Chris Barnett on Business Travel
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After the Oil Bust, Dallas Is 'Big D' Again
May 18, 1997 -- Once tapped out by an oil business gone bust, Big D is back, booming and bigger than ever. But travelers need to be canny to corral the deals and avoid some of the high costs of Dallas commerce.
While the oil "bidness," as locals call it, has recovered, high technology, entertainment, conventions and even tourism are other engines driving the local economy. Visitors will find Dallas brimming with people and optimism, except in the scorching, sultry summer.
Spring is the right time to be here, but you should plan carefully.
Dallas-Fort Worth Airport is immense, though it is easy to navigate, especially if you fly hometown carrier American Airlines. Fast, free tram trains link the terminals. Baggage carousels are opposite the boarding gates, a timesaver when you arrive, and luggage comes up quickly.
Should you rent a car, hail a cab or take a shuttle? That's a coin toss. Cabs are relatively cheap, but distances are long. The airport is 30 minutes from downtown and about $30 by taxi. Super Shuttle, the familiar blue van share-a-ride service in many U.S. cities, is only $11 from the airport. If you do rent a car, Dallas parking is inexpensive -- maybe $5.50 a day downtown -- and most hotels do not charge for parking.
Downtown Dallas is not a particularly charming urban setting. Old brick buildings, sleek skyscrapers and parking lots dominate. There's a graveyard opposite the sprawling Dallas Convention Center.
Dallas has an array of hotels and several are world-class and not too expensive, given the ambience. The Hotel Crescent Court is five minutes from the business district, across from the fun Fog City Diner and a stroll away from the Hard Rock Cafe. Located in a courtyard of office buildings in a pretty neighborhood, the Crescent is a sister hotel to the exclusive Mansion on Turtle Creek, but it is a good value.
The corporate rate for a single can start as low as $210 a night (full rack rate is $280) and the staff is personable and efficient. Owned by Caroline Rose Hunt, founder of Rosewood Hotels and Resorts and known for her taste in antiques, the Crescent has an unusually large and comfortable lobby. You can rendezvous in the rear courtyard, which looks like Tuscany in Texas.
The 188 guest rooms (216 total, if you include the suites) are sizable, too, and come equipped with a sitting area, big marble bathrooms, a fax and 46-channel cable TV. The switchboard answers quickly. Room service is prompt.
(I was, surprised, however, when I was charged $2.17 to have a button sewn on a pair of trousers. Most hotels of this caliber perform this service gratis.)
There are two jewels here: One is Beau Nash, a vast bar and restaurant with 25-foot ceilings and superb food at moderate prices. A hefty pork chop is $12. A glass of Burlwood pinot noir is $4.75. Most luxury hotels charge double the price for both. (There is also a novel Crescent Gourmet to Go counter for "time-challenged" guests.)
The second is the Crescent Spa, deemed one of the ten best in the nation. Guests have to pay an extra $20 to use it, but the weight-lifting and aerobic machines are as comprehensive as any pro gym. Spa chief and physician Deborah Kern has designed Wellness Wednesdays ($169) and Wellness Weekends for "stressed out business travelers" who need to regenerate their bodies, says marketing director Ling Kelly.
"This hotel, courtyard and spa is a very well kept secret," she adds. It's also the Dallas hideaway for celebrities like Ali McGraw and members of the rock group U2. The best secret of all is an unusual antique gift shop and tea room called Lady Primrose. A pet project of Caroline Hunt, it has some of the most amazing gift ideas at prices 50 percent lower than department stores.
Other thoughtful touches at The Crescent?: Free overnight shoe shines and crystal bowls for VIP pets. And then there's chief concierge Bill Kennedy, who once jumped out of a plane to be the official witness at the marriage of two skydivers.
Dallas has other hotels with famous names, but choose them carefully.
I recently spent five days at the Sheraton Suites, reserved sight-unseen, at a convention rate of $130 a night, down from the regular rate of $180 to $200 a night. The two-room suites were smaller than a regular Crescent Room, the food and beverage pricess were higher and the service sorely lacking.
I had to ask the front desk for pillows for the pull-out couch three times before they arrived. To get a corkscrew to open a bottle of wine, I called room service twice and the front desk once; it never was sent up. Also. the bar charges $6 for a glass of house chardonnay, $10 for nachos and $27 for a steak. Even a waiter apologized for the high prices.
However, when I complained about the bad service, the Sheraton guest relations manager graciously deducted one night's charge from the bill.
Next door to the Sheraton Suites is a Courtyard by Marriott, where food and drink prices are about 30 percent lower and service is friendlier. Rooms are $99 a night. It's functional, not fancy, and for travelers on a per-diem or paying out of their own pockets, it makes sense.
Dallas is no Disneyland when it comes to sightseeing. Most cabbies say the Texas Book Depository and the grassy knoll where Lee Harvey Oswald took the life of President John Kennedy is often requested by sightseers. For $5, you can tour the 9000-square-foot Sixth Floor Museum in the Book Depository, which captures the "life and legacy" of the slain president.
The West End is the place for night life. Check out Dallas Alley at 605 Munger. Hungry? The Butcher Shop at 808 Munger is the place for steaks and Casa Dominguez, near the Hotel Crescent Court, serves excellent Mexican food at reasonable prices.
Still, for a more flavorful slice of Texas, take a half hour and head for nearby Fort Worth. But that's another story.
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