BEST ROOFTOP BAR 2013 | Soda Bar at NYLO | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer
Catherine Downes

Sitting high atop NYLO Dallas Southside, the city's coolest new boutique hotel, is a bar that either exists on South Lamar Street or is actually some kind of quantum wormhole that transports patrons to Miami. Let's review the evidence. At Soda Bar, there are lounge chairs surrounding an infinity pool that appears to extend out into an unbroken horizon; a bar ringed with some kind of softly glowing LED light; and billowing curtains, suggesting a Caribbean opulence. Where the South Florida spell ends is at the view. It's often said that Bar Belmont offers one of the finest views of the Dallas skyline. But have you seen it from the south side?

Mike and Connie Hale raise chickens on their farm in Campbell, but not just any chickens. These chickens are hormone-free, antibiotic-free and pastured. The Hales go so far as to house their organically fed ladies in moveable yurts. Yes, yurts. They even process the chickens on-site, which means if you have a question about a Windy Meadows product, Mike Hale can answer it for you because he raised it from beginning to end. For the Hales, it's about providing a quality product you can't find in a typical grocery store. Luckily for you, you can find their chicken, broth, sausage and more in small grocery stores, farmers markets and restaurants around Dallas.

Bars are always changing. The stools, fixtures and walls might stay the same for decades, but the customers shift like sand. The Windmill Lounge has served all types, but these days it's a drink-maker's bar. Charlie Papaceno is the bartender's bartender, and though he's not behind the wood every night, he's a fixture here too. Don't be high maintenance and ask him what he makes well, just tell him what you want and you'll end up with a well-made drink. Papaceno stays loyal to classic recipes when he should, but he also throws you a subtle twist to keep things new. While other mixologists twirl their mustaches while telling you about specially procured cloves for their next bitters recipe, Papaceno is a simple craftsman. You're damn right that maraschino cherry is handmade, but he'd never say so unless you asked him.

They lied to you. You don't have to be caught in the rain to enjoy a piña colada. You just have to make happy hour at a strip mall that shares parking with the Kroger in Denton. If you're ordering the piña colada at El Matador, you don't have to play the sacrifice game that often comes with icy, sugary drinks elsewhere: flavor versus alcohol. You get both here. The piña colada is blended so smoothly that you could mistake it for a milkshake ... but a milkshake with a very, very important kick.

One of the hardest things to do when you're sick is to put on pants. When your fever is skyrocketing, every second feels like baby beavers have formed a dam in the part of your body that allows happiness to flow. You just have to make it to Black Swan, where you will discover Gabe Sanchez's hot toddy, aka healing elixir, is worth the effort of getting dressed. Apply this lemon-, honey- and clove-infused bourbon to what ails you as you listen to the bartender's Vegas stories. (They're all good.)

Just listen: If it's between the hours of 7 a.m. and 3 p.m., stop reading this and do what we tell you: Go to Village Baking Co.'s retail shop on University just a half a block east Central Expressway, RIGHT NOW. Buy something. Keep doing this every day so this little shop stays open forever because, swear to God, Dallas, if Village Baking ever goes away, we will slap the entire city. OK, sorry to be overwrought there, but our jones for Village Baking's flour, yeast and water artistry makes us a little jumpy between hits of sourdough. Baking demigod Clint Cooper had been making bread for local restaurants, hotels and grocery outlets for nearly a decade before he opened up this retail outlet last year, churning out baguettes, kouign amman, brioche, croissants and specialty loaves so good they'd tempt an angel to gluttony. So, obviously, we never stood a chance. We're not saying we're addicted to Cooper's wares, but we do have a question: If he can legally sell his pain au chocolate, why is heroin illegal?

Three hours a day, seven days a week, you can get a $10 pizza and $3 beer and sit on a patio perfectly situated to watch the Beautiful People of the West Village stroll by. And these are great pies and great suds — you'd expect nothing less from the folks who brought you Eno's Pizza Tavern. Normally $14 or $15, 15-inch pizzas with toppings ranging from back bacon, pineapple and jalapeño to toasted pistachio and goat cheese to lamb are yours for a sawbuck. And if you find the sausage too spicy, it's easy to soothe the burn with select "fire sale" draft beers at $3. The deal lasts 3 to 6 p.m. daily, so you can unwind after work, get your Saturday night started early or consider it the afterparty to your Sunday brunch.

The Foundry, the bar adjoining the outstanding fried-yardbird restaurant Chicken Scratch, is the first watering hole we think of when we want to do some day drinking on a beautiful weekend or sit under the strings of globe lights in the evening cool. It's expansive, with plenty of seating at picnic tables that can hold large parties. Shipping containers shelter couches and tables that make it feel like you're having a house party in public. The outdoor stage, made of shipping pallets, is gorgeous, curved like a rough-hewn wooden standing wave, and the concert booking is pretty solid, too. But the best part is how inviting it feels. Oak Cliff regulars, visiting suburbanites or out-of-towners, kids and dogs are all equally welcome.

Our 2012 winner for best ice cream, Carnival Barker, is just now tottering back into business after a successful Kickstarter campaign that helped them acquire a pasteurization machine required by state regulators. Denied our fave during the prime ice-cream-eating months by the heavy hand of The Man, we fell back this summer on our old standby and previous Best of Dallas winner, Paciugo. Sure, it's a chain, but let's not hold Paciugo's success against them. They serve up a mighty fine Italian gelato concocted of fresh fruits and all-natural ingredients in array of crème brûlée to violet with every stop in between. It's lightly sweet and refreshing, and it doesn't chew like bubble gum, unlike that of a certain 31-flavored chain we could name but won't. Best yet, gelato has far less fat and 100 percent of the flavor of American-style ice cream, and Paciugo lets you mix and match flavors in one cup. Less fat just means you can make it a really big cup. Or so we tell ourselves.

Catherine Downes

Let us stipulate that those with child and those without will forever diverge on whether kids should be permitted to stray from their coloring-book stations at our finer dining establishments. Let us momentarily table the matter, and instead celebrate a beautiful, sandy, sudsy middle ground called The Lot, known to its East Dallas neighbors as Like Elmo On Demand but With Tito's. A rustic bar and grill near White Rock Lake, The Lot serves up solid renditions of bar-food staples for kids (grilled cheese) and alleged adults (grilled cheese and beer). More important, its massive covered patio is flanked by a just-as-massive sandbox, which is studded with tires and bridges and other things from which your kid can go all WWE on an unwitting stranger-kid, while you, the day's Designated Kid Watcher, sip a bloody mary and think to yourself, Hey, why is that weird kid doing a leg-drop on that poor — uh oh, I gotta go.

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