By Jenni Hanley If you'd asked several years ago, most people would've balked at the idea of waiting more than 15 seconds for a cocktail. But today, double-digit ingredient lists and bartending-as-art are all but expected, and while Dallas is no stranger to the trend, its western cousin has been slow to adopt it.
Enter Thompson's. In addition to bringing back traditional cocktails, Fort Worth's newest watering hole and speakeasy is bringing back the art of seduction. According to owners Glen Keely and William Wells (the folks behind Poag Mahones Irish Pub), that means good music, good conversation, and most importantly, good booze.
It all starts with a good space. Since it was built in 1910, downtown's nostalgic 1900s building has served a lot of purposes: a pharmacy, a coffee shop, a bookstore, and more recently, Bar 9. Today's cocktail lounge is named after one of the old tenants, Thompson's Bookstore.
But to be honest, calling this place a cocktail lounge really doesn't do it justice. The vibe upstairs is dark and mysterious: unfinished brick walls, mismatched upholstered furniture, a fireplace, rows of bookshelves, old newspapers collaged onto the ceiling, and a soundtrack of smooth jazz and shaken cocktails. I found myself constantly peeking around the shelves and pulling on books, looking for some sort of secret passageway. Which isn't actually too far-fetched an idea, considering the winding staircase that leads downtown the even-more-dark-and-mysterious basement. This is where it really gets good.
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On weekends, you can move pretty freely between the upstairs bar and the downstairs speakeasy. But on weeknights, you have to enter the basement through the outside staircase, hidden under a bright blue light that lets you know the bar is open. Knock on the door and give the password. Wait, what? You can learn the password of the day on the bar's yet-to-be-finished website, which might, for example, play an audiobook of On the Road to hint at a password of "Kerouac." Or you can just offer to buy a drink for the first person in line that figured it out.
Speaking of drinks, they're top notch. In addition to all the housemade sodas, drinking vinegars, and infused liquors, the bartenders have crafted a menu of classic-with-a-twist cocktails. My favorite--so far--is the Grapes of Wrath, made with TX whiskey, homemade simple syrup, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, egg white, and Chateau St. Michelle Syrah. For now, upstairs and downstairs feature the same menu, but eventually the basement speakeasy will take on the more adventurous concoctions.
A final word: The decor and vibe of the basement is reminiscent of another old tenant, the pharmacy, and going down there for the first time is like being a kid in a super-macabre candy store. I'll leave it at that, so as not to spoil the fun for you. But when you get there, say hi to the bartender with the Jason Voorhees tat on his forearm.
Thompson's Bookstore is located at 900 Houston St, Fort Worth and open most days from 3 p.m. - 2 a.m.