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.
If you are not a subscriber to Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop newsletter, you may get lost at Grayson Social. At this downtown bar, hip wellness ingredients such as collagen and activated charcoal show up on the drink menu next to rosé and lavender syrup. Unfortunately, much like the snake oils that Paltrow swears by, the beautifully packaged cocktails are of questionable worth.
Grayson Social is in the lobby of the Hilton Garden Inn, a detail you may want to remember if you ever drive there. The bar touts its valet service, but on my first visit I could not find a valet stand or nearby parking. I drove in circles for 20 minutes, got frustrated and left. Turns out the valet belongs to the hotel and is on an adjacent street. Take Lyft.
The interior design is quite nice: There are tufted booths, a white marble bar and antique-looking mirrors. It makes you really miss Remedy. On multiple visits, my friends and I were some of the only people in the room. The others were middle-aged men dining alone, presumably guests at the hotel. The differences between the crowd size and cool factor here versus those at the nearby Joule are glaring.
Grayson Social has 25 cocktails on its menu, all priced at $13. That’s a price cut from the steep $15 per cocktail the bar charged when it opened last fall. Each drink seems to have a unique concept, but all the ones I tasted were either underwhelming or outright unpleasant.
Take the Thai margarita, for example, which is made with Thai chili-infused tequila, triple sec, lime juice, honey syrup and fresh Thai chili peppers. This is the spiciest drink I have ever been served. It was so hot I could barely speak after taking a sip. The drink needs way fewer chili peppers, way more lime juice and maybe some other fresh ingredients like lemongrass and cilantro to bump up its Thai-ness and give it more dimension. The fruity honey tastes completely out of place; a more apt sweetener would be palm sugar or just regular old white sugar.
The Campfire cocktail also looks promising, but like the Thai margarita, it is a wasted opportunity. It’s made with whiskey, bourbon and marshmallow syrup and is served with a freshly toasted marshmallow on top. The scorched confection really does bring back memories of cooking s’mores over an open flame. I could sit there and sniff it all night if I didn’t have other things to do. The drink itself is forgettable. It tastes like a whiskey-soda with a packet of Sweet’N Low stirred in. Why not embrace the smoky concept and make the drink with peaty Scotch or an on-theme blend like High West Campfire? Grayson Social could have even gone the s’mores route and made the drink chocolatey. Shrug.
And then there are the stunt-y drinks. I obviously had to try the collagen cocktail since the bar promised ingesting the protein-rich drink could give me “firm, glowing skin.” I’m in my 30s, so that is the only thing I have left to strive for in my life. The rosé sangria includes collagen, riesling, cognac, lavender syrup, rose syrup, raspberries and lemon and lime juices. It is served in a wide, elegant wine glass filled with a perfect ice sphere and garnished with rosé-infused gummy bears skewered on a pick.
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I am sad to report that I will continue to employ my esthetician and dermatologist because I could not stomach this drink, regardless of its supposed medicinal properties. It smells like a nondescript berry air freshener; we’ll call it wild berry. The drink is speckled with gelatinous chunks — unstrained raspberry pieces? — that reminded me of soggy chia seeds. The gummy bears seemed to have been made without any flavoring agent.
Death Before Dinner, one of the activated charcoal drinks on the menu (yes, there are more than one), was decent. The jet-black drink is made with activated charcoal, dark rum, cherry liqueur, grapefruit juice, rosemary syrup and almond syrup. It is served in an etched Nick & Nora glass and topped with a slice of dehydrated grapefruit. The drink is herbaceous and tastes of bitter grapefruit; the flavor profile is very similar to Jägermeister, which I enjoyed, but others at my table did not. The aftertaste of the drink, however, is awful. It is pure chalk. I’m assuming that’s the unpleasant sensation of the activated charcoal stripping all the toxins from my mouth.
As a devoted Goop reader, I am going to have to recommend you take Gwyn’s advice on this one. As she wrote in her recent travel guide to Dallas, when you’re downtown, just go to The Joule.
Grayson Social, 1555 Elm St. Open for breakfast 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday; lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday; brunch 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; dinner 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.