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Magical iconic subterranean restaurant in downtown Dallas closes after 36 years

Magical iconic subterranean restaurant in downtown Dallas closes

Dakota's Steakhouse Dallas
Their steaks were top-quality. Photo courtesy of Dakota's Steakhouse

One of Dallas' oldest and most iconic restaurants has become another coronavirus fatality: Dakota's Steakhouse, the downtown seafood and steakhouse hidden in a cool subterranean space, has officially closed its doors.

Chef Pete Harrison confirmed that the staff got the word on May 19 that the restaurant would not reopen.

Harrison was the last in a series of notable chefs who had overseen what was always a top-notch kitchen; he'd been with Dakota's for more than five years.

"I felt a lot of pride being the chef there," he says. "It's sad to see an institution like this close, especially since we started the year off doing better than we ever have."

Established in 1984, Dakota's had been open for 36 years — a longevity surpassed by few other surviving restaurants.

And with its below-ground location, it had one of the most distinctive and romantic settings in the city, coming in second only to Five Sixty By Wolfgang Puck, the restaurant atop Reunion Tower which closed in April.

Dakota's mystique was not just that you had to take an elevator that went down, not up, to get there; or that it possessed a garden waterfall and elegant NOLA-esque ambiance.

It was the way it had a magical aura, an in-the-know speakeasy kind of thing, a secret oasis sitting beneath a city sidewalk in the middle of downtown Dallas.

Dakota's website recounts the history of its underground location: The site was once occupied by First Dallas Baptist Church, who put a clause in the deed prohibiting future owners from selling alcohol on former church grounds.

Lincoln Property Company bought the property but was determined to have a restaurant to anchor their international headquarters. They discovered that "on the grounds" did not include below ground, so they excavated the land and placed their restaurant 18 feet below street grade.

Customers entered the restaurant on street level, boarding a glass elevator that provided views on the ride down of an 1,800 square-foot subterranean courtyard with a 5-tiered granite water wall, multi-tiered landscaping, lava rock fire pit, and black granite bar.

This was the place to get the perfect wedge salad topped with thick-cut chunks of bacon; classic lump crab cakes, plump in stature with golden-brown edges; calamari fried to a crisp, served with lemon halves carefully wrapped in a fabric cover to keep the seeds from marring your flawless dining experience.

Steaks were from renowned beef purveyors, Allen Brothers, each aged for a minimum of 28 days. Fish and chips were made with Atlantic cod, and you could make more than a meal out of classic steakhouse sides such as mac and cheese, sauteed spinach, and beer-battered fries.

It served not only as a lovely date-night destination but also a sophisticated lunch spot for the downtown work set, who could get a shaved New York strip French dip sandwich with bell pepper, onion, and provolone for $15.

The option of being able to walk to it from your Central Business District office gave it a uniquely urban charm.

Many acclaimed Dallas chefs and food & beverage professionals worked there over the years.

While Lincoln still leased the space, the building itself had been sold multiple times over the years. Lincoln did not respond to a request for comment.