By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
A city of sober club hoppers, their vision unimpaired, would doom the latex industry--and that's just one scenario. Envision Deep Ellum lined with antique shops, NASCAR fans sitting up suddenly and blurting, "Hey, them cars is just going around in circles," literature professors finally admitting Steinbeck could have ditched the turtle chapter, Russians...nope, can't imagine sober Russians. Even worse, clean-living suburban families would descend upon restaurant clusters like Knox-Henderson, demanding big-ass homes, segregated schools and kid-friendly chain establishments.
Such dire images bear out the sage words of Chris O'Hagan, Dallas aficionado of all things alcoholic: "A bartender is more than just a sack of protoplasm slinging intoxicants."
25 Highland Park Village
Dallas, TX 75205
Region: Park Cities
1930 Greenville Ave.
Dallas, TX 75206
Category: Bars and Clubs
Region: East Dallas & Lakewood
8201 Preston Road, #100
Dallas, TX 75225
Region: Park Cities
855 W. John Carpenter Freeway
Irving, TX 75039
Region: Irving & Las Colinas
4217 Oak Lawn Ave.
Dallas, TX 75219
Region: Uptown & Oak Lawn
Bartenders play a varied, but nonetheless significant role in our lives: confidant, foil, friend, fantasy or servant. "You're a familiar face, a psychologist, someone serving drinks--everything," says Jessica Sheridan, who slings intoxicants at Patrizio's in Highland Park Village. "You are expected to know a little about movies, sports and the stock market."
Each year we ask close to 400 people representing different age groups and income categories about the bartenders they encounter. From these informal surveys we glean names, physical descriptions and random observations regarding skill or anything else of import to bar patrons. Our list, then, includes high-volume slingers, knowledgeable conversationalists, those quick to refill a drink and every type of bartender in between. Finally, we spend a few weeks double-checking our information, a thorough process during which the Burning Question crew consumed about 500 drinks, borrowed sick days several years in advance, familiarized ourselves with the feel of porcelain and slurred pickup lines to other patrons, waitstaff and at least one ornate lamppost.
Who, then, are this year's best bartenders in Dallas?
Ben Caudle, Martini Ranch: Caudle is, quite simply, a great bartender--knowledgeable, intense and almost resolute. Unlike many of the others, he's not quick to smile or flatter a customer. But if you want a great drink, or a lesson in alcohol or the culture of drinking, he's a good person to know.
Matthew, Samba Room: We refer to Matthew as the poet laureate of Dallas nightlife--a tribute to his insight and knowledge of culture, philosophy, business and other things academic. But he's skillful and pragmatic. "It's never been about just one-on-one service," he says. "It's, ëHow do you keep the right people coming back?' A good bartender keeps it from drying up. That's the only way I know to bartend."
Adam Salazar, Reservoir (Wednesday), Seven (Saturday), other places in between: Other bartenders refer to Salazar with a certain amount of awe. "Where Adam is, that's where you want to work," observes Chris Michael of Bali Bar. Salazar excels in high-volume environments, moving with ease through the chaos, serving flawlessly, tending bar on busy nights at several establishments.
Scott Blythe, Whisky Bar: Blythe knows whiskey. If you visit before the crowds, he can walk you through the pedigree of a hundred or more types--the perfect bartender for a Saturday afternoon of scotch and conversation. Yet he excels when the mob descends on Whisky Bar. "Texas-OU, New Year's Eve, I've never seen Scott melt down," claims bar manager Jordan Lowery. "In fact, that's when he's usually at his funniest."
Phil Natale, Sense: Sense is a members-only VIP club. In order to linger awhile with Natale, we tried posing as washed-up, has-been athletes, but management refused to believe we were the Rangers' bullpen. Status matters little to Natale, who sets the mood anytime he slides behind the bar. "It's about atmosphere, service, innovation, ideas," he says. "It's about incorporating the newest and best with my own personal touch and philosophy."
He just makes customers feel at home.
This kind of conviviality quickly becomes dangerous. "I'm the host of the party," explains Danny Versfelt of Al Biernat's. "If I'm having a good time, then the customer is having a good time--and I'm making more money." It's no wonder, then, bartenders assign primacy to atmosphere, dismissing knowledge of alcohol as necessary but secondary. "At some level it's a sense of knowing you're there to make people happy," Bali Bar's Michael counsels. Understanding alcohol, recalling hundreds of recipes and placating the trendy are essential to proficient bartending, of course. "But a good bartender is not so much an expert in alcohol as an expert in people. If it were just about alcohol, you could buy a book."
James Pintello, Sevy's Grill: He works mostly during the day, thus serves diners at the bar as well as seasoned alcoholics. Pintello spent time in the Navy and regales customers with stories set in distant ports of call. Definitely the oldest bartender on the list, but he still moves with dexterity.
Ian Green, The Londoner: A quick-witted jester, Green welcomes regulars with sly insults and a sincere smile. He knows British ales well, naturally, and makes an evening standing at the bar as memorable as the alcohol will allow.
Mary Higby, The Bone: She is affable, but when you order a drink, her professionalism becomes evident. "This is a fast-paced bar," she says. "It's balls to the wall, 100 miles per hour, and when you stop, then you can breathe." She makes a damn good margarita, too.