as competition.

"I think the more the better," he said. "I think it’ll just bring more people to the neighborhood."

Replacing Hunky’s on the opposite side of Throckmorton will be a Tex-Mex eatery called Macho Nacho, according to co-owner Carter Wilson.

Wilson, who’s straight, said Macho Nacho is one of several restaurants he’s launching with his gay business partner, Scott Jones. Jones’ other ventures have included Café Italia on Lovers Lane and the Screen Door at One Arts Plaza.

Wilson said Macho Nacho will feature nachos, tacos, burritos, margaritas and beer — including a big happy hour scene on the patio.

"Hopefully people will come and have a light dinner and few drinks, and then they’ll go to a club, and then they’ll come back," Wilson said, adding that he plans to open by June. "We feel very confident that this will be a great addition to the neighborhood."

Marty Hershner, owner of the Tin Room, a gay dance club on Hudnall Street, confirmed this week that he plans to open a new bar at the site of the old Mickey’s, which closed in December.

Hershner said the bar, called the Drama Room, will include a dance floor and a few live entertainers, but not nearly as many as the Tin Room.

"The strip needs some new excitement, something fresh," Hershner said, adding that he plans to open in March.

Whittall said he’ll be particularly glad to see a new bar at the Mickey’s site, which sits directly across from Buli Café.

"With Mickey’s dark, it’s just so sad looking, not to mention how it hurts the street," he said.

Asked how much he thinks ilume, the posh new mixed-use development a few blocks away, has been a factor in the strip’s apparent resurgence, Whittall said he’s unsure.

"It can’t hurt," Whittall said. "The more variety you have and the more you have to offer, the more people are going to come on a regular basis, and they’re going to try out everything."

Mick Rossley, vice president of the Crosland Group, developer of ilume, said more than 35 percent of the building’s 300-plus residential units have now been leased, which he called "ahead of schedule."

Rossley said he expects to have the remaining units leased by the end of the summer.

He added that the next retailer to open at ilume is likely to be Fin Sushi Lounge, a signature restaurant from the owners of Sushi Axiom, which has four locations in the Metroplex.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 5, 2010.

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