Established in the mid-1880s as Deep Elm – its current incantation was named for a mispronunciation of Elm Street, which runs the length of the neighborhood – the area’s historical record is cemented in songs, paintings, books and popular lore.
Blues artists Blind Lemon Jefferson, Leadbelly and Bessie Smith stalked its streets during the height of their genre. In the 70s and 80s, it gave punk rockers like Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys a place to play in Dallas. It’s the neighborhood where a bouncer punched Kurt Cobain in the face during a 1991 show at Trees.
Also in the 90s, a resurgence of bars, restaurants and clubs made the area Dallas’ most interesting entertainment district.
The neighborhood has since fought zoning restrictions, crime and some civic construction projects, but has come out on top in the back part of the 2000s: By 2010, Deep Ellum is well on its way to returning to its former glory.
Deep Ellum extends east under Central Expressway/I-45 until Exposition Ave. It’s mashed between Downtown Dallas to its west and Fair Park to its east.
Pacific Ave. and Elm, Main, Commerce and Canton streets extend the length of the neighborhood. Parking is found along metered street parking and pay lots. Some bars and restaurants have their own parking, but spaces are usually scant.
There’s a DART station in Deep Ellum, located at its northeast corner on Good-Latimer at Gaston Ave. When trying to spend some time at some of its more western or southern attractions, the Baylor DART Station at Junius Street and Malcolm X Blvd. may be a better option.
Once there, it’s easy to make a day – or night – out of Deep Ellum. And by all intents and purposes, that’s the best way to take the area in.
Near the DART Station on Good-Latimer, there’s the Deep Ellum Art Park, which lies across the street from the Deep Ellum Bark Park. This is between Canton and Commerce Streets, right under the freeway.
The former Deep Ellum Tunnel mural project was destroyed around 2007 to make way for the DART Green Rail Line, which, in a sense, spurred the area’s recent redevelopment.
In its place is the Deep Ellum Art Park, a $1.5 million civic project that features around 30 outdoor art projects from local artists. Also, bring the pooch and wander across the street to the Bark Park. Many bars and restaurants will allow you to sit outside with your pet, too.
Another reason to ride the DART: The Travelling Man art instillation. There are three Travelling Men sculptures in the neighborhood: At the Deep Ellum DART Station; at Good Latimer and Elm Streets; and a block away at the other end of Good Latimer.
The giant, lumbering steel structures stand in the shadow of Downtown Dallas, looking – and smiling – into Deep Ellum.
Also a must for the daytime: Lula B’s, the funkiest antique shop in the city, at 2639 Main Street.
Many of the restaurants here are quite indebted to their Southern roots. The All Good Café, at 2934 Main Street, makes no qualms about its quality Chicken Fried Steak and proudly displays its food suppliers on the front of the menu.
The Angry Dog, at 2726 Commerce, takes pride in its blue-collar offerings. Order the burger medium rare and they’ll bring it that way. On their Angry Dog, the mounds of chili and cheese make the split kosher hot dog nearly invisible. It’s cheap, too: Both of these options go for less than $7.
Twisted Root Burger Co., a block away from Angry Dog at 2615 Commerce, is also a must for meat-eaters. Their half-pound burgers can be topped with anything from onion rings to bleu cheese. The myriad varieties mingle perfectly with their quality ingredients.
Zini’s Pizza, at 2639 Elm Street, offers up individual slices late into the morning after last call. This is another restaurant that prides itself on its local ingredients; the produce used all comes from the Dallas Farmer’s Market on Canton Street, near Deep Ellum.
Deep Sushi, at 2624 Elm Street, has provided a lighter option to patrons since 1996. With great lunch specials – look for 2 for 1 sushi or Bento Boxes – and happy hour prices, this quality sushi joint is worth a try, especially when counting calories.
And then there’s Monica’s Aca y Alla, at 2914 Main, which gives frequenters quality food for, well, likely less than you’d spend at a fast food restaurant. The interior is comfortably trendy, the drinks are cheap and stiff – look for .75 cent margaritas on Wednesdays – and the food is up to par with the best in the city. Monica’s is a perfect lunch destination, especially considering the $5.00 choices.
When the sun disappears, Deep Ellum comes alive.
Bands take the stage. Music pours into the streets. Friends wander from bar to bar, or stand outside listening to music, having a smoke. Doormen take ID’s – and if you’re young enough, some will tell you they’ve been working Deep Ellum since before you were born. Those guys are great talkers.
LaGrange, at 2704 Elm Street, is a small space that opened in December. It’s very Texas. There’s a jukebox in the corner to pump out tunes when there isn’t a band occupying the tiny stage. The bar top’s made of “century old mesquite tree,” according to its website, and a decent-sized outdoor porch features two large rocking chairs, Lone Star memorabilia and plenty of seating for guests. Whiskey or Lone Star, please.
Across the street at the re-birthed Trees, the historic rock venue mentioned at the top of the guide – you know, Nirvana – lies a more traditional concert experience. It’s a bigger, louder and, well, a dedicated music venue. Since its reincarnation last year, the venue has played host to local acts as big as the Toadies, and touring ones like Lightning Bolt, the Deftones and The Misfits.
Nightmare, at 2810 Elm (get it – heh – heh), is another small music venue and bar that often offers up national independent acts with local bands as support. Club DaDa is undergoing renovations and will offer a space with a capacity between Trees and Nightmare to bring even more bands into Deep Ellum.
There’s also the Black Swan Saloon, at 2708 Elm Street, which offers up signature cocktails that marry high-quality liquor with fresh, local fruit and ingredients from the nearby farmer’s market. The owner, who previously managed Ghost Bar, opened this humble space and fits perfectly in the neighborhood.
Eat. Drink. Wander. Stare. Deep Ellum may sit in the shadow of Dallas’ mighty downtown sky scrapers, but that doesn’t stop it from standing out.