They say everything’s bigger in Texas, and that goes for Dallas’ drink culture right now, too.
Luxe libations in a just-opened posh hotel bar, a new no-frills, no-pretense neighborhood spot where vinyl rules, and a happening, high-volume New American restaurant are just a few examples of what’s currently shaking in Texas’ largest city.
Ultra-luxe and sumptuous, this new swanky lounge at the city’s historic hotel The Adolphus in the Main Street District opened in October. It’s the kind of bar where you and your paramour can safely canoodle in the dimly lit corner—or snag a few seats front and center for an interactive cocktail spectacle.
The handsome 45-seat spot, which has an additional 40 seats in the salon, includes a semi-circular bar with glass shelves and a back-bar island that lets you take a peek into the stirring and shaking. Décor includes red velvet and dark leather couches, mahogany wood paneling and mood lighting via flickering candles, chandeliers and sconces.
Beverage manager Anna Pereda Warren says that the drinks program is meant to entice guests with dinner reservations at the adjacent prix fixe restaurant The French Room to begin the evening with a libation—or end it with a Scotch or brandy.
“[It’s] all about elevating the cocktail experience, whether that be with smoking a glass…or using an eau de vie that would typically be sold as a premium spirit,” she says. “It was all about pushing the envelope just a bit.”
Drink prices at the French Room Bar range from $14 to $75. Most striking in its presentation is the Why Not a Sazerac? cocktail ($23), which uses the original recipe of Cognac (bourbon cask-finished Martell Blue Swift, to be exact) rather than rye. The ingredients are presented to guests in perfume-like bottles on a silver tray, and the drink is served in a glass smoked with sweet-smelling tobacco.
Also popular on the eight-cocktail list is The Palas ($26), the Martini Warren says that she would want to drink here. It stirs Monkey 47 Gin with dry vermouth and orange bitters, and is garnished with lemon.
Of course, some guests eschew cocktails for a glass of wine; the list focuses on small, estate-produced offerings from classic and emerging regions of France, as well as California, Oregon, Italy, Spain, Germany and Austria.
The city’s cocktail culture is evolving and the days of waiting 20 minutes for a drink are over, Warren says. “The Dallas bar scene is beginning to transition to a faster style of service,” she notes. “We have found the happy median between a ‘shot and beer’ and a Ramos Gin Fizz.”
With a simple, contemporary design and warm earthy colors, this 50-seat bar in the city’s lively Deep Ellum neighborhood opened in August. It pays homage to Muscle Shoals, the Alabama city with a history of producing great music since the 1960s (including a name check in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.”)
Tunes are delivered courtesy of a turntable—rather than Spotify—with LPs ranging from 60s and 70s soul and Southern rock to modern artists. Records are played from beginning to end, just the way artists intended, before playlists made everyone a would-be producer.
Shoal’s Sound & Service aims to simplify the amount of ingredients made in-house and execute all the classics well, according to cofounders/owners Michael Martensen and Omar YeeFoon. “We want to be that everyday bar that makes classic cocktail great everyday.”
To that end, the bar displays 20 drink options on a felt board. Priced at $10, most of which remain all year, with a few swapped out seasonally. (Irish Coffee replaced the Julep this past fall, for example.)
Most ordered is the Old Fashioned, while the Pisco Sour is an unexpected sleeper hit, but it’s hard to pinpoint a favorite among such a collection of the tried and true. As for wine, Shoal’s offered nine or selections, all priced at $10 a glass or $30 a bottle (save for Mumm Champagne, which is $50 a bottle). The focus is to have a wine for every occasion, from celebrating with bubble to having a rich red wine on an evening our, the founders say. “Balance is a must for all the wines, and having a depth of weight so we can make any of our guests happy.”
Sweet and savory empanadas and other nibbles make up the bar bites menu. The Nitty Gritty Bologna Sandwich ($10/$18), with mortadella, spiced giardiniera, bolillo and aji aioli, is a star; some guests have deemed “life-changing” on social media.
