I visited the Chesterfield when the bar first opened, and have been back a handful of times. Downtown's newest bar promises great drinks and a stylish space. And I want to love the place, I really do. But it's too crowded and too noisy at times, and I often feel lost in the shuffle when I drink there.
When the bar is quiet and you have your bartender's attention, the Chesterfield is a pleasure -- so much so that I think with some tweaks the place could be one of the country's better bars. Here's what they have to do to get there.
Fix the décor and feel The massive windows up front let in too much light. A cocktail lounge should be dim and charming. Hang some massive floor-to-ceiling drapes at the front to seal the place in. Put candles everywhere and keep them lit. Play some music that invokes the appropriate period. Classic rock is cool, but this is a pre-Prohibition bar: less Zeppelin, more really old jazz and blues.
Fix the sound problem Those drapes could help a ton. But there are lots of ways to dampen sound. With quiet music and hushed chatter, the Chesterfield will feel more sophisticated, secretive and swanky. Make this the sort of place where you lay low and whisper in your date's ear.
Fix the menus It's good that the spiral-bound menus from Kinkos have been replaced, but things could be better. Get some cool leather-bound books to display your drink offering. Make the thing a real page turner that encourages exploration.
Control the crowd I know this one is going to get me some flack, but I think it's the most important. This bar is way too busy, and the crowd kills the vibe. Put a door man out front and then enforce this rule: No entrance if there's not available seating.
Nobody wants to sit at the bar and drink a well-crafted cocktail while some hammerhead reaches over your shoulder to grab a dripping martini glass. Cocktails like this should be enjoyed in a relaxed atmosphere. It's hard to relax with people eying your seat every time you get up to take a leak.
I know, I know. More customers equals more money and volume is paramount. But the drinks here are relatively cheap. Up the prices a little and keep the crowd down. Everyone who's drinking will have a better time. They'll talk about the place when they leave.
Right now the Chesterfield is just another mixology den in a city still trying to define its cocktail culture. If it did all these things, it would quickly become the best place to drink in Dallas.