With the emergence of Dallas' craft cocktail scene, bartenders -- OK, fine, mixologists -- have come to expect the city's notoriously conservative orderers utter those two magic words: "surprise me." It's an approach I've been taking more and more over the last year, and as a result I've been on some great cocktail adventures.
Here are my six favorites. Tell them City of Ate sent you, unless you're going to order vodka cran, in which case tell them Yelp sent you.
Smyth Next to a non-descript door on Travis Street, the words "Please buzz the call box" are inscribed on a small, white sign. The reservations-only bar Smyth feels like an old-school speakeasy, with dimly lit corner tables, a retro soundtrack and a tuxedoed maître d' welcoming every guest.
There are no menus; the bartenders simply ask for a liquor of choice and a flavor profile. (Do you like fruity drinks? Bitter? Herbal?) I told Josh the Barkeep: "Whiskey, more Manhattan than old-fashioned. Oh, and use a good whiskey." The experience is so great you'll want to order another, but don't forget what they say about stores without price tags: "if you have to ask, you can't afford it."
Bolsa Over the years, Bolsa has earned accolades from us as the "Best Place to Take a Date" and "Best Patio." But what if you're looking for the best place to take a date, sit on a patio and sip a cocktail? Still Bolsa.
This Bishop Arts District staple serves up fresh ingredients in classic drinks like house-made ginger beer in the dark and stormy, alongside unique cocktails like Gin & Jam, which is made with the jam of the week. One of the especially delicious concoctions is the Jane Doe, which is the perfect mixture of tart and sweet with a crisp flavor from the strawberry and orange blossom water and a hint of bitters. The food ain't bad, either.
Victor Tango's Victor Tango's clearly believes in the importance of menu variety. The mixologists are always shaking up the scratch cocktail list, offering variations on classic drinks like Pimm's Cup 10 and inventing signature drinks including the namesake cucumber, tequila and lime mixture. The bar keeps recipes of old drinks on file too, which allows return visitors access to a secret menu of sorts. Want to feel like an insider? Order a Ginger Crush.
Black Swan Saloon If you show up too late on a weekend night to this Deep Ellum haunt, you won't get in. The drinks are so good here guests don't leave. In 2011, we named Gabe Sanchez the best bartender in Dallas, and that holds true today. Watching him (or any of the bartenders) mix a Moscow mule or an old-fashioned is like watching a chemist -- a dash of vanilla for the walnut-infused whiskey, a pinch of fresh mint for the strawberry-infused vodka. My favorite kind of science.
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Windmill Lounge It's Friday night and you've got the Dallas blues. All you can think of is the Southwest Airlines campaign, "Wanna get away?" so you start driving to Love Field. But when Maple Avenue begins to make you weary, a bright, red windmill beckons you in. Moulin Rouge? Not exactly. But you just wandered into one of the best dive bars in Dallas, where the drinks are made well and priced right. Order any of your favorite cocktails and expect a flawless drink, with fresh ingredients made by the friendly owners Charlie and Louise. Esquire named Windmill Lounge one of the best bars in the country this year, but don't be fooled: You don't need the accompanying $9,000 suit to be welcomed here.
The Cedars Social South of the Mixmaster, The Cedars Social is an alcoholic oasis. Thanks to the knowledgeable bartenders and expansive cocktail menu, no one goes thirsty for long. If you're lucky enough to snag a seat at the bar, catch Trina's eye and she'll make something special according to your taste, and do it with flare. A staple in the craft cocktail scene, the mixologists at Cedars Social change up the menu seasonally, offering cool and crisp in the summer, warm, rich drinks in the winter and everything in between.