Dallas is a big city, but it's a small town. The ability to walk into a room and find a friendly face can be a comfort. Still, it can be hard to disappear into the background when you want to. Sometimes a lady craves a bit of peace and quiet. A dark room to linger in amongst a small group of pals, no small talk required.
In a city full of dens and lounges, SMYTH proffers a cocktail room. A tiny one. On my first visit during that appealing soft-opening phase some weeks ago, visions of quiet nights in one their leather booths or small celebrations in their back room were already dancing in my head, all before a cocktail even touched my lips.
The door was locked, so I rang the buzzer just as one of those friendly faces walked outside to track down a lighter. We get caught up in conversation, so I missed my first chance to open the locked door. I buzzed again. "Entrance Denied," a strange little robot voice squeaked out.
SMYTH requires a reservation, but I have so far managed to at least edge in at the standing-room-only bar without one. That might not be an option soon - it appears things are becoming a little more enforced in this petite jewel box. That's certainly a positive thing when you find yourself on the other side of the locked door. It's a breath of fresh air in a town that frequently promises intimacy and rarely delivers. Fortunately, on that first night I had been invited by Stephanie Moore, Elements shop girl to the Dallas haut monde's admittedly growing table, and she thoughtfully followed the reservation rule. A text and a buzz later and I was slinking into a mid-century sofa waiting to make a drink order.
At SMYTH there is no crowd and no menu, only a bartender competent enough to make you the best cocktail you may never have again. Lucky for us, Varsity cocktail chef Omar Yeefoon was behind the bar making the deal all the sweeter (Or all the more citrus, if that is your preference). "Something with champagne and tequila, and not to sweet," I request. The table ordered a round of champagne cocktails, but you'd do well to take advantage of the impressive liquor selection as well.
Other particulars are equally impressive. Sometimes a place stays with you because of what happens there, SMYTH haunts you because of the potential it suggests. As you pass the leather booths and the mahogany bar into the tiny living room it looks like the set of the short-lived variety show Playboy After Dark come to life. The angled wall panels are all secretly holding a vintage record collection and everyone looks instantly more mysterious in the dim lighting. Here, with almost no one watching, it seems like anything could happen. And maybe it already has.
When my cocktail arrived it bubbled perfectly with a bite of tequila and something spicy lining the rim. I ordered another before I headed next door for the next secret. Another tiny room treasured by Dallas has started the party again at the space formerly known as Suite, then Rio Room and now re-opened as The Travis. Though it may be well-known for the bottle service crowd it hosts on Saturdays, I will always remember an intimate Thursday spent with Flight Facilities and the 2012 Art Ball after-party hosted by Erykah Badu. Truly, The Travis has one of the best sound systems in this city and what makes a DJ sound like a live-band makes a live-band sound like a dream in The Travis' stylish space.
A mysterious benefactor with the help of the booking staff at The Granada booked a secret live show with Marina and the Diamonds, an act that sold out The Granada's room. So seeing her in a space with roughly only 150 other people was a pleasure. The mirrors surrounding her in the club bounced her reflection in every corner so we were encircled by her presence. Live, the New Wave-influences of her work shined brighter but the quieter moments with Miranda and a piano stood out because of the intimate environment we all found ourselves in. Hopefully this benefactor is interested in producing more nights like this. More live music at The Travis, or Rio Room, or whatever it is called at any given moment has long been a nightlife wish of my own. The room crowded some over her hour, but not significantly. I was sincerely taken aback at Dallas' ability to keep a secret. Small-scale elegance can sometimes come off ostentatious but Marina and her Diamonds were the right choice for the job, keeping what could have been pretentious, fun. I remember Badu standing at the foot of the stage, her hand above her head touching the ceiling as she sang last spring. Last Thursday, Miranda struck the same pose with equal satisfaction.
In appreciation, a fan started slowly lining the stage with shots. No one from the crowd dared steal one till Marina herself started passing them out at the end of the set. She had just ended "Hollywood," a song whose chorus belts, "I'm obsessed with the mess that's America ..."
"Thank you," she laughed and screamed and toasted the shots with her band and some strangers in the front row. "Oh my god, was that Jameson?" I heard her ask a co-hort as she walked backstage. Someone passed one of the left-over shots our way. DJ Redsean took over after her performance to make sure the party continued, though I decided to leave on Marina's high note. Back in the dark corners of SMYTH, I retreated to powder my nose. I saw a sign en route that says, "No Exit." And on a night like Thursday, I thought, "Actually, that is just fine with me."