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Think back to freshman-level science, when we first learned the essential value of coffee and alcohol. Life cannot exist without these two elements. Indeed, journalism cannot exist without these two elements. Yet they occupy opposite ends of the spectrum. They are, metaphorically, yin and yang, heaven and earth, Franken and Limbaugh. Attempts to meld coffee and alcohol generally fizzle: Kahlúa and cream, for example. Despite the obstacles, bartenders at Kismet managed to combine the electrifying buzz of high-octane coffee and the mind-numbing anesthetic of alcohol into one incredible concoction. The Turkish coffee martini is a blend of strong, bitter coffee, vanilla vodka, white chocolate liqueur and the aforementioned Kahlúa--potent in more ways than one. At once sweet and bitter, the cocktail provides something for everyone. It's visually appealing, slightly complex and laced with alcohol. Unfortunately, it goes down so smoothly that patrons may exceed their credit limit in a matter of a few minutes. It's that good and that easy to drink.
Think about bartenders for a moment and you begin to see why Adam Salazar holds the top spot in Dallas. Oh, there are older guys. But after 15 years working everything from dance clubs to high-end lounges, Salazar knows pretty much every trick, every shot, every cocktail. A few bartenders arguably mix better drinks--very few. Some are faster, although Salazar keeps the pace on Nikita's Naked Sundays. Several tell stories with stronger punch lines or maintain a more constant smile, but he manages to handle a lot of crap without losing his cool. What really sets him apart is this: He's knowledgeable, consistent and instantly recognizes regulars at every bar on his rotation. No matter which place he works, Salazar keeps pace with the vibe. When it's slow, he chats with customers. Ten deep at the bar and you find him slinging drinks. Need a drink? He sees you. Most important, people follow him--men, women, professionals and "professionals." Oh, and he reputedly can drink the rest of us under the table.
When expressway service drives started out, they had what? Maybe a Shell station? Then you started getting your McDonald's, your Wendy's, maybe an occasional Subway on the service drive. Well, the southbound service drive on Central at Knox takes the service drive scene to a whole new level. Baja Fresh is here, Fadi's Mediterranean Grill, Pei Wei Asian Diner, Juice Zone, Marble Slab Creamery, Potbelly Sandwich Works, Vermilion Cajun Seafood & Grill. Any given noon hour on a weekday, this service drive is jammed. You have to fight Beemers and Hummers for the parking slots. And the most amazing thing, given that this is an expressway service drive? Try as hard as you may, you cannot buy a lottery ticket here or find a single plastic jar full of Slim Jims. The bitter with the sweet, man.
It could be the Pabst Blue Ribbon. It could be the Astroturf patio. It could be that awwwesome velvet painting of the topless she-demon-thingy. Whatever it is, Double Wide feels like home--that is, if your mama was Anna Nicole Smith and your daddy was, well, who the hell knows? What makes Double Wide the best rock venue in town, however, is not in dispute: clean sound, nice-size stage, solid local booking, affordable cover and two different bars to separate the drankers from the rawkers. It's no surprise that, after only a year and a half on the scene, the Double Wide is winning this honor for the second time. What's surprising is that some people still haven't been there. What's the holdup, folks?
2709 Elm St.
Let's face it: Downtown ain't pretty. With few exceptions, Dallas downtown plays host to big ugly buildings, lots of concrete, little plant life, crowded streets and empty sidewalks. The important thing to remember is that there are exceptions, foremost among them the tiny strip of restaurants and cafes known as Stone Street Gardens. This little cranny connecting Main and Elm streets offers what passes for charm in Dallas--outdoor seating, interesting architecture, cool happy hour and nightspots, a pleasant place for lunch alone or with a friend. Now if whatever was infecting the rest of our poor center city could be eradicated with a dose of smart development like this, we'd be, like, almost a real city.
Every man fears "women's drinks" for one reason: Ordering a fruity neon drink may cause a bit of...well...shrinkage. But if you pack more than enough to spare, there's no reason not to fight through the crowds at Fireside Pies and order up a prickly pear margarita. The color alone--a cross between fuchsia and flaming pink--is enough to cause your masculine regions to shrivel up and your voice to reach the eunuch octave. Just think of it this way: They create the drink from a manly portion of tequila; pureed cactus from the very fields where guys like Randolph Scott and John Wayne chugged rotgut whiskey while huntin' down renegade "injuns"; fresh-squeezed lime juice (probably hacked from trees by rusted machetes); and orange liqueur. French stuff--can't help you there. But it's rimmed with salt chiseled from mines deep in the Urals by tough old prisoners from the Gulag. Whatever you need to convince yourself, the effort is worth it. The cocktail is refreshing and has a kick, sweet but not fruity.
It's the weekend. You've worked hard for five days, and you're ready to rip it up. But before you brave Deep Ellum or Lower Greenville, you need a little boost, a way to ease into what is sure to be a night of unbridled debauchery. What you need is Down Bar and Lounge. The Dallas Morning News called this place a "haven for the unpretentious," and we agree. With its laid-back atmosphere and friendly clientele, Down is anything but a downer. Bartenders/owners Tim and Craig are quick with a joke and to light up your smoke, and they'll send you out the door with a smile and a good start to a decent buzz.
Recently, we went on a scotch-tasting journey around Dallas. We ordered the same drink, Dewar's rocks, at many fine bars about town. It wasn't at all unusual for that drink to cost upward of eight bucks. Usually, there was just enough scotch in there to get our scotch buds active, but not nearly enough to placate them. That was not true at The Loon. Long a legend in town for its stiff pours, the bar on the wrong side of the tracks from the West Village proved itself most generous. For $5.25, we got nearly four fingers of the sweet, pale brown liquor. Since you'll be drinking fewer rounds, be sure to tip handsomely. Especially to the bartender with the tattoo on her back. At least we think it was a tattoo. After two of those drinks, it could have been a gecko loose in her britches.
Wait until late, 11 p.m. or even later, then come to the Jasmine Cafe in what's left of the old downtown in Richardson on Main Street (Belt Line Road east of Central Expressway). A mainly Middle Eastern crowd, salted with whatever you call non-Middle Easterners, gathers over thick, sugared Turkish coffee and Turkish Delight candies. The hookah pipes begin to bubble and brew (tobacco in the bowls). You can buy your own hookah for $40 to $100. The sound system plays hits like "Habena," "Toutah" and "Me Alli We Oltelu." In the pale light of parking lots, backs of commercial buildings soften into outlines that could be walls of sun-dried brick. Chatter and laughter in several languages including English continue into the wee hours. The air is cool. Finally, somebody knows how to live in this hot, hot place.