Things to do in Dallas

America's longest running prime time soap is back.Andrew Dembina visits its birthplace

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2012, 12:43pm

With this year's return of US prime-time soap opera Dallas, I thought perhaps it was time to take a look around the Texan city, known for pockets of lavishness - mostly founded on cotton and oil.

First-time visitors familiar with the original television show - launched in 1978 and shelved in 1991 - might wonder whether the city is as opulent as the show depicted it.

There is no shortage of "old money" haunts in town, but today's Dallas has some modern, relaxed places in which to unwind, too.

Some of the area's wealth has been channelled into the arts. At the AT&T Performing Arts Centre, you can catch a top US or touring performance; the Royal National Theatre performed War Horse there last month. This coincided with the opening of City Performance Hall, a new venue for small and mid-sized productions. Nine other buildings in the Dallas Cultural District also stage performances or visual art exhibits.

Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek is the place to get a sense of the established Dallas high life. This former estate of cotton and oil magnate Sheppard King dates back to 1925. It was later expanded and converted to a small hotel.

Larry Hagman - who, after 21 years, has returned to the Dallas set as J.R. Ewing - and the entire cast stayed here in the 1980s and '90s. Other high-profile guests have included supermodel Cindy Crawford, actors Kirstie Alley and Hugh Jackman, and rapper Jay-Z.

A-list guests with a sporting interest often opt for the hotel's sister property, the Rosewood Crescent Hotel. Its gym is the biggest and most comprehensively decked out I've ever seen at a lodging - especially for one with fewer than 200 rooms. It also has a long list of wellness and beauty treatments.

The Crescent, which has a Nobu restaurant, is next door to the small, high-end Stanley Korshak department store. You'll also find the flagship of the larger and renowned Neiman Marcus department store (which has also appeared in the TV show) in the city.

Southfork Ranch is the setting for both the original soap and the revival. It lies about 20 kilometres north of the city centre. Unless you were a fan of the original series, some of the memorabilia at the ranch's small onsite museum may be lost on you, although the sight of the prop gun that was used to shoot J.R. and some of the kitsch souvenirs displayed still hold some curiosity value.

The show was screened in 67 languages in more than 90 countries, so a large percentage of visitors are from abroad; and the tractor that pulls carriages around the grounds starts the tour by passing a line of ever-changing flags on poles from those broadcasting nations.

Another must-see is Cowboys Stadium. If you (like me) have almost no knowledge of American football, fear not: the guides know how to bring this superlative-heavy 80,000-seater arena alive. It is quite something to sit in the stadium owner's suites, or take a stroll through the cheerleaders' locker room (each has their own light bulb-lined dressing mirror), and the players' equivalent - each locker is crafted from US$10,000-worth of fine-grained sapele wood, used in the interiors of Cadillacs.

It has the largest glass doors of any stadium (37 metres tall; 55 metres wide), the most television screens (3,400); it tops eight categories of technology, and its main dining areas are like function rooms in the best hotels.

The tour ends on the artificial grass pitch, on which basketball games, boxing bouts and big-name concerts have all been staged.

I recommend hiring a car and driver. Jimmy Mays, the affable Dallas-born chauffeur of my Lincoln limousine for the trip, had plenty of thoughts to share on the sights.

The Fort Worth Stockyards complex, 58 kilometres from downtown Dallas, may not be quite the dusty saloon bar-studded settlement it once was, but it is a key heritage zone that harks back to the Wild West and life in the last half of the 19th century. Fort Worth was the last stopping point for cattle workers before heading off to the Texas livestock ranches. Its old railway station forms a focal point of the Stockyards complex, where cattle pens were built, alongside slaughterhouses and packaging facilities. The industry may be gone, but a handful of preserved streets now house museums that pay homage to cowboys, rodeo champs and native Americans. There is more than cowboy kitsch for sale: turquoise jewellery and a few trendy boutiques offer some small label clothes and accessories.

If you have time, some 20 minutes' drive from the Stockyards is Fort Worth's cultural district, home to a few art museums. The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth is currently showing the Lucien Freud Portraits exhibition.

Tex-Mex and barbecue menus can be found in eateries everywhere. In Fort Worth's Stockyards, try no-nonsense hearty barbecued meats, local catfish, or tacos at the open-sided Riscky's Barbeque. For a refined version of huevos rancheros for breakfast, head to the terrace at the Mansion Restaurant in the Rosewood Mansion hotel.