Another big coup for Dallas on the national cocktail front: Bar Smyth has been chosen to compete in this year’s bar-versus-bar-versus bar cage match at next month’s annual Tales of the Cocktail conference in New Orleans.
Smyth’s selection to the so-called Bare Knuckle Bar Fight gives the months-old lounge another dose of national publicity in the short time since it opened earlier this year in the Knox-Henderson neighborhood. In March, Vogue magazine cited the new venture from Michael Martensen and Brian Williams – co-owners of The Cedars Social – as a factor in naming Dallas one of the four “buzziest cultural capitals” in the world alongside Lisbon, Toronto and Istanbul.
Smyth will go up against seven other competitors: Polite Provisions (San Diego), Sweat Leaf (Queens, NY), Broken Shaker (Miami), The Daily (New York City), Barrel House Flat (Chicago) and Citizen Pub (Boston).
This year’s bar battle royale is unusual in the sense that the establishments chosen to compete are typically seasoned entities with some mileage under their tires. It’s part of a new focus on new and upcoming bars, a philosophy espoused by the event’s new host, The 86 Co., which launched a new line of spirits earlier this year.
Surely it helped that Dallas bartender extraordinaire Jason Kosmas is among The 86 Co.’s ringleaders, putting Smyth and its smooth 1970s vibe that much closer to the national radar. “It’s usually the biggest and best that get the acclaim,” Kosmas said. “But (this year’s contestants) will be the ones that get no acclaim.”
But Smyth’s bartenders – including Omar Yeefoon, Josh Hendrix, Trina Nishimura and Mate Hartai – are among the best in Dallas’ come-of-age craft-cocktail culture. They’ll help Smyth represent at the annual event, which in essence is a massive wall-to-wall party of 1,000 people with competing bar staffs scattered throughout a gi-normous space, judged for character, quality, originality and speed in a frenzied atmosphere.
“They’re going up against some real talent,” Kosmas said. And this year’s focus will be riffs on the classics, daring each bar staff to not adhere too closely nor to venture too far from the original formula. “It was, like, these events have to outdo themselves every year,” he said. “We figured, let’s just go back to the basics.”
Bars are also expected to recreate in some small form the character of their actual establishment. Last year, for instance, Seattle’s Rob Roy brought along its signature deer-hoof lamp.
“We’re flattered,” Smyth’s Martensen said. “Our brains are already working. Do we show up with vinyl records?”
The team will no doubt have some tricks up its sleeve, and perhaps one surprising advantage: Bar Smyth is the only one of the seven competing bars that doesn’t have a Web site. Added Martensen: “Now that our wheels are spinning, now that we know who we’re competing against…. We can see what they do. ”
“We’re excited,” Yeefoon added. “Bring it.”