We visited a postpandemic Deep Ellum and got rocked
The shadow of the pandemic seems to keep returning as a champion eater with a buffet pass. Much has changed since it all started in March 2020, but any change in Deep Ellum began long before a global catastrophe transformed our way of life.
Over the span of a decade, you can count on different parts of the famous cultural and entertainment district that either remain almost untouched or become entirely unrecognizable. Some parts of Deep Ellum are so drastically different that you might forget where you were if the iconic “Welcome” neon sign wasn’t there to remind you.
Recently I went to DE with a friend (who I have spent a lot of time with in the neighborhood for the past 10 years pursuing shows and spirits) and took a long walk through three of his blocks. of most popular homes – Elm, Main and Commercial Streets – for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, just to see how the old place has changed. Many of the staples may still be there, but the changes are noticeable and to say the least striking.
The first and probably the most notable difference is parking. Finding a place to park your car in Deep Ellum without being fined or towed has always been one of the neighborhood’s fatal weaknesses. People crammed into a few blocks and parking always seemed like an afterthought. Deep Ellum has always been a neighborhood built on the lure of pedestrian traffic. Now, it seems its creators have forgotten that people even drive cars. Forget about trying to park anywhere near your intended destination. Each block is lined with vehicles lucky enough to hang a yardstick. The others play smart by taking DART or an Uber or Lyft ride into town – or they blow their last fuse and bellow, “Fuck! I’ll pay the $ 20!”
The popularity of the Parkmobile app has made it more convenient to get a cheaper location, but parking spaces are still hard to come by on your first, second, or even third pass. The hipsters who now inhabit most of the Commerce and Elm neighborhoods seem to take over the vast majority at the start of the day by pulling their smartphones out of a shoulder holster, as Dirty Harry houses his .44 Magnum.
We started on Elm Street outside the Dallas Comedy Club, the Old Quarter’s first welcoming and familiar site. Space belonged to the third incarnation of Dallas comedy lodge, who has occupied different locations in Deep Ellum during his 10 years. We were on a bright, neon start.
We turned south to Main Street and headed west towards Terry Black Barbecue, the second old DCH location. The neighborhood seemed to be pretty much the same, with one exception. A short strip of glass-fronted shops stretches on one side to Maracas Cocina Mexicana with a new New Orleans-style donut in the middle. The other side is full of unoccupied and non-public shopping spaces, all the way to The Nines and The Monkey King Noodle Co. restaurant, a welcome spot for the hungry and intoxicated before and after the pandemic.
Changes are starting to creep into the Malcolm X Boulevard past. The smoking room has been transformed into a bar. The rest of Main Street looks like someone has dropped a new outdoor mall in the shops on the street. Entire swathes of blocks between Main and Commerce Street are engulfed by brick-built street shops offering homemade popsicles, bubble tea, and a cookie bar.
We passed Pecan Lodge, the beloved steakhouse that is the culinary hub of Deep Ellum, towards Commerce Street and were greeted by a huge multi-story parking lot. Parking of all kinds is desperately needed in Deep Ellum, but it feels intimidating, imposing, and overwhelming. It blocks out one of the neighborhood’s most memorable views of the newly reopened The Bomb Factory (now just The Factory) and the iconic Flying Red Horse with Adair’s and the Twisted Root Burger Company, which are thankfully still around. The massive, heavy building blocks much of the night sky.
We took a turn north towards Elm Street, the busiest of the three streets with its mix of quick snacks, bars, and staples like Three Links, Trees, and Wit’s End. The crowd is also still there, but it seems more cleaned up with revelers all in disguise to feel alive for the night. The beggars are gone, or at least they were on this trip. However, there are still a few weirdos ready to offer a weird, unsolicited comment, like the guy behind us who said we were “the smelly people I’ve seen on this block.”
However, culture shock hit us like a cinder block in the face with the sight of a Wingbucket. The chicken fast food restaurant is red, white, and shiny and couldn’t feel more out of place in Deep Ellum if it was constantly on fire.
The shuttered Anvil pub was also painful to see. It might not be the kind of dive bar you hope to find upon exiting a loud Three Links show, but it’s a place built on memories of laughs, dating and a lot, lots of drinks. It integrates 20 times better than a franchise chain. The fact that someone thought a Wingbucket fit into Deep Ellum and The Anvil Pub didn’t make me shiver at the thought of what could be put in its place: a Pinkberry, a Starbucks, a (thrill ) TGI Friday’s?
Deep Ellum hasn’t lost all the places that make him special, but it feels like he’s trying to clean up a space to attract a crowd that would never think of going to the old DE, all the while hoping to hang on to some of its ugly, unique beauty. Ultimately, he will not be able to play both ways. The Deep Ellum we know of is not yet gone, but it could easily disappear in the time it takes to sniff a stranger.