The Files: An ode to Harper’s Corner, where Dallas A-listers once wooed each other

by | Culture, Dining, Places

Corner-ing the market

by CHRISTOPHER MOSLEY

Ever get the feeling you’ve missed out? Ask Dallas residents of a certain age if they ever indulged in dinner or drinks at Harper’s Corner, and their remembrances of the supper club will have you yearning for a different era. The restaurant was on the top floor of the former Hilton Inn at Mockingbird and Central Expressway, opened in 1967, a symbol of Dallas’ post-midcentury elegance. The hotel itself was a pop-royalty magnet, where kings, queens and dukes — Elvis, Lucille Ball and John Wayne — all stayed. Bob Hope stayed there, too, making the glittery guest list seem like inspiration for one of those badly painted murals in a retro 1950s diner.

“A king-of-the-city view, a Continental attitude, and the only place in Dallas where couples can dine and dance the way grown-up lovers used to.” —The Dallas Morning News, 1987

The crooners, pianists and bandleaders of Harper’s Corner had reputations as golden as the high-class clientele. Acts such as Dallas singer Benita Arterberry, the Don Frisk trio and the Rio Pardo band — Pardo was a Minnesota musician with a habit of jumping into the audience trumpet still in hand — led audiences to the parquet dance floor. A Steinway baby grand was abused by one room-working showman after another, over two decades. The incomparable view of the Dallas skyline, framed by burgundy curtains, was unusual for the east side of the tracks, then or now. The waitstaff wore tuxedos, and patrons were warned by a sign at the door against wearing blue jeans. “A king-of-the-city view, a Continental attitude, and the only place in Dallas where couples can dine and dance the way grown-up lovers used to,” wrote Betty Cook in The Dallas Morning News in 1987.

The party was over by the next year and the Hilton Inn had a series of increasingly less glamorous transformations. The ninth-floor Harper’s Corner was slated to become a penthouse condominium at one point, but that’s not what occupies the top floor today. The hotel is now the stylish Highland Dallas, one of the Hilton chain’s boutique hotels in its Curio Collection. There is even a John Tesar restaurant, Knife. When I call the hotel’s front desk and ask about the status of the penthouse, the clerk gives a nearly tragic reply: “Just normal guestrooms, sir,” he says.


HARPER’S CORNER 1985: TERRY VAN SICKLE/THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS ARCHIVES. HILTON INN 1990: THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS ARCHIVES.