Settle Up is a column that critiques cocktail bars with the same gravitas that food critics apply to restaurants, exploring Dallas' cocktail concepts, menus, execution and service and steering discerning imbibers toward all the booze that’s fit to drink.
Have you seen the bar stools at Harlowe MXM? You should see the bar stools at Harlowe MXM. I have been talking about the bar stools at Harlowe MXM, a new bar in Deep Ellum, for weeks. The seats appear to levitate in midair. They are affixed to the side of the bar with an iron hinge. You can swing them in and out. They are truly amazing.
OK, the bar stools are a very small detail of Harlowe MXM. But thoughtful elements like these well-designed bar stools, plus creative drink presentations and a meticulous attention to the vibe, make this bar the slickest new place to drink in town.
Harlowe MXM — from the team behind Henry’s Majestic and Atwater Alley — is not really a bar. It is a compound composed of several distinct spaces linked through outdoor corridors and staircases along Main Street. There’s a restaurant, a patio, a dedicated cocktail bar (where the bar stools are) and a rooftop bar. When the weather was warmer, the rooftop was a charming spot to sip frozen Aperol spritzes and dance to Mickey Avalon jams.
Now that the temperature is dipping down into the 60s (brrr!), more people are crowding into the ground-level, inside bar, informally referred to as Trick Pony. The space is stunning and, in my opinion, the coolest-looking bar in Dallas. My camera roll has, like, 80 photos of the bar stools alone. A horseshoe-shaped bar is the focal point, and its backdrop is an exposed brick wall tagged with graffiti.
Trick Pony has a rotating cocktail menu; currently it is Bill Murray-themed. The drinks are playful and include unusual ingredients such as butterfly pea flowers, a plant that naturally turns your drink blue. It’s fun. Some of the drinks, though, verge on being silly. Take Groundhog Day ($18), for example. It is one drink, bartender’s choice, served to you three times. That’s why it costs $18. It’s a cute idea, but if you don’t like the drink — or, like me, you like to try a bunch of things in one sitting — you’re stuck reliving it over and over again.
The Lost in Translation ($12), however, is a drink you’d want to experience more than once. This mix of Japanese whiskey, fortified wine and mushroom-infused sugar is an easy-sipping delight. It relies heavily on the vermouth, so the hard alcohol doesn’t overpower and the burn doesn’t linger. It finishes dry, so you want to keep going back for more. (A version of this drink was available at Victor Tango’s not so long ago.)
I was perplexed by the garnish, though: a sprig of rosemary laid across the vintage glass. It smells nice, but I wasn’t really sure what to do with it. Do I drop it into the glass before I take a sip? Sniff it and then set it politely on the napkin? It could have been served with a word of instruction.
Another delicious drink with an even more ambitious arrangement was Cigarettes and Coffee ($10). The drink comes in two parts: The first is a mug of cold brew-infused aged tequila, smoked vermouth and bitters. It is super mellow and smooth. The second part, which the server sets down next to the mug, is a glass ashtray. It has a candy cigarette in it, and the bottom of the ashtray is sprinkled with chocolate powder to resemble ashes.
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The presentation really gives you the urge to stay up late, invest in a typewriter and start banging out a novel. Love it. And the drink is great. But what the heck are you supposed to do with this ashtray? If you tell me something is edible, like these ashes, I’m going to try to eat it. Should I lick them off the bottom of the ashtray? I’m not opposed to the idea of licking an ashtray, but a more civilized human being may be.
Not every drink here, of course, needs to be served with an instruction manual. But the fact that some of them could be is evidence of the ambition this place has. Harlowe MXM wants to wow us and create a space worthy of revisiting and exploring again and again. I, for one, am impressed. I mean, c’mon, have you seen the bar stools?
Harlowe MXM, 2823 Main St. Open 4 p.m. to midnight Tuesday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 12 a.m. Sundays. Closed Mondays.