We're walking through the Statler's recently redesigned lobby when a lost-looking 20-something solicits our help. "Are you guys going to the bar?" he asks, looking flustered. "We can't find it anywhere."
When you open a speakeasy in a hotel basement, you're guaranteed to have a few lost souls.
Wind your way through the lobby and down some stairs, and you'll find the small room that leads to Bourbon & Banter, one of several new concepts opening this fall at the recently renovated Statler. To get to the bar, you walk into a small, wood-paneled room that has nothing but a phone booth and a shoe-shine bench. To get in, the host picks up the payphone in the phone booth and keys in a code that opens the handleless door. It's gimmicky, for sure — but the real over-the-top details come when your first drink arrives.
Bourbon & Banter calls itself a "swanky underground lounge" in the space that was, once upon a time, the on-premise beauty salon for the hotel. "Today, we mix innovative cocktails, keep Dallas' hottest bourbon collection and continue to serve the city's most beautiful people," says its website
It's hard to say if Bourbon & Banter was filled with the city's most beautiful people on our visit; it's very dark in there. But if you're able to get in (only a certain number of people can enter at a time to prevent overcrowding), you'll find a small menu of upscale bar snacks and a menu of $15 cocktails.
It's only been open a couple of weeks, but B&B is already a bit famous for its Pompadour, a bourbon cocktail with a brûléed garnish that needs to be broken in order to take a sip. But the rest of the cocktail menu is equally over the top.
The Ivy League, made with Reyka vodka, blackberry, tarragon, Grand Poppy and egg white, arrives in coupe glass and has a pink hue and characteristic foam on top thanks to the egg white. Floating atop that foam: a circular piece of wafer paper that reads "FUCK." The bar creates the garnish by printing the design onto a wafer using the same technology that cake designers use.
The Bob, a Wild Turkey cocktail, arrives inside a heavy, ornate metal teapot, dry ice spewing fog out of the pot. You sip it from an equally heavy-duty metal tea cup. The Rattail, made with turmeric, Suze, tequila and mezcal, comes in what looks like a hand-thrown clay cup garnished with a clay spoon with a bite of avocado, espelette pepper and micro cilantro.
With every drink order, the cocktails seem to be trying to outdo each other in presentation. The food menu is a bit less pretentious: You'll find snacks like smoked trout dip ($15), a cheese board ($19) and a foie gras chicken liver pate ($19). The pate proved addictively velvety, but it, like the cocktails, is not for those on a budget. It's a pricy cocktail hour but no doubt a fun drinking hole for tourists staying downtown — provided they can find it.
Bourbon & Banter at the Statler, 1914 Commerce St. Open 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily.