At Oak Cliff's Wild Detectives, Beer, Snacks and Something They're Calling "Books"
There are alive trees outside and dead ones inside.
As you approach Wild Detectives in the Bishop Arts District, it quickly becomes apparent that you're not approaching just another Oak Cliff bar. The fresh terra cotta paint on the front porch and quaint seating on the lawn is inviting, and the lighting is subdued and enticing. The 1940s-built house is quiet inside, a din of hushed chatter, and there are these odd papery things arranged carefully on shelves along the walls. If it weren't for the amber glasses of beer in every other hand, and perhaps the occasional glass of wine, you'd have no idea you were in a bar at all. You might even think it was an independent bookstore, if Dallas believed in such things.
Paco Vique and Javier Garcia del Moral wanted to give Oak Cliff a gift born of their Spanish roots. Tipos Infames, a bookstore and wine bar located in the heart of Madrid, married a love of literature and oenophilia to create a cultural hub for locals. Vique and Moral, who had crossed paths several times all over the globe as civil engineers before both landing in Dallas, hoped to create something similar here. They just had to figure out how to get their idea past a ton of red tape at City Hall.
They settled on a small house on 8th Street, just beyond the bustle of Bishop Avenue, and began their elaborate dance with the city to secure permits for a business that served wine and beer, coffee and food, and also tripled as a bookstore. They needed food-handling and TABC permits, private club licenses and parking variances — a compliance gauntlet they say they navigated with a particular zen because they weren't restaurateurs trying to open a business to just make money. They were engineers building their little Oak Cliff salon as a self-sufficient place in which they could hang out with their friends. You're invited, too.
There's no kitchen at Wild Detectives, but there is food. Vique and Moral have visions of someday serving tapas, but for now they've wandered around Dallas collecting exemplary snack food. There's a cheese board from Scardello featuring Spanish cheeses including a creamy Caña de Cabra, salty Roncal that's a bit like manchego and a funky blue Valdeón. There are pastries from Rush Patisserie, including muffins, pain au chocolat and impossibly flaky croissants that can be turned into chicken salad sandwiches should you want something heavier. There is pie, sweet, glorious, over-the-top pie from Emporium Pies, just down the street, and there are olives and other salty snacks to nibble on. When and if they do finally arrive, the tapas will be nothing like the bastardized, small-plate marathons commonly served at restaurants in the States. Tapas aren't a thing to eat as much as they are a way of eating, according to Vique, who describes a procession of small snacks meant for casual grazing.
For a glimpse, order a cañas of your favorite beer. "Drink the Spanish way!" the menu board above the bar implores. The Spanish way is a good way, it turns out: a 6-ounce pour of your choice (there are six on tap that always rotate and are always local) and a tiny thimble of snack mix, featuring those wasabi-laced baked snacks replaced with boquerones, anchovies marinated in vinegar and olive oil, or paper-thin slices of jamón. Tapas aren't as much about the act of consumption as they are exciting the palate. They are something to indulge before you hit a restaurant for a meal, or before you hit another place that serves more tapas down the street.
But don't rush out the door just yet. If you don't linger here, you might miss the whole point of visiting the Wild Detectives. The café got its name from the Balaño novel Los Detectives Salvajes, which "is more than just a book," according to Vique. As he describes the eclectic cast of characters from the novel he might as well be describing the customers who gather at tables and mingle along the bar.
In my week hanging out there, I met a French expat who found a home in Texas after a 10-year layover in London. I met a former music writer who now trades in energy, and a musician who dabbles in brewing beer. I met an actor with a mild RPG addiction. In other words, no one boring. Wild Detectives has a way of collecting people who collect life experiences, which is exactly what Vique and Moral hoped to do when they wanted to open up something different in the Bishop Arts District.
"The place has to be very dynamic," Vique says. "We want people to come with ideas, and share their thoughts." They've been hosting musical performances, book signings and other events to keep the dialogue flowing, and hope to one day become a hub of creativity for the community. Participation is hardly necessary, though. You don't have to be a published poet to get along here at all. "Maybe you can just come, have a drink and go," adds Moral.
Just make sure you thumb through the stacks before you leave. The shelves boast a collection that is far more intimate and interesting than your traditional bookstore. It's a bit like perusing the shelves in someone's home, where every other title is an old friend you forgot you loved, and the next is a new book with the potential to become your next passionate affair. There are scores of books filled with poetry and a handful of graphic novels. There are collections of short stories and novels by Kerouac, Ginsberg, Kafka, Burroughs and more. There are even a few copies of The Savage Detectives strewn about. You can pick it up and page through a cast of characters as they describe decades worth of interactions with the Visceral Realists Ulises Lima and Arturo Belan. Or you can lift your eyes and drink in, and maybe even with, the cast of fully formed characters right before you.
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