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Dallas' 10 Best Cocktail Bars

The Lavender Hill at Bolsa
The Lavender Hill at Bolsa
Catherine Downes

It's Drinking Week at City of Ate, which means even more stories than usual about our favorite pastime. Check back for more stories about craft beer, killer bartenders and more.

We're square in the middle of a major shift in the way we think about booze. Syrupy appletinis and cosmopolitans have been replaced with intricate craft cocktails, and they certainly aren't poured by any old "bartender." You must mean mixologist. You pretty much look like a loser ordering a vodka cranberry at this point in the cocktail's renaissance, so it's essential that you get out to one of these ten excellent cocktail spots to broaden your horizons. Listed, as always, in no particular order.

Bolsa (above) If you find yourself in need of an after-dinner cocktail or a place to do some serious day-drinking, there's something for everyone on this menu. Keep it simple with a swirl of the restaurant's weekly housemade jam and good gin, or get really complicated with the Clean Slate. If you're a drinker of simple tastes, you may not recognize the Dom Benedictine or Pierre Ferrand, but you're probably going to enjoy it just the same.

See also: Watch a Bolsa Bartender Make a Cocktail (Video)

*****
Whatcha drinkin?
Whatcha drinkin?
file photo

The Cedars Social After cocktail guru Michael Martensen departed The Cedars Social, there was a lot of concern over whether or not this spot would be able to survive without its creative force. Fortunately, booze whiz-in-his-own-right Sonny Bonasera stepped in to create some really interesting cocktails for the flailing spot. Cedars Social has maintained its spot as one of the best places in Dallas to get a drink, no matter your poison. The cocktail menu changes with the seasons, and an always-changing weekly special features fresh produce from purveyors like Tom Spicer.

*****
One of each, please.
One of each, please.
via Victor Tangos

Victor Tangos A few years ago the bar at this Henderson Ave institution had a reputation for being a little stuffy. Then bartender Alex Fletcher came along and turned it into laboratory for experimentation with his intricately flavored cocktails. Few in the city have Fletcher's pedigree, and his creativity shines all over the beverage menu. Skip the restaurant's signature Pepper Smash and get adventurous, maybe with a Lost In Translation, which Fletcher makes with a mushroom-thyme demerara and candied shiitakes. If you have a big group of friends, spring for a punch bowl. The traditional pisco punch is a great way to drink away an afternoon.

*****

 

This bar had a book club. For real.
This bar had a book club. For real.
Lauren Drewes Daniels

Black Swan Saloon The geniuses behind the bar at Black Swan are constantly coming up with delicious new ways to get you (and me) drunk. When they're not infusing everything from savory herbs to cinnamon candies into spirits, they're hunting down rare whiskeys and European liqueurs. The menu is constantly changing and difficult to nail down at Black Swan, but if mixologist Gabe Sanchez made your drink, it's probably going to be the best drink you've ever had. Until you order the next one.

*****

The Porch You're only as elegant as the booze you drink, and the cocktails at The Porch are certainly sophisticated. You won't find a lot of crazy ingredients or techniques borrowed from molecular gastronomists, but you will find a solid menu of cocktails that are expertly made with no pretense. Margarita fans will appreciate the addition of seasonal fruit to their "farm-to-market" version, while whiskey lovers can appreciate the simple sweetness that apricot liqueur and peach bitters add to a shot of good bourbon.

*****
This. This should be in your mouth.
This. This should be in your mouth.
Catherine Downes

Windmill Lounge Sometimes the best cocktails are hidden in the most unexpected of places. Windmill Lounge isn't your average trendy joint, and neither are the cocktails. Last year, Esquire named Windmill one of the best bars in the country, and for good reason. The owners are dedicated to old-school, pre-Prohibition era cocktails, but they're always shaking up something new behind the bar. If you're new to cocktails beyond a vodka-cranberry, let the friendly staff here ease you into a whole new, sophisticated era of drinking too much.

*****

 

Beer is an okay choice. Cocktails are better.
Beer is an okay choice. Cocktails are better.
file photo

Lark On The Park If you somehow haven't found an excuse to make your way downtown to Klyde Warren Park, the drinks at Lark On The Park will put it near the top of your priority list. The view of the park is great, but the booze inside is even better. Even seasoned fans of snooty drinks will be surprised by creative takes on cocktails with influences near and far, like the kiwi-infused cachaca that shows up in Lark's interpretation of a Brazilian caipirinha, or a savory Hangin' In The Kitchen, made with basil, cherry tomatoes, and red pepper.

*****
Pimm's please. Another, too.
Pimm's please. Another, too.
Catherine Downes

Gemma With such a focus on perfectly balanced dishes, it's no surprise that the cocktail menu at Gemma is equally precise. In any given cocktail, you'll find plenty of locally grown ingredients, but owners Allison Yoder and Stephen Rogers have brought some influences from their time in California to the menu at their Henderson Avenue restaurant. Most creatively, No. 209 gin, a small-batch spirit made in San Francisco, is infused with beets and mixed with ginger beer and mint for a drink that is just made for hot Texas summers. Negroni, the trendy cocktail du jour, is also a particularly strong choice, especially if you've been craving a version that is simple and straightforward.

*****
Doesn't this look like the kind of place you'd do the best drinking of your life at?
Doesn't this look like the kind of place you'd do the best drinking of your life at?
file photo

The Standard Pour If you think nothing interesting is going on in Uptown, you're missing out on some seriously great cocktails. At The Standard Pour, the menu is so long and diverse that even people who don't think they like cocktails can find something to sip. If you think craft cocktails are just a trend, old-school libations like the Sazerac, Aviation, and Cuba Libre might change your mind. If you're really looking for something new, check out the section for "adventurous imbibers" at the bottom of your menu. Your first experience with a Gringo In A Pine Box, made with artisanal mezcal, Zirbenz pine liqueur, and burnt rosemary is one of those things that you're never going to forget. In a good way.

*****
This drink is smoking. Literally.
This drink is smoking. Literally.
file photo

The Woolworth When you're walking into a joint with a name like The Woolworth, you can rest assured that highly detailed cocktails await you on the other side of the door. This is the kind of place where interesting people and people who aspire to be interesting drink, maybe while they talk about their next gallery opening or upcoming novel. Even the simple syrups here are interesting, infused with cumin, toasted almond and peach, or pumpkin and apple cider vinegar. If you aren't sure what to order, close your eyes and point. There, you've made the perfect choice.


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