Burning Question: Are Classic Cocktails Back?

The other day we were sitting around contemplating happy hour options when our editor stomped in to remind us of the morning editorial meeting--for which we were apparently quite late.

Now, one of this job's few perks is that "reading" magazines counts as research. So we hastily reached for the discard stack while blurting something about investigating a story and grabbed...um, The Atlantic.

How that ended up amongst the Burning Question crew's collection of, well, more purposeful magazines eludes us. But, as luck would have it, we flipped to a piece on the resurrection of classic cocktails. According to the article, such painstaking concoctions as the Old Fashioned have become trendy once again in cities like New York, Philadelphia and Chicago.

But is that really so? Has the classic cocktail returned to Dallas?

At least one high profile establishments, Victor Tangos, is counting on steady curiosity in alcohol tradition, if not a sudden surge in popularity. Their menu of $8 cocktails includes the French 75 and the Sazerac, as well as updated and mixologized versions of the gin fizz--with elderflow--and gimlet.

"We sold almost 2,000 specialty drinks in November," says Greg Katz, Victor Tangos' general manager. "I don't think people do them all night long, but they definitely try one or two."

Certainly the atmosphere in some old-school bars--The Mansion, for instance, or The Old Warsaw--calls for a Sidecar or two, something potent yet sedate. And when Toulouse opened a few years ago, the bar featured some staid Champagne based cocktails. But, counters Charlie Papaceno of Windmill Lounge, "I think Dallas will be into it as long as it's trendy.

"I don't think they'll embrace it."

Discouraging words from a man who rails against sweet and sour mix and other modern shortcuts. Why the misgiving? For one reason, he says, bar patrons in this city generally don't have the patience for traditional cocktails.

The more refined favorites of yore required bartenders to muddle fruit, mint or ginger, add a dash of this to an ounce of that before stirring into three of another--in other words, they emphasized precision...and the use of a jigger.

"That's the thing with all these drinks," Katz explains. "Anyone can read a recipe and make it; it's how you measure, how you shake, how you pour--to me, consistency is the biggest thing."

He admits that training even veteran local bartenders in outdated technique took some time. This is, after all, the land of the free pour. "I think I moved it out of the way to get something the other day," The Old Monk's Mike Wallace says of the jigger. "I just don't ever use one--although sometimes it might help."

So are these things catching on? Papaceno sees traditional cocktails as a niche market. "Sometimes with food, people come back to the hearty favorites," he says. "But I don't know if anyone remembers the classics." Indeed, Katz recalls the night his bartenders created a gimlet for one guest--a real gimlet, mind you, with fresh squeezed lime.

"This is no good," she grimmaced after one sip.

Katz can only shrug. "We don't have Rose's lime juice," he points out. "We're not trying to change the culture here. We just add something new."

Well, something old, really. Whether Dallas falls for time honored concoctions or not, it's nice to have the option and...hey, we think the meeting is over.

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