J. Black's Gets Personal With Build-Your-Own Bloody Mary Bar

Friday night, it was Busch Light and a basket of chicken tenders with gravy at one of Old East Dallas' premiere dives, The Dallasite Club, for karaoke. Pop-country was sung, dances were dunced, and all was well until the bartender advised Man O' The Hour that a spirit we'd never seen before -- one "American Honey," stowed over by the Jager -- was "good for sipping." At the tail end of last call, we ordered two. And we discovered the hard way -- the actually drinking the stuff way -- that American Honey is like sugar mixed with cane syrup and store-brand honey and Splenda and hate and the unholiest fires of hell and basement-shelf whiskey. Sweet and terrifying. American Honey is the Kewpie doll of liquor.

Saturday morning, my body was crying out for intestinal salvation. "Coat me no longer with this accursed, saccharine lining of honeyed hellfire!" moaned my stomach, in chorus with my pounding forehead. Classy brunch was in order, and so to J. Black's, the "feel good lounge" that recently expanded from Austin's bougie West 6th Street to Dallas' bougie Henderson Avenue. Rumor was, there's a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar on the premises.

At 11:30, the place was nearly empty, and Man O' The Hour and I snagged a round, slick, black leather booth built for six or so -- the "casting booth," as we came to call it. First things first: getting two tall, salt-rimmed glasses filled with ice and a shot of Ketel One -- music to my liver after the American Honey abomination. The rest was up to us and a carafe of Zing Zang -- a relief, as the mix's innate deliciousness generally makes it difficult for novice self-bartenders to cook up disasters in glasses.

But really, how different can a couple of concocted 'Marys be, using the same mixer as a base?

Pretty different, actually -- Man O' The Hour ended up with a thick, steaky 'Mary stocked with the surprising twang of A1 Sauce and a cheek-stinging lime garnish. I opted for a kind of international tour of hot sauces: healthy shakes of Louisiana-brand, a smoky chipotle, a deceptively hot yellowish goop. Extra celery salt and horseradish. And of course, every available garnish -- celery, carrot, pickled okra, olives, jalapenos, lime, banana peppers and those adorable little pickled baby corns. Salad in a glass, at last! If I had realized the things were just $4, I would have gone back and made another or five. But the Man O' The Hour, sometimes he pays for brunch. Sometimes I think to ensure that I don't realize Bloody Marys are just $4 and drink five of them and have to be carried out to the truck.

The food? Meh. My eggs Benedict were overpriced and oversalted at $12. My love for Bloody Marys has been made clear, so that should say something about how much I love salt. I salt most dishes before I take the first bite. Had I done this to J. Black's Benedict, I would have gone all Lot's wife up in that piece.

But the side of fresh berries -- no dicking around with half-ripened melons and other filler fruits -- was welcome. Man O' The Hour enjoyed his open-faced egg sandwich with spinach and bacon, though he said it paled in comparison to Bolsa's, which sometimes he still talks about with this faraway look in his eyes and I wonder if I will ever make him truly happy. Happy the way bacon makes him happy. Alas.

J. Black's was beginning to fill up as we left, and I imagine it's a fine people-watching locale throughout the afternoon and a pretty solid place to pick up whoever you didn't get to talk to at Barcadia the night before. Brunch is served both Saturday and Sunday, but I recommend making yourself some pancakes at home and hitting J. Black's Bloody Mary bar later on in the afternoon -- it's the real draw.

J. Black's
2409 N. Henderson Ave.

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