Why do so many people love The Big D? A gay guide to Dallas

Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas

In Season 1 of AJ and the Queen, RuPaul’s character Robert Lee—a.k.a. Ruby Red in drag—embarks on a great adventure, driving through the American Midwest in a camper filled with drag weaponry (and one sassy stowaway child). His goal: competing in a fancy drag pageant, and hopefully winning some money. Like Dorothy trying to find the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz, Robert just needs to get to that pageant, dress up as Ruby Red (get it? as in, ruby red slippers?), and win the big prize, and then all of Robert’s problems will be solved and he can go home. It is not a simple journey, of course, as Robert encounters various strangers, friends, and a few frenemies along the way, all of whom are embroiled in some sort of drama and need a bit of impromptu life coaching, which Robert deftly provides. But like The Wizard himself, who gave gifts to Dorothy’s traveling companions that were strengths they already had within themselves, Ruby Red teaches everyone to find the strength to love themselves as they are. And, plot spoiler: she makes it to the pageant! 

So where was this magical pageant at the end of Ruby Red’s version of the Yellow Brick Road? Where was this allegorical Emerald City? Ruby Red was headed for Dallas, that glittering, magical land rising from the plains of Texas, the home of big hair, big dreams, and big money, where a drag queen’s dreams can come true. Or at least, a drag queen can make some money.

The unusual skyline of Dallas certainly resembles The Emerald City:

The scripts of AJ and the Queen are only slightly less-realistic the actual Wizard of Oz, but there are a few bits of truth in there. Just like in Ruby Red’s world, there really is a major drag pageant in Dallas: Miss Gay USofA, one of the most-esteemed brands in the pageant circuit, and contestants do come from far and wide to compete and win some cash. 

RuPaul’s Netflix show is just one example of how Dallas has become a hub of sorts for the gay and trans world, as the city raises in stature as an enticing destination. The city of Dallas, when combined with the metro area of the adjacent city of Fort Worth, has one of the largest gay and trans communities in the U.S., and Dallas in particular hosts several noteworthy events each year. Creating Change, the annual convention sponsored by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, opens Jan. 15, 2020 at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Dallas, where several thousand activists will engage in workshops about how to make the world a more-inclusive and less-binary place.

Then there are the annual Dallas events like Purple Party, a long weekend of thousands of shirtless menfolk dancing to music crafted by celebrity DJs, and the Black Tie Dinner, which is the largest fundraising gala in all of the U.S. that benefits gay and trans causes. Those Dallas gays have some money, and they will spend it.

There is a lot going on in Dallas, so here’s a handy guide to the Big D for anyone who wants to venture into the city and find some adventure (and that really is the nickname for Dallas).


Nitrogen Margaritas at Beto & Son, Dallas

Need-to-know neighborhoods

Dallas is huge. But visitors need not be overwhelmed, because the main tourist spots are within a few miles of each other. Downtown Dallas has lots of skyscraper hotels, including the Sheraton that hosts those big LGBTQ-themed events. Most of the restaurants, coffeeshops, and bars in downtown are within the hotels, but a mile east from downtown is Deep Ellum, where the Dallas hipster-elite drink craft brews and listen to cool bands.

West of downtown, the Bishop Arts District has fun little shops, trendy brunch spots, and artisan pies, so that’s worth a visit, and that’s also near Beto & Son (photo above), one of the many, many Tex-Mex restaurants in Dallas that claim to have the best margarita in the universe. Beware the Beto & Son Nitrogen Margartia, which is very sour and strong.

Uptown is another cute, walkable neighborhood with with gorgeous coffeehouses and shops, and luxurious Uptown hotels like Hotel Crescent Court and The W are very close to Oak Lawn, which is the neighborhood for all things gay. But more on that later.

Art and culture etc.

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All of those oil industry millionaires in Dallas have to spend their money on something, so the city is a major hub for the arts, especially visual art. The world-renowned Nasher Sculpture Center (photo, top of story) is definitely worth a visit, especially to wander through the outside garden when the weather is nice, and the museum hosts rotates in exhibits with gay and trans themes. The Giant Eyeball downtown (photo above) is a favorite spot for selfies.

Related: Contemplating the artistic merit of a sperm bank, at The Nasher in Dallas

The Sixth Floor Museum is a creepy, mindbending tour through the conspiracy theories of President John F. Kennedy’s assasination, and it is one of the most-esteemed museums in Dallas. Interesting side note for the gays: Lee Harvey Oswald was the main suspect in JFK’s assasination, and he was arrested, but he was murdered before he could be brought to trial. The only suspect who was actually prosecuted was a gay, right-wing activist named Clay Shaw. The FBI accused Shaw of helping orchestrate JFK’s murder, theoretically with renegade agents within the CIA. He was acquitted of the charges, as the FBI didn’t have much concrete evidence, but the gay right-wing conspiracy against JFK lingers. 


Monica’s, in Dallas

Restaurateur Monica Greene is a living legend in Dallas, but when she first emigrated from Mexico City in 1974, she was known as Eduardo.

Eduardo opened several critically-acclaimed Mexican restaurants throughout Dallas, and reigned supreme over the Dallas culinary scene for years. But then in 1995 he said goodbye to it all, including his wife and his children, and he moved to Belgium to have the surgical procedures that completed her transition to Monica. Monica then moved back to Dallas, found a spot to build a new restaurant, and started it all over.

When she opened Monica’s At The Cedars, the hungry crowds of Dallas returned once again—because good food is good food, and that’s all that matters. Go to Monica’s and try the queso, and drink some absolutely delicious margaritas with it. Monica herself will probably be there, and she is very nice, so feel free to say hello.

Gay bars

Dallas has one of the most vibrant gay ‘hoods in the U.S.: Oak Lawn is just a few miles north of downtown, and is filled with big clubs and small dive bars. The Roundup has line dancing, Dallas Eagle (photo above) gives some good leather love, and Sue Ellen’s is one of the most popular lesbian bars in the country. Also notable are the several  gift shops in Oak Lawn that sell all sorts of fun items, like underwear and swimwear and leatherwear (oh my!), which make great gifts. 

Of course with all of that big hair in Dallas, drag shows are major. Catch shows at JR’s, and The Rose Room at Station 4—which is the site of pageants like the Miss Gay USofA At Large. (The main Miss Gay USofA is held in the South Side Ballroom.) Bring cash for tips! Maintaining those big Big D-style wigs costs a lot of money.

GayCities can be contacted at danrenzi@gaycities.com.

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