When Austin, TX became one of the trendiest places on the planet, the city had a moral duty to relinquish its mantra of, “Keep Austin Weird.” Obviously, the weirdest place in Texas is Marfa, a desert town known for its unique art installations and unexplained light phenomena, but if there were a more accessible part of Texas that could claim heir-apparent to the “Keep Austin Weird,” mantra, it would be the East Dallas neighborhood of Lakewood. From the eclectic shops, eateries, random zoning, and fraternal organizations dedicated to the upkeep of swimming pools,, Lakewood is a social detective’s dream come true. Tucked away between Margie’s Wig Salon and The Kitchen Recording Studio, Here, the new Lakewood lounge/restaurant, is maybe the most Lakewood-y place around. Here officially opened its doors for business this past Saturday and my wife and I and a few friends stopped in to try it out.
The building itself is a non-descript white box that is only identifiable by four small neon letters and a street sign that has a landscape on it of the Marfa desert. Every single bit of sun was reflecting off of the sidewalk and the building, directly into my eyes. I opened the door and was transported to a dark and cool respite from the sun and greeted by an extremely friendly host. The first thing I noticed was just how funky everything was, from the custom light fixture centerpiece to the handcrafted curved wall to the carpet to the Desert/Hunter S. Thompson/ Zsa Zsa Gabor paintings. Going for a retro vibe is risky because it is a very thin line that separates an acknowledging nod to the past and kitsch, but Here pulls it off.
We were told there would be a 15-minute wait and then escorted to the bar. The patio wasn’t open yet so the waiting space is a bit cramped (I would imagine that will clear right up once the patio is an option). Our group sampled quite a few of the signature cocktails: the Heresay was great, the Sage Bramble wasn’t really my favorite, the Old-Fashioned was classic, but the Pigeon was the real standout on the menu, a spicy sweet tequila cocktail.
Before we finished our first round of drinks, the host let us know our table was ready. The tables were cozy but not small and with as vibrant as the restaurant was, noise level was surprisingly low and conversation came easily. We started with the Deviled Eggs, Pimento Cheese, and Short Ribs. The deviled eggs were no mere picnic fare, these were gourmet little bites that, even though they were a bit heavy on the hot sauce, were bursting with flavour. The short ribs were a little underwhelming but the pimento cheese more than made up for that. I am, typically, not a fan of chicken-fried steak but my wife wanted to split something because we had so many appetizers so that’s what we ordered with a side of mac and cheese. Putting a nice cut of steak into chicken-fried steak makes a huge difference and the gravy was incredible. Seriously, take that gravy and make additional menu items just to pour it over.
Here has a lot going for it, not the least of which is familiarity. Yes, the restaurant is funky and weird but it also feels like home. The food is relatable, the setting feels almost like your friend’s living room if it was 1971, but most importantly the people seem like friends. No part of the experience ever felt like you were dining out at some new restaurant in Dallas, it felt like grabbing a quick bite with great friends at the little place you always go. Here isn’t perfect but it’s off to a heck of a start.