Bugs does Dallas!

Richard Burnett

Dallas is a wonderful city to get trashy in, and no gay bar in the city is quite as gloriously trashy as BJ’s, the stripper and dance club in the Oak Lawn neighbourhood, and run by one the city’s great gay-community pioneers, Kathy Jack.

No one messes with Kathy, who’s been around a long time. “The scene was pretty rough in the 1970s, though I never hit anybody over the head with a baseball bat!” Kathy laughs, then quickly adds, “But I remember I had to bail a friend out of jail in the 1970’s for doing just that!”

Over the years Kathy Jack has not only helped build the Dallas gay community one establishment at a time, but she did it by running fun and safe establishments. “When I first started managing my first men’s bar, none of the employees liked me, none of the guys liked me, because I was a lesbian,” Kathy told me on my recent trip to Dallas. “But we’ve evolved. We went from segregated lesbian bars and gay bars from when I first came out – and I thought there was always something wrong with that because we can’t fight this fight if we’re not united – to a mixed gay and lesbian bar scene today. Thankfully in the Dallas community things got a whole lot better!”

In fact, Dallas is now the fourth-largest metro area in the United States, with more than $15 billion in urban development underway, that nation’s largest urban arts district, the Southwest’s best shopping, and a professional sports scene rivalled only by New York and Los Angeles.

While Texas may be a red state, Dallas is an oasis of blue, with a vibrant gay scene anchored by the city’s famed Round-Up Saloon, the biggest and most fabulous country-western gay bar on the planet where even Lady Gaga got her start a few years ago.“She came in [one] Saturday to rehearse in the afternoon with two dancers,” recalls Alan Pierce, who married his business and life partner Gary Miller in Montreal in 2006. “She had only two songs at that time. But word got out to the younger crowd and they packed the place that night.”

Now whenever Lady Gaga headlines in Dallas, she likes to visit the Round-Up. After one recent show at the American Airlines Centre, she walked into Alan and Gary’s office at the Round-Up and told them happily, “This was my first dressing room!”

Meanwhile, the city’s multi-billion-dollar downtown arts district (17 full blocks) is pretty impressive, with a new symphony hall, the jaw-dropping Winspear Opera House and museums galore, notably the brand new architectural masterpiece Perot Museum of Nature and Science, as well as the breathtaking Nasher Sculpture Center.

The Nasher’s roof, incidentally, was built with hundreds of circular openings called oculi, which were designed to indirectly illuminate the Nasher with natural light. Except, the neighbouring two-year-old deluxe-condo Museum Tower glass skyscraper’s glare has thrown everything out of whack, and the stand-off shows no sign of abating.

“We call the Museum Tower the Deathstar!” one local told me, laughing. “But on the other hand, they also film the TV show Dallas there!”

The Nasher / Museum Tower battle wasn’t the only headline-maker in the Dallas news when I was there. Montreal disco queen France Joli sang the Canadian national anthem to kick off Canadian Appreciation Month in Dallas (“It’s always nice to sing Oh Canada because most folks assume I’m American,” Joli told me afterwards); punk legend Bob Mould was deejaying at the Dallas Eagle, where a couple of DC Comics illustrators recently “redecorated” the men’s washroom with cartoons of really hot men (talk about Superheroes!); and the week before I arrived, America’s five living presidents attended the official opening of George W. Bush’s presidential library at Southern Methodist University.

Speaking of presidents, 2013 also marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK in Dallas, and I highly recommend visiting the respectful and educational Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza – best known as the Texas School Book Depository where Lee Harvey Oswald shot President Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Each year over a million visitors look out the window Oswald aimed his rifle from at JFK, and that moment will guaranteed take you back in time.

One cannot visit Dallas without also spending a day in big-city Fort Worth, which is a 40-minute drive away. The Fort Worth Stockyards in the Stockyards National Historic District is filled with sites from the Old West, Texas-themed shopping and restaurants (some of the best steakhouses in the country), rodeos, genuine western saloons (like the White Elephant Saloon inside The Stockyards Hotel where the real-life Bonnie and Clyde stayed), not to mention the twice-daily Fort Worth Herd cattle-drive. Then there is Billy Bob’s Texas – the world’s largest honky-tonk whose 100,000 square feet venue boasts a bull-riding arena, concert hall (Merle Haggard was headlining the day I was there), a zillion pool tables, 30 bar stations, a restaurant and souvenir shop. Also, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth presents the mega-exhibit Mexico Inside Out: Themes in Art Since 1990, from Sept 15 to January 5, 2014.

My biggest highlight on this trip was my overnight visit to the Wildcatter Ranch, a very gay-friendly resort ranch on the Texas range with 1,500 acres of breathtaking views and one of the best steakhouses in the state. The Wildcatter is no dude ranch, but guests have the option of many activities, including horseback riding and skeet shooting.

“I’ve never fired a gun before,” I told my cowboy guide, batting my eyelashes.

“You’re in Texas,” he replied gruffly. “The perfect place to learn!”
I’m happy to report I didn’t pull a Dick Cheney, and the sight of all those cowboys made me pretty randy. But it turns out I’m a pretty good shot. Oh, and did I mention the cowboys here are really hot?


In Dallas check out the Hilton Anatole, one of the largest hotel complexes in the world, complete with pool, spa and gym. The Anatole’s public art collection – including part of the Berlin Wall – is astounding. Surf to http://www.hiltonanatolehotel.com. The Wildcatter Ranch is located about 90 minutes northwest of Fort Worth, and features fully-equipped deluxe cabins. Surf to www.wildcatterranch.com.

In Dallas, you’ll enjoy the seafood and steak at the top-notch Al Biernat's restaurant in the Oak Lawn neighbourhood. Surf to www.albiernats.com.

American Airlines has daily service from Montreal to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport www.aa.com.
Get more info about Gay Dallas – as well as the city’s 30th annual Gay Pride parade on Sept 15 – at www.dallastavernguild.org.

Read Richard Burnett’s POP TART blog for The Montreal Gazette at http://blogs.montrealgazette.com/category/montreal/pop-tart/.

Read Burnett’s national queer-issues column Three Dollar Bill online at www.bugsburnett.blogspot.com.