Dallas native Abraham Bebell previously kept spirits hopping at Cuba Libre and Victor Tango's, and now is the bar manager at the new Oak in the Design District. He's part of cadre of local bartenders that are rediscovering the old approach to booze.
I recently drank his booze and spoke words with him. Here are the words we spoke.
Last year you won a trip New York City to compete in the Manhattan Cocktail Contest. What were some of the highlights? The gala event was in a New York City library, which was really cool. They shut down the entire place and over 200 vendors set up microbars and everyone just walked around and sampled different things. They had Cirque de Soleil performers and fire shows, although I never saw a single book there. They ship them out for the event. It was the kind of party that could happen in New York.
And of course, I'm a typical Texas boy in the big city and they didn't tell me I needed to wear a suit and tie to the gala. I was wearing a t-shirt, blue jeans and boots. As we're pulling up I see everyone is dressed to the nines in gowns and tuxedos. So, I rushed back to the hotel, and my bags had actually been delayed and prayed my bags had shown up, which they had, but then I needed to iron my shirt and I ended up in a tiny broom closet trying to iron my shirt. I still wasn't as dressed up as I wanted, but it worked out.
Did you visit any good bars? White Star was a cool dive bar. But, Milk and Honey was by far the coolest place. We went at 2am on Sunday night and knocked and their non-descript door. I was able to talk my way in with a little name-dropping. It's this tiny bar with only two bartenders and one asked me what I liked and then said, "Okay. I'll be right back." A few minutes he brings back this amazing cocktail. It's real quiet in the bar and there are rules too, like no flash photography or cell phones or they'll kick you out.
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Let's talk about the local bar scene. Has it changed any in the past several years? For sure. It's just now coming to fruition. People are starting to ask for things like Moscow Mule, Sazerac and they're drinking more gin. There's a small army of local bartenders across town that are making really good cocktails and they're starting to have an affect. New places opening want to implement bar programs with more than just the basics. People are venturing out going to different neighborhoods to go to good bars, like the Cedars Social and places here in the Design District. It's great to see.
What's the most underrated drink ingredient? What should people try more often? Scotch, whiskey and bourbon. It's one of those things where people always say that they love vodka because it doesn't taste like anything. And I'm like, "Yeah, it doesn't taste like anything!" Bourbon has an amazing array of flavors and each product is a little different because they're all made differently. One may use this percentage of corn versus that or they use different American oak barrels or it's charred differently, which creates levels of depth and variations that are amazing. Congac is another one. Mixed properly it's an amazing cocktail. It's a sipping drink and you're suppose to take your time with it. Don't pound it down. Have one before dinner, then move to wine, then have an after dinner drink. They're not the kind of drinks you over-indulge in.
What's the more overrated drink ingredient? Vodka. It just doesn't taste like anything.
What's the signature drink here? The Might Oak. It has bourbon, mint, ginger, lemon, simple syrup and club soda. Simple idea, but properly executed it's wonderful.