Bishop Arts District

By Kevin Tankersley

Dallas’ most independent neighborhood

Pictured: Photo by Darren Braun

It was a bitterly cold Saturday afternoon. The temperature was in the upper 30s, and a strong wind was blowing from the north. That didn’t stop a dozen or so dessert lovers from waiting in line — outside — for a slice of pie at Emporium Pies, doing business on North Bishop Avenue in the Bishop Arts District in Dallas.

There were an equal number of people in line once you got through the door, and all of the 18 seats inside were occupied. Folks were enjoying slices of buttermilk, apple and coconut pie, and it seemed that everyone was fighting the cold weather with cups of hot coffee.

The Bishop Arts District is a funky area in north Oak Cliff that was once home to the busiest trolley stop in Dallas. The neighborhood began life as a series of warehouses and shops in the 1920s, but the area began a slow decline with the rising popularity of suburbs and shopping malls. By the 1980s, buildings could be purchased quite cheaply, and an investor named Jim Lake started stocking up on properties in an effort to save the area from being razed and developed. Others began to latch onto Lake’s vision, and the area is now a destination for shopping, dining and entertainment.

A recent visit began with a stop at M’Antiques, which describes itself as an antique store for guys, where toy soldiers, classic tools, knives and other manly wares can be had. Compton Creel, one of the owners, is a friendly sort of fellow and he was kind enough to point out to Bishop Arts newcomers a few places he recommends for meals. We took him up on a couple of those suggestions during our visit.

In the heart of Bishop Arts there are several galleries offering many styles of art. At Artisan’s Collective, which represents many Dallas-area artists, there were paintings, sculpture, jewelry and glasswork priced to fit almost any budget, from large, contemporary metal sculptures for indoor or outside display, to a single rose formed from 10 old spoons.

That rose now has a home on our mantle, underneath a painting by Waxahachie artist Bruce Lee Webb, whose work we encountered at a couple of places in Bishop Arts. At Neighborhood, home of “the design bar and 56 foot wall,” Webb’s paintings are some of the first things a visitor sees upon entering the gallery. In a smaller back room was more of Webb’s work, including a series of simple black paintings on small red towels that might be used in a mechanic’s garage. Neighborhood also sells, among other things, home accessories, furniture and candles.

The shop We Are 1976 — located directly across the street from Emporium Pies — offers limited edition art prints, stationery and greeting cards, much of which was created on its in-house vintage printing press. (Classes on how to print on an old press are also offered.)

Dr. Cop’s PopUp Shop features interior and original art in bold red and black with white accents. In addition, the small space also offers an extensive selection of one-of-a-kind jewelry, and the owner and artist, Vincent Coppolino, donates some of the store’s profits to cancer and multiple sclerosis research, according to the shop’s website.

The Ginger Fox Gallery offers contemporary and magic realism paintings as well as pottery and pieces in other media. The gallery represents a dozen or so Texas-based artists.

In addition to Emporium Pies, there are plenty of other dining establishments to visit in Bishop Arts. A couple recommended by Creel from M’Antiques turned out to be winners.

We had lunch at the Greek Café & Bakery, another lovely restaurant in a pretty small space. It being a Greek place, we felt compelled to try the gyros — one of the traditional variety, with beef and lamb, and another with fried shrimp. Both were excellent, as were the Greek fries, which were french fries topped with feta, oregano and olive oil.

For dinner, we ventured a couple of blocks out of Bishop Arts proper for a stop at David’s Oak Cliff Pizza & Pasta. It serves pizza by the slice until 7 p.m. each day. We got there a little late for that, but the 12-inch New York Village pizza we had — with four meats along with black olives and bell peppers — was the perfect size for two. We enjoyed a nice meal before a show at The Kessler Theater, which was within easy walking distance of David’s.

The Kessler is an intimate performance venue, seating just 350. Recent performers there have included Waco’s Billy Joe Shaver and Asleep at the Wheel with Emily Gimble, granddaughter of legendary fiddle player Johnny Gimble and daughter of Dick Gimble, a pretty accomplished musician himself and instructor in the Music Industry Careers department at McLennan Community College.

Since it was built in 1942, the Kessler has operated as a movie theater and a church. It was empty for 30 years before reopening in 2009 and also serves as an art gallery.

There’s one hotel in Bishop Arts, and it’s the Belmont Hotel. It began life as the Belmont Motor Hotel in 1946 and was one of the first hotels to offer year-round air conditioning. Like much of the surrounding neighborhood, it fell on hard times until a major renovation, begun in 2005. Additional renovations will take place this year. Rooms at the Belmont begin at $179 a night.

Information on the more than 60 shops, restaurants and galleries in Bishop Arts can be found at BishopArtsDistrict.com.

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