When it comes to live music venues, Dallas has polychromatic shades of bar staffs, from its draft-pouring, quietly rustic bartenders to the sophisticated mixologists with novel ways of concocting a drink. When you frequent a venue often enough, it's nice to be remembered. This could very well mean you need to take 12 urgent steps out of the bar and onto sobriety, but either way, you're memorable.
This is a city that prides itself in its great service and southern hospitality, so narrowing down the best bar staff is not easy. Nobody wants to spend half of a show in line at a bar, especially when just trying to close out, so efficiency is key. The innate quality of friendliness, overall knowledge, at least partial patience, and the strength to be unbiased in the face of patrons' hotness or spending potential, have all been taken into account.
Excluding theaters and arenas -- because you just get your overpriced drink and rush back from intermission -- the best bar staff in live music venues in Dallas are:
The Dram 2918 N Henderson Ave, Dallas, TX
The Dram has an undeserved douchey reputation, but that may be for its weekends' black card-holding executive crowds, not for the place itself. The space appears like a fancy living room with hotel wallpaper and an old-world bar in front. Using NYC's The Bowery as inspiration, it has high-back sofas and bottle service. With one of the most impressive bar backs in Dallas and drinks with catchy names like "Berry Legal" or "Can't Elope", it has a small but very experienced staff.
Occasionally, bands like Ishi and the Roomsounds will play with no cover required, attracting an artsier crowd during weekdays -- those most eminent members of the Upper Indie class.
The Rustic 3656 Howell St, Dallas, TX 75204
Upscale cowboy restaurant/bar The Rustic is a massive space fit to contain large hoity-tonk crowds. In fact, its outdoors area alone could fit every extra in Sweet Home Alabama. Inside, beer cans have been gloriously mounted onto the wall to make up an American flag, and there's a row of 10 steer skulls watching over the well-manicured blondes that abound in the place. The long bar, which swerves into the middle of the main area, is fully staffed by fit and well-mannered Magic Mike types. Despite the manic pace of busy weekends, the place remains a jolly good time, as the bar staff flirtingly tends to each customer with ease.
Lee Harvey's 1807 Gould St, Dallas, TX 75215
This old-west structure possibly has the most iconic Dallas name after J.R Ewing. Walking through the open outdoors space in front through the endless picnic tables, upon entering the dive bar there's that distinct stagnant smell of history, witnessed by a cigarette machine still standing from the '80s. The live venue hosts bands ranging from punk to a crooner/swing 14-piece orchestra, and never charges a cover.
The bar staff here, such as Timm Zbylut, who's made the rounds mostly in Deep Ellum for over two decades, is a cuddly and rugged kind of guy who offers the strongest drinks. In trying to keep it a "destination bar" (which is easy as it isn't adjacent to any others), music is kept at conversation level, and the scene varies from wee youngsters to 70 year-old regulars.
Trees 2709 Elm St, Dallas, TX 75226
The biggest venue on the list hosts some of the most exciting shows in town. GM Eric Bradford, formerly of Ghost Bar, carries over the upscale pride and has made a point of keeping the place OCD-neat. The Deep Ellum institution reopened five years ago during the area's latest renaissance. Two of the fastest and most interesting bartenders have been there since the second beginning, such as Travis Watson, who has been working the area for 40 years. Upstairs you can find John Graham, a former bass-guitar technician who has toured with the likes of Pantera, Skid Row, Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, making him the reason musicians go behind the bar to shake his hand and a great character to talk to between shows.
Double Wide 3510 Commerce St, Dallas, TX 75226
It started out as an ironically redneck bar, with consciously tasteless decor and nothing but tornado footage playing on TV screens. Now, across from Fair Park and a world away from uptown, DoubleWide is a hipster paradise, where you can admire the row of decorative toilets in the patio between the stage and main bar areas, the perfect setting for stumbling upon indie musicians.
Bar staff manager Emily, after doing her best white-girl rap of Drake's "Started from the Bottom," admits that except for sometimes door-guy Spencer, who's been around 3 years, the staff is fairly new. But they have continued a culture in which the rockabilly bartenders are experienced and have spilling personality. It's the same type of folks in front and behind the bar: genuinely cool and accessible.
Three Links 2704 Elm Street, Dallas, TX 75226
This bare-brick-walled and funky venue is one of the greatest places to catch a show. Tickets are fairly cheap, there's a varied draft selection and the door girls are suspiciously beautiful and lovely. Bartender Korin Medina, who's been working the Deep Ellum area for a decade, takes it upon herself to do spur-of-the-moment events such as White Trash Wednesday (beer pong and tacky prizes included) and calmly calls out patrons for invading women's personal space. Besides the ecstatically Happy Hour from 2:00 to 8:00 and a staff that includes a burlesque dancer, there's also a magical door to Fuzzy's Tacos.
Sundown at Granada 3520 Greenville Ave, Dallas, TX 75206
Sundown at Granada is a more adult counterpart to the neighboring Granada Theater, with an atmosphere of edgy yuppiness. With plants hanging on the side balcony, the bar looks as if it's in a closed European patio, under a starred ceiling of subtle glimmer. The impressive rotation of local music shows is always free, and the the bar staff is the glazed cherry on top. Always efficient yet unhurried, the well-staffed bar remains alert and in good spirits as they serve any signature cocktail or dish, always maintaining the same mellow vibe.
The Foundation Room 2200 North Lamar Street, Dallas, TX 75202
The special-events room that sits atop House of Blues looks like the inside of a genie's lamp: Moroccan lamps, Nag Champa burning and Eastern tapestry covering every square inch of the room. The optional membership brings about an amusing feeling of exclusivity, but the staff here doesn't put on any elitist airs.
With the philosophy of "Help ever, hurt never", the HOB requires specific in-house training, and encourages a colorful staff able to build rapport, particularly since membership spurs so many habitués. Bartender Damon Pope and Foundation Room Host Erich Gray lead a warm pack of sassy and witty bar staff, like male versions of Coyote Ugly.
Reno's Chop Shop 210 N Crowdus St, Dallas, TX 75226
Reno's may be the grungiest that Deep Ellum has to offer, an apocalyptic biker bar accessed by following a shambled-brick road off Elm Street, but car-driving and pedestrian interlopers are still welcome. It's not uncommon to see the kind of fights you sit back and eat popcorn for and, on karaoke night especially, every singer is a stadium rocker. As bartender Jen sings Led Zeppelin from behind the bar while still serving, fights swinging and all, she doesn't miss a beat.
Sure, sometimes there are more drinks on the floor than on the tables, but watching the female staff holding their own with a group of bikers is splendidly inspiring. Although the girls are tough as nails, they still look like Gidget standing up to the Hell's Angels when making a playfully dramatic scene out of throwing out the drinks after 2 a.m.
Twilite Lounge 2640 Elm Street, Elm St, Dallas, TX 75226
The newest venue on the list, open for almost two years, Twilite looks like a large-scale version of a Victorian doll house. Beautiful chandeliers and interesting details adorn the red walls, the jukebox is respectable, and there's a perfectly-sized dog-friendly back patio. With a motley menagerie of blues and jazz cats performing, the bar staff is one of the friendliest and chit-chattiest in the city. Owners Danny Balis and Jess Barr have created an almost literal home with a smart collection of board games and books, and the helpful staff -- Andy, Joey, Madison and Audrey -- are unmistakably some of the best in Dallas.
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