Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
"Mixologist" has always seemed such a pretentious term. Bartender wasn't good enough? Did a bunch of drink-slingers attend a doctoral program in mixology at Johns Hopkins? Pfft. At least we used to think that way until we met Gabe Sanchez, owner of Black Swan Saloon and winner of two other "bests" in this issue — for introducing pickle shots to the city and creating his watermelon-infused vodka and club soda. Mixologist? How about "alcohological alchemist?" With its large glass jars of house-made fruit and veggie infusions, Sanchez's narrow, woody saloon, tucked on a Deep Ellum street corner, has the vibe of a medieval chemist's lab (a very cool, inviting lab). Tell him how your tastes run, and he'll whip out various liquids, infusions, ice cream, pixie dust, whatever and whip up something you've never had before but realize you've been hankering for all along. Alchemists searched vainly for the secret to turning dross into gold, but Sanchez has found something better: the recipes for liquid happiness. (Philospher's stone would make an excellent drink name, by the way.)
After opening with something of a whimper in the old Thin Room space amidst a flurry of other Deep Ellum bar openings back in early 2010, the Black Swan Saloon has since established itself as a go-to spot for patrons of all sorts — an especially impressive feat considering that the watering hole doesn't even so much as boast a sign alerting walkers-by of its existence. Credit much of the bar's success to owner and main barkeep Gabe Sanchez. Aside from maybe being the best bartender in town, he's always cooking up something new behind the bar, likely a new liquor infusion (try the strawberry-infused vodka or the apple- and cinnamon-infused Jim Beam). But where Sanchez really made his mark was in bringing the Brooklyn-born trend of offering pickle juice chasers for whiskey shots to Dallas. It's crazy how it works, immediately balancing out any burn or taste from your whiskey of choice. We think it's in the pH balance, maybe? Not sure. But we do know this: Shortly after the Swan started doing this, every other bar in town started offering the same thing, claiming that they'd always done it. Nope. We're calling bullshit. And ordering another round from Sanchez while we're at it.
Having a well-edited selection of reasonably priced wines is quite the challenge for a wine bar, but that's exactly what Vino 100 has achieved. With more than a hundred wines priced $25 or less, the wine bar makes the perfect spot for a weekend gathering with friends or a late business meeting with a finicky wine connoisseur. If you can't decide which varietal to pick or which cabernet is robust enough for your palate, just ask one of their trusty wine experts for advice. The staff won't steer you wrong. And don't skip on the cheese plate.
It's great that the cool shops and restaurants in the Bishop Arts District and the area around the Kessler Theater are drawing people to the neighborhood. Unfortunately, almost all of them close by 10 or 11 p.m., leaving little to do for night owls (like the people who work at those restaurants and shops) and giving the appearance that North Oak Cliff rolls up the sidewalks well before midnight. But if you want to keep the candle burning after the yuppies head back across the river to stop the babysitter meter from running, head to Tradewinds Social Club some night — any night, really, as it's open till 2 a.m. seven days a week. It's a dive and proud of it, with a ratty pool table, a possibly functional shuffleboard table and a diverse clientele that could charitably be called eclectic. You might witness a fight, you might hear bad music on the jukebox and you might cock an eyebrow at the mismatched glassware and furniture, or you might dance with hipsters and hear a great DJ set or live band. Either way, it beats going home.
Musicians, trust us on this. If you or your band can pull off a set that's even the least bit rootsy, folky or country, you owe yourself at least one show at the AllGood Cafe. Owner Mike Snider is a long-time supporter of Texas music, as the awesome collection of signed gig posters bedecking the place can attest, and he knows how to treat musicians right. That means not only a fair cut of the money from the door (as in, all of it) and a generous bar tab, but a meal as well. For everyone in the band. We're partial to the chicken-fried steak, which consistently pops up on best-of lists including this one, though the chicken nachos are great as well, and there are great options for non-carnivores too. The stage isn't the biggest in town and while the sound system is fine, you may have to tweak the levels yourself. But the experience can't be beat. Just be sure to put something in the servers' tip jar at the end of the night — they'll treat you like the most important guest in the house, whether your set merits it or not.
You old-timers need to quit it with your Trees-was-better-back-in-the-day horse manure. Just stop it. Right now. Yes, Radiohead played there once upon a time. Sure, Nirvana too. Others as well, we're told. News flash: Radiohead is not going to be playing a 600-capacity venue again any time soon. The next Radiohead? Just maybe, if we're lucky. But here's the thing: If such an up-and-coming act does play Trees this time around, they'll sound way better now than they ever possibly could have back then. Why? Because Trees' sound system is way better now than it ever was. Owners Clint and Whitney Barlow have the place set up with the same exact sound system as the House of Blues' — only in a venue a third of the size. You literally shake when the bass comes in. It's glorious. There's a reason why the best hip-hop, electronic and metal shows all happen here. Just be sure to bring some earplugs — it's definitely loud. Loud enough to drown out the haters, if you think about it.