Only an idiot would show up at The Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek’s valet stand in a totally trashed Toyota Yaris, but there I was. Even those of us who don’t have trust funds or hedge funds or any kind of funds deserve the occasional dose of opulence, especially on a rainy weekday. At this classic Dallas hotel’s storied bar, opulence is everything.
When you step up to the bar or hunker down in one of those cozy, velvet-covered banquettes, the lighting is so dim you don’t even notice that your shoes are looking a little tattered, or that you’re wearing yesterday’s jeans. If only for a few fleeting moments, you are an honorary 1-percenter. The still water brought to the table is imported from Canada and bottled like a screw-top wine. It probably costs $14, but no matter — you’re drinking at the Mansion, and tap water just won’t do.
At a place so iconic and, especially considering the bar’s lush Mad Men feel, you almost have to order an old fashioned. The only thing that would make it feel more authentically mid-century would be nicotine stains on the wall, and ashtrays on the table. The cocktails are simple and the drinks menu has few options, and the bar's take on a classic old fashioned doesn’t look much like any you’ve ever seen before, but Dr Pepper is involved. This addition to The Mansion's unique take on an old fashioned is inspired and likely strategic — adding Dr Pepper to a drink is a surefire way to ensure Texans love it, even if it generally doesn't have much place being mixed with good whiskey.
As one of most popular old-school cocktails, it isn’t easy to introduce a “fresh new take” on an old fashioned. Every bartender on the planet has played with the mixture of sugar, bourbon, bitters and citrus. Drinkers like old fashioneds because they know exactly what they’re going to get — a little sweet, a little smooth and enough bitter to round it all out. It’s an excellent formula that generally should not be messed with.
But the Dr Pepper old fashioned, mixed by The Mansion’s Lauren Festa, doesn’t play by any of those rules, and it's still one of the better versions in town. A syrup of prune and amaretto, to mimic the flavors of the classic soda pop, is poured into the glass first over several large cubes of specially carved ice from a local company. Yes, the hipster treasure that is artisanal ice has finally made its way to Dallas bars, and it is fantastic. The large, jagged-edge cubes melt beautifully into this cocktail, diluting it just enough to make it more drinkable than it should be.
After the syrup, Festa carefully measured a pour of 12-year-old Elijah Craig, a Kentucky bourbon made by Heaven Hill Distillery that is smooth and spicy enough to balance the sweetness. It is ultimately much sweeter than any other Old Fashioned that you’re likely to find, but in the most addictive way possible. A splash of real Dr Pepper, just like the kind they used to make in Waco, is poured over to finish. A prune, soaked in amaretto for three months, gently rests on top, skewered on a cocktail pick.
The prune garnish isn’t particularly aesthetically appealing, but once you’ve taken your first bite, you realize it is something special. Prune is one of the most characteristic of Dr Pepper’s blend of 26 flavors, even though they have always been cast away as something that old people eat to stay regular, but their mild sweetness is the perfect way to finish this drink. Perhaps, if we’re lucky, we will soon see these dried fruits making a comeback in the culinary world.
If you drink old fashioneds every day and are very particular about the bitter-to-sugary ratio, you’ll probably want to skip the Dr Pepper version here, and ask the bartender to make you something a little more traditional. If you don’t think you like whiskey cocktails, though, this could very well be the drink that changes your mind.
As we move into summer, a few of these in The Mansion’s well-chilled bar will be all you need to survive the heat. And at $12, it’s a much better investment than a few cans of PBR.