Martensen and YeeFoon believe due to a strong, supportive community, huge growth in population and a more global focus, bars in Dallas are thriving. And speciality spots—whether they be Tiki bars, gin joints or mezcalerias—are the thing right now. “The city is becoming more hyper-focused—we will see if this trend lasts.”
Seasonal, consistent sips and “an edgy twist on classic drinks” is how bar manager Alex Hines describes the drinks program at this modern American cuisine-focused restaurant in Deep Ellum. Stirr opened in October 2016 with 120 seats on the first floor and a rooftop bar (pictured atop) that can hold 225.
Cocktails are categorized into about 13 Mainstays, priced from $10 to $13 and four large-format drinks priced $38 to $150. The Stirr Old Fashioned ($13) is the signature, with Knob Creek rye whiskey, honey syrup and house-made chocolate mole bitters, which coax out the whiskey’s flavor while toning down its bite, Hines says.
The Pyrus Zacapa ($11) shakes Ron Zacapa 23 year rum with pear and cardamom syrup, lime, St. Germaine elder flower liqueur and pear, while Drogon Harvest ($13) uses Maker’s Mark bourbon, apricot, lemon, allspice dram and tarragon. “We try to listen to our customers and really think about what they want when we’re crafting each season’s menu,” Hines says.
He sees whiskey as trending right now in Dallas, and Stir’s collection spans more selections than any of its other spirit categories. “It’s been fun to see the city embrace those more unique or hard-to-find whiskeys,” he notes.
The wine list is designed to be approachable, while at the same time featuring varietals, styles and flavors a bit more off-the-radar. Hines recommends guests start with the Steampot Beer Mussels ($15) and a bottle of the Torroxal albariño ($46), followed by either the Stirr Burger ($15), with ground Kobe beef, sharp cheddar and bacon onion jam, topped with a fried egg and served with shoe-string potatoes, alongside the bright and versatile Cote Mas brut rosé from France ($11 a glass, $46 a bottle).
The current vibe in the city is one of one of pride and support—especially for local brewers and distillers. “More and more, bars are really showcasing the thought process behind the drink menus, and are highlighting local crafters,” he says “In turn, Dallasites are venturing out of their comfort zones when it comes to drinking—they’re really interested in and desiring unique flavors found in craft cocktails.”
One step into this low-key wine bar in Dallas that’s been a staple in the city since 2008, and you completely get the concept of Veritas Wine Room. “Our key has always been to offer a wide range of wines, from simple and inexpensive to the most allocated and sought-after, in a no-pretense, very casual atmosphere,” explains Brooks Anderson, who co-owns the 75-seat bar with his brother Bradley.
Veritas Wine Room offers 400 to 450 wines by the bottle, and 25 to 30 by the glass, but there is no menu for the former. “If we like a wine, we buy it, we do not necessarily wait for a spot on the wall to open up, [or] wait to run out of something,” Anderson says. “Regarding what to uncork, everything is fair game.” In other words, it’s at the whim of what they feel like drinking.
Recent glass pours included the crisp, snappy 2016 Le Jade picpout de pinet from France’s Languedoc region ($10 a glass), the 2014 Zahel Orange T ($15 a glass) from Austria, made with orangetraube, a rare German grape that gives the wine hints of orange blossom and an oily texture, and the 2012 Vinum Cellars petit sirah ($10 a glass), a powerful wine with black plums and violets. The bar also offers a Coravin selection, generally a rare or higher-end wine, available by the half glass or glass.
Guests can nibble on a rotating selection of meat and cheese boards, including a Texan ($17) with Wenzel Smoked Gruyere, A Bar N Ranch Wagyu Beef Dry Smoke Sausage Wenzel and Lonestar Meat Co. Jagerwurst. Several times a year, the bar offers Veritas Wine Room Supper Clubs.
Anderson has definitely seen the Dallas wine scene shift over the years; when they opened, it was all about Napa cab—even in the middle of summer. “Nowadays, the pendulum has shifted to seasonally appropriate wines,” he notes.
Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer and wine educator in the Washington, D.C. area.