Bowen House Trades Vintage Skirts for Chicken Wings
Trading Vintage Skirts for Chicken Wings
A familiar Uptown shop is reinvented through booze and bar food.
Uptown was dealt a bit of a blow when Michael Longcrier announced he would be closing his business. For more than 30 years, his store offered shoppers what was regarded as Dallas' best-curated collection of vintage clothing and accessories. Ahab Bowen was where one came to score a gently loved Ramones tee, an eclectic dress or maybe a fedora fashioned long ago at the Adam Hats building across town. But rising costs snuffed out the vintage shop.
Two years later, Pasha Heidari's announcement that the quaint little house on Boll Street would become an 1800s-style saloon sounded like a decent concession. Heidari had recently opened the Kennedy Room, a quaint cocktail lounge across the street from Crescent Court. Just up the street, his Bowen House promised to build on the property's historic charm, engaging a similar vintage allure that made Ahab Bowen so endearing.
The colorful boas that hung from the front porch and tossed in the breeze are now gone, but the trademark forest green paint on the exterior remains. Inside, mannequins that once greeted customers at the door are replaced by a U-shaped bar with a few extra bar stools at either end. The walls are lapped in black and a glowing chandelier mimics the spears of light that descend from the ceiling of the AT&T Performing Arts Center. It feels a bit like Grandma's house, should you have been blessed with grandparents who collected art and vintage glassware. Perhaps Grandma liked to tipple a bit, too?
The bar room is small, which lends a quaint feel to the space in the early evenings when it's not too hard to grab a seat, but the space gets cramped later, sometimes uncomfortably so, as young drinkers come in to get drink after drink after drink.
You could order a Sazerac or a martini if it suits you, but the staff behind the bar would much rather whip up something special just for you. As is the trend these days, Bowen House offers custom mixology. Perhaps you'd like something with scotch, but not too sweet, or maybe you're craving gin and flavors that lean toward fruity. Or if you find the whole process too insufferable, you can order one of a few cocktails scrawled on a chalkboard at the end of the bar. That's what I did and ended up with a riff on a greyhound laced with lavender that was tinged pink and a little too sweet for my taste.
It was good enough to keep me interested, though, and if the food kept up with the drinking here, Bowen House could be a compelling home away from home. But what emerges from the kitchen from behind the bar is almost always mediocre. Sometimes it's dismal.
The hungry should trust in the burger, which was by far the best item I encountered. The thick patty arrived cooked as requested, on an English muffin with cheddar and seriously crunchy bacon. My last few bites were a mess — sopping with grease and burger juice — just as every burger should be. But the fries that shared the plate were straight from a freezer bag, fit for a school lunch tray or ballpark. Maybe ask for a side salad instead?
Chicken wings are served without anything for dipping. I asked for blue cheese dressing and was given a shallow bowl of liquid that looked like butter and blue cheese that had been whisked together over high heat to make a slurry. The broken sauce wouldn't cling to the wings, which was a shame because it packed a ton of funky blue cheese flavor.
Even if the nachos were good, I'm left to wonder what they're doing alongside dry brisket sliders topped with desiccated bacon in a restaurant that focuses on craft cocktails, with coupes and other formal glassware. The food doesn't match the black and white art that hangs on the walls. It doesn't fit the tenor of the place. It is as if the menu at some rural tavern were given some window dressing and moved to the big city, and not much of it is very good.
Dishes that reach further only further disappoint. Crabcakes loaded with as much breading as shellfish are piled on a bed of what the menu promises is risotto but is not. This is rice that has given up nearly every drop of moisture and every shred of hope. It chews like tiny Chiclets. The sirloin is better, rubbed with spices and cooked to a turn, but the fried mac and cheese side tastes like more of that risotto, shaped into large Chiclets shapes and then breaded and deep-fried.
None of these dishes resonate with the space, which is quaint, elegant and full of character. Why not offer a plate of olives cooked in ouzo, with lemon zest and thyme or some gently warmed Marcona almonds? They'd fit right in alongside the cheese plate that makes sense in a cocktail bar, where customers dressed up for a Friday evening sip from fluted glassware.
They're not all drinking from the top shelf, though. There are a number of beers on tap including a few local brews and Budweiser. Chat up the engaging staff and order a cold beer and that burger and you might leave Bowen House with a good impression. Customers who focus on the drinks might leave similarly pleased. That's what most of them seem to be doing, anyway. The quaint little house on Boll Street is an attractive place to tie one on, but drink before you eat.
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