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.
Imagine going to a barbecue joint in New York City and finding really good brisket. I know, why would you ever order brisket in New York? But bear with me. You’d eat that brisket and probably be confused, wondering who in the world is working back there. Is it a fellow Texan? Someone who speaks your language, is part of our conversation?
This is the same feeling you get at Jettison, an easy-to-miss cocktail bar denoted only by a small sign off Houndstooth Coffee's patio in Sylvan Thirty. The cocktail list is confident, featuring bitter and briny drinks and plenty made with sherry, a polarizing fortified wine that is booming as a cocktail ingredient elsewhere in the country. Who's responsible? And can you please teach us some more phrases in your language and bring the rest of Dallas into this conversation?
Jettison is an offshoot of Houndstooth Coffee next door. While the coffee chain originated in Austin, the bar is the first of its kind. It’s dim and small, but during multiple trips at various times, I’ve never seen it crowded. Due to its residential location and early closing times (11 p.m. or midnight), drinkers don’t seem to stay for long. They flow in and out, occupying or vacating seats at just the right times, like breath moving through an organism.
The staff is equally tiny — I’ve only ever seen three guys working behind the bar — which is why they always seem to remember a face and that face’s favorite drink. When they aren’t brûléeing sugar on the surface of a glass, the vest-wearing bartenders are diligently wiping down the bar top and keeping the place impeccably tidy.
They only have about 60 alcohol bottles on display, an impressively restrained collection considering many bars in town have hundreds. The glassware is elegant yet sturdy, with deep cuts that resemble crystal and a heavy bottom. Specialty ice for each drink is a given, something most of the Western world agreed on a decade ago. Jettison’s fax machine must be broken because they missed the memo that every bar in Dallas has to serve Moscow mules.
The cocktail list includes 23 drinks: three on draft, eight made with sherry or sparkling wine and 12 spirit-forward concoctions. Of the draft cocktails, the Red-Headed Oaxacan is a standout. The glass is rimmed with Himalayan sea salt and filled with tequila, mezcal, honey-ginger syrup and lemon juice and then spritzed with a peaty, 12-year scotch. It is smoky and gingery and salty, like a penicillin meets a margarita.
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Sherry is an acquired taste, but is accessible and tasty in the Fino Punch. This drink, made with dry sherry, muddled berries, elderflower liqueur and blackcurrant liqueur, is topped with fresh, plump berries and powdered sugar. Yet the drink is not sweet, even when you reach the bottom of the glass, because the briny sherry and tart berries balance it out so well. For more advanced sherry drinkers, try the Bamboo, which is made with two kinds of sherry and not much else. Or you could order a sherry flight to sample various kinds.
Houndstooth Coffee java also plays a starring role on the Jettison menu for obvious, cross-promotional reasons. The One of These Nights cocktail highlights it well, mixing cold brew with cognac, bitter liqueur, lemon juice, Curaçao and almond syrup. A star anise pod is floated on top, lit on fire and then blown out. The smoke smells leathery, giving the rich, coffee-cognac drink a sexy touch. Another great coffee drink is the Double Up, made with gin and lemon tonic and drizzled with coffee-infused vermouth. It tastes exactly like the refreshing, espresso-tonic water drink that has become ubiquitous at coffee shops. But, you know, with booze.
The bartenders are also always tinkering with new drinks and ingredients. If you keep your ears open and ask nicely, they’ll probably give you a swig. This is how I sampled their word-of-mouth-only homemade Grapefruitcello (the grapefruit version of Lemoncello): Another guy down the bar ordered it, so I pretended like I knew about it, too. The recipe is currently being fiddled with, but it came out in a shot glass rimmed with salt. It was like a miniature Salty Dog; so, so smart. They’re also experimenting with a drink that incorporates fermented garlic. Funky, tangy and pungent in a cocktail? Now you’re talking my language.
Jettison, 1878 Sylvan Ave. Open 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 4 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.