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 can tell a lot about a bar by the hats. Maybe it’s a place where patrons wear Stetsons (Southwestern), or it’s a baseball cap joint (sports bar) or a fedora bar (so much swag). Each hat implies a different type of clientele and different expectations for what the bar is going to serve. But at Las Almas Rotas, patrons wear all these hats and more, an early indication that this place is anything but stereotypical.
Las Almas Rotas is a mezcaleria, a bar dedicated to highlighting the spirits of Mexico, which have gained in popularity among every demographic. It serves dozens of brands of tequila, mezcal and sotol, and it has less common distillates such as agave gin and wild rum. The bar opened in Expo Park in July after a brief stint as a private club in Oak Cliff.
The new space is country rustic yet city chic. The walls are covered in wooden planks, and the chairs are covered in rawhide, but the repurposed church pews along the wall are cushioned in cozy blue velvet. The bar plays exclusively Latin music, including Puerto Rican Reggaeton, Mexican tropical bands and Daddy Yankee. In the back, behind a lush red velvet curtain, is an intimate, reverent, candle-lit back bar usually open for tasting events or when the main bar gets busy.
The focal point is the open shelving behind the bar, which displays the rows and rows of Mexican distillates. The bottles are mostly clear with colorful labels and are backlit, making them look like Christmas lights. The owners say they prefer people to drink the spirits straight, tasting and appreciating them in their pure forms. A lot of Dallas drinkers may be new to mezcal, but at this bar, bartenders are patient, knowledgeable and eager to teach. The bar also hosts frequent tastings and talks from mezcal producers.
But if you're not ready to sip this smoky spirit straight, there is also a cocktail menu with 13 drinks, most with three ingredients. (There are also nonalcoholic Mexican staples such as Jarritors, Mexican Coke and Topo Chico for $2.50 each.)
Mangonada ($12) is the best of the bunch, a boozy version of the frozen drink also known as Chamango. The cocktail includes mezcal blended with frozen mango and lime juice and layered in a glass with Chamoy hot sauce. It is topped with a sprinkle of chili powder. Like the virgin version of this drink, the hot sauce cuts through the syrupy mango and creates a sweet, spicy, salty and refreshingly balanced treat.
Everyone at my table who tasted it loved it and ordered one. It is best slurped quickly, so the layered flavors can be appreciated instead of muddled together at the bottom of the glass.
My friends and I preferred the Mangonada significantly more than the other frozen drink option, the margarita ($12), which tasted as if quite a bit of salt was included in the drink mix.
A couple of the drinks here can benefit from being downed quickly, so they do not get watered down. El Refresco ($13) contains sotol, lime juice and Cascara Fizz, a carbonated tea produced by Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters and made from dried coffee cherries. The grassy spirit gives the fizzy drink a subtle vegetal taste, but once it sits and the ice melts, the tea gets diluted and the sotol taste overwhelms the glass.
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A drink that balances the soda and spirit beautifully is El Topo (Ranch Water, $9), which is just tequila and lime juice added to a Topo Chico bottle. The cloudy mixture comes out in the original bottle with a wedge of lime on the rim. There’s nothing to water down, so you could nurse this highball all night next to a couple of glasses of straight tequila if you felt like it.
The prettiest — and the priciest — cocktail is the Gin y Tónico ($15). For the truly Spanish illiterate, that is a gin and tonic. The drink is made with agave gin, tonic and fresh botanicals. The glass is stuffed with slices of grapefruit, lime and orange, along with sprigs of rosemary and thyme. This one you actually need to let sit for a few minutes for the herbs and citrus flavors to seep into the drink. The resulting G&T tastes fresh and fruity, like a DIY infused mezcal.
Las Almas Rotas’ motto is: “Tequila to wake the living. Mezcal to wake the dead.” And while I can’t speak for the dead, for the living, this fun and educational bar really can help you feel alive.
Las Almas Rotas, 3615 Parry Ave. Open 5 p.m. to midnight Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday; 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday; closed Monday.