Oak Cliff does gayborhood differently

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


DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer

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.

—  John Wright

Hope floats

Two Cedar Springs institutions — 1 new, 1 old —make their debuts in this year’s Pride parade

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

MAKING AN ENTRANCE | Jorge Rivas’ shot of prominent LGBT faces, above, will be marched out Sunday on the ilume float; the staff of Hunky’s, below left, retooled their float idea in a hurry. (Rich Lopez/Dallas Voice)

Proceeds east along
Cedar Springs Road from
Wycliffe Avenue to
N. Hall Street. 2 p.m.


Hunky’s has been a Crossroads institution for 25 years — though most of that half a block over from its current location. The gayborhood and the burger stop are officially symbiotic.

So it may surprise those who have watched the Alan Ross Freedom Parade from Hunky’s patio to know this year marks the eatery’s debut as a float entrant. And owner Rick Barton is a bit nervous.

“I kinda got into it a little late,” he admits.

Barton was sounding a bit frazzled just days before Pride, figuring how the hamburger joint would celebrate its coming out. Barton researched the idea of having a float constructed, but he and his crew opted to go simple this year — mostly because he has a restaurant to think about.

““That day is busy for us — the parade obviously means good business,” he says. “So we decided not to go with a big float and toned it down to a vehicle with some of our employees handing coupons out and guys along the side of our Jeep performing.”

Regardless of what the restaurant enters, the real question is: Why now? A quarter century is a long time to wait to join in the parade.

“We just had our anniversary and I just thought, ‘It’s time to be in,’” Barton says. “Even though we’re in the center of the community and show our Pride everyday, it lets people see we are here and feel a need to be in.”

His decision coincides nicely with the spot’s new digs. Hunky’s anchored the northwest corner of Cedar Springs and Throckmorton, becoming an iconic location for the neighborhood. But this spring, they jumped across the street, taking over the corner left vacant by Crossroads Market. Change was hard though Barton received enthusiastic response from the regulars.

But the move wasn’t just a physical one. Relocating mere yards from the former spot has affected his eatery and the employees in only good ways. That attitude is coming through in their first parade appearance on Sunday.

“There’s a renewed invigoration with the new space,” he says. “There we became limited by what we could do and it started to become staid. We were just riding the boat. Here, the employees are responding well, the customers are, too. It’s a feel- good kind of vibe.”

That translates into a team effort for Hunky’s preparation for Sunday. Barton might make it sound like it was just thrown together, but he smiles with pride in his teams from both the Oak Lawn and Oak Cliff locations in working to get it done.

“It’s all come together pretty quickly,” he says. “But with the employees helping out and coming over from the other location, it’s become a Hunky’s family kinda gig. One of our employees is one of the guys performing alongside the Jeep.”

It took the ilume just a year to make its impact on the ‘hood and it is living up to its commitment to be part of the community with its inaugural Pride float. The living spaces are snazzy; nosh spots Dish and Red Mango seem to be thriving, and the pool is becoming legendary for parties and Facebook pics. The ilume Gallerie, however, takes the lead for their float in the parade, thanks to gallery director Ronald Radwanski.

“We’ll have 48-by-72-inch panels of portraits on our float,” Radwanski says. “Some people will be on the float and others like me will be walking along.”

The Gallerie will be coasting along with a mobile museum. The gallery on wheels ties into the Faces of Life exhibit now at the Gallerie, which highlightsluminaries in Dallas’ LGBT community with larger-than-life portraits, each individual adorned with a large red ribbon. The shots were taken by photographer Jorge Rivas, who made a splash at the Gallerie earlier this year with his images of fashion and culture.

Going big is a huge undertaking, but Radwanski assures they are on schedule.

“They’ve started constructing it already and the enlarged portraits are being printed,” he says. “I’m so excited that we can mark a year of the ilume with this float in the parade. That it also benefits LifeWalk makes it much more so.”

Big or small, young or old, both establishments look beyond what they have going in the parade and instead, a reveling in the idea of being  a part of it all. Besides, things could change for 2011.

“After this time, we might just go all out with the big float idea next year,” Barton says.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens