The bar at On Premise is a study in contradictions. The "steampunk" aesthetic, with its minimalism, metal gears and exposed filament lighting, is broken up by shiny, faux-gator banquettes. The crowd is equally disparate, ranging from dining families to drunk people who've just caught their second winds. By the time you find a relatively quiet spot at the bar, you're dying for a decent cocktail — preferably one strong enough to drown out the 1980s rock on the radio and that guy who's yelling loudly about his fantasy league.
Either way, once you've cozied into your spot, making a decision on a cocktail is not easy. In case you haven’t noticed — don't let the 95-degree temperatures fool you, it’s fall. The seasons are changing, and that means you’re going to see many more fall-inspired cocktails across Dallas bar menus. Generally that’s a good thing — swapping light and fruity punches for spirit-forward, warming drinks is great when the weather has turned cold, but it can also result in some pretty terrible flavor combinations.
At On Premise, there seems to be some heavy-handed attempt to shove the entirety of fall into a single glass with The Last Dragon. The cocktail program is simple and heavily influenced by Asian flavors, but this drink has no nuance. That's largely the fault of the cocktail’s base spirit, Stoli Applik, which is misspelled on the menu. The apple flavor is prominent, but the rest is lost in translation.
Vodka is generally derided by fancy dranks enthusiasts, and for good reason — it doesn’t add a bit of flavor. Still, knowing that plenty of folks are afraid of gin or stay away from brown liquor, it remains on even the best cocktail menus. In an even worse position are flavored vodkas, generally a no-no in the cocktail world thanks to their crappy additives and syrupy-sweet flavors.
Stoli Applik is relatively good, though, considering the other terrible flavored vodkas it stands against. It is sweet, but the Gala apple flavor is clean and an excellent companion to the mint-galangal syrup that lends yet more sweetness to this cocktail. Where things go wrong, though, is when the St. George Spiced Pear “Liquer” (we’re assuming they mean liqueur, but that’s a minor quibble) is poured into the glass. The cinnamon and clove infused into it are fine on their own, but when added to the Applik, the combination is more than overwhelming.
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The name “dragon” suggests there might be some heat in this cocktail. Nope. The spice of galangal is watered down almost entirely, and it could benefit from a little chili-based heat. Sweet and spicy are an excellent combination in cocktails, and apple and baking spice would pair particularly well with something fiery. This is a missed opportunity given the cocktail’s name and flavor profile.
Mexican apple soda, likely Manzanita, adds another unnecessary sweet note. In this cocktail, mint, pear, two flavors of apple and galangal are all duking it out for palate supremacy, and that syrupy-sweet fake apple does nothing to smooth out the gustatory cacophony. After a few sips, you start to feel as if you’re drinking a boozy Christmas candle. Perhaps if the vodka were house-infused with baking spice and the pear brandy were just eliminated altogether, this cocktail could be something much more delicious. This could be a great cocktail, it just isn't.
The Last Dragon tastes a lot like a metaphor for the new Deep Ellum. In the past, the area has been cluttered with dive bars and the occasional craft cocktail standout, like Black Swan Saloon. On Premise’s bar menu has a few surprises — a cocktail made with Thai tea, chili syrup and rum is perhaps the most nuanced on the menu — but generally shoots straight up the middle. No doubt, the influx of suburbanites and Deep Ellum newbies will appreciate this very blunt approach to fall cocktails. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and call it a craft cocktail — that just doesn’t seem to apply here.
On Premise is relatively new to the Deep Ellum scene, and it has plenty of barriers to overcome. The food menu is certainly not your typical bar fare, and the cocktails have plenty of bizarre ingredients that would easily scare away less adventurous drinkers. But in trying so thoroughly to play to the middle, On Premise has created a cocktail that is easy to skip.