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.
You cannot build a dive bar. Dive bars are formed slowly, like stalactites, after years of buildup of scuff marks, spilled beers and punched walls. One day, a bar is a standup neighborhood establishment where you may order a martini with ease, and the next, it has things growing from the ceiling and you only feel safe ordering straight whiskey.
The Parlor on Commerce, which opened in Deep Ellum in late 2016, has attempted to shortcut the natural dive bar aging process with surprisingly successful results. The dark bar is decked out with pre-aged wood: mismatched floor slats from an old gymnasium and a shiny bartop pieced together from a demolished boxcar. It plays Johnny Cash. It is decorated with a vintage, Playboy-themed pinball machine (R.I.P. Hugh), some out-of-place paintings of celebrities and that’s about it. The only thing behind the bar is a brick wall.
The bare-bones feel of the place makes you hesitant to order anything besides a Miller High Life. But the bartenders are warm, shaking your hand and introducing themselves — even the ones who aren’t tasked with serving you — before giving you a rundown of the extensive beer, whisk(e)y and mezcal selection, which includes 16 beers on tap and more than 100 bottles of Scotch, Japanese and American whisk(e)y. A safe behind the bar is stocked with the most valuable bottles, like decades-old Pappy, plus whatever else couldn’t fit on the shelves.
But this is a column about cocktails, so I ordered a martini. The bartender didn’t blink and proceeded to ask a series of detailed questions about how I liked it prepared. Gin or vodka? Tito’s or another brand? Dirty? Kind of dirty or really dirty?
He disappeared to the well and returned a few minutes later with an extra-dirty Tito’s martini garnished with a small handful of plump olives. It was so opaque I couldn’t see how many fingers my husband was holding up on the other side — icy, salty perfection with a built-in snack. I couldn’t ask for anything better. So I asked for three more.
The Parlor also nails greasy dive bar food. There is, of course, the trademark patty melt, plus, a new one to me, crispy-fried chicken skins slathered in buffalo sauce. It’s a good thing this isn’t the type of place you go to see and be seen; you spend most of the night with ranch dressing on your chin and hamburger grease streaming down your forearms.
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On the way out, the doorman smiled and thanked us for visiting. This, I huffed, is not how a dive bar is supposed to behave. But, honestly, I like this way better.
The Parlor on Commerce, 2651 Commerce St. Open 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily.