Pours without pretense: Are Dallas cocktail bars keeping it real (casual)?

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Windmill Lounge's Charlie Papaceno

The Windmill's Charlie Papaceno: Unpretentious before it was cool.

Interesting story yesterday from The New York Times, which notes the number of craft cocktail joints popping up around the country that are striving for a more casual vibe. These places, the article says, are “part of what is shaping up as a fresh chapter for high-end mixology: a new breed of cocktail bar that seeks to retain the profession’s hard-won artistry while shedding the pretensions that often come with it.”

In other words, the complete opposite of cocktail culture’s stuffy stereotype – things like secret entrances, purposely subtle signage, bans on canned beer and rules against standing at the bar.

But for the most part, when it comes to serious craft cocktails, Dallas ain’t that kind of place anyway. Even The Cedars Social, which this year earned a prestigious James Beard nom for best bar program, has made a habit of stocking Lone Star and Pabst Blue Ribbon in a can for a crowd as likely to come in wearing T-shirts and jeans as much as stiletto heels and Saturday Night sport jackets.

Another draw of these casual bars, the story notes, is their bartenders’ ability to rapidly churn out quality craft drinks for dense crowds without the pomp and production that can often leave you wanting. In other words, what Uptown’s Standard Pour and Tate’s – neither of them exactly hidden away – do on a regular basis for the weekend throngs full of yuppies who thirst more for a quick buzz than for obscure cocktail knowledge.

(Neither place is particularly stuffy, either, though it must be noted that in Standard Pour’s earlier days Tate’s own head barman J.W. Tate was turned away at the door because of the cap he wore backwards on his head.)

As far as strict, quality-cocktail casual goes, these places already exist here: Charlie Papaceno at the divey Windmill Lounge on Maple has been crafting classic drinks since before it was a thing in Dallas. The Black Swan Saloon in Deep Ellum is anything but fancy, and the pubby Libertine on Lower Greenville has Mate Hartai, one of the better cocktailian minds around.

Granted, none of these spots went into business proclaiming themselves to be craft cocktail bars, so maybe the comparison is unfair. But pretension doesn’t go very far in Dallas’ cocktail culture, and so far, the jury is still out on whether people will stand, in line or in temperament, for even the tiniest bit of speakeasy pretension. (I’m looking at you, Bar Smyth.)  There’s something genuine about the scene here that evades the haughtiness that comes with being first. New York and the Bay Area no doubt paved the way for the country’s classic cocktail revival, but those cities are now also, according to the story, discovering the value in being a little less like themselves and a little more, well, like Dallas.

“I do think there are some bartenders out there that have a pretentiousness about them,” says Chris Dempsey of The People’s Last Stand. “But they’re quick to change once they see it affect their business. Most of the guys I know are humble and knowledgeable, which is a pretty good combo, if you ask me.”

What do you think? Do you find Dallas’ cocktail bars pretentious? What do you think about bars that take a “speakeasy’ approach?

— Marc Ramirez, @typewriterninja

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1 Comment

  1. It doesn’t matter how you dress them up, they are just a bar. Alcoholics, drunks and rude people that one would not normally be seen with.