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.
There’s a term for craft cocktail bars that struggle to produce good drinks: wine bars. As in, when you’re there, do yourself a favor and order the wine. Lounge Here, an always-packed cocktail bar in East Dallas that opened in the fall, is a great place to chill and drink wine; craft cocktails, not so much.
Lounge Here looks striking. Founded by musicians with an eye for design, the Garland Road space features photo murals of Marfa, button-tufted booths and potted palms, along with a new wood-paneled patio out back. You could close your eyes, spin in a circle, take an Instagram photo and get 50 likes without even having to focus on anything. This is a place you want to hang out — if you can get a seat or a parking space, that is.
Even on a random Wednesday night, you can expect at least a 30-minute wait. You’ll have to loiter at the bar, hovering behind the people sitting there, breathing onto their burgers and deviled eggs until a booth clears up. If you show up on a weekend night, forget it. People are crammed all over the place, standing between tables and blocking every walkway.
Even amidst the chaos, the staff is warm and personable. The bartenders, even when swamped, are attentive, making eye contact and smiling at guests within moments of arrival. The bus boys are aggressive with refilling water glasses — which, at a bar, is always appreciated — and the servers are charming. When my drinking buddy declined having his beer poured into a glass, the server did it anyway, telling him that he “deserved it.”
The craft cocktail menu is short — only seven drinks — so you could theoretically sip your way through the whole list in a couple of visits. Or, if you’re particularly thirsty and have a ride home, about 45 minutes. The drinks sound good on paper but fall short in execution. It’s as if the owners were so focused on the vibe and look of the place that the drinks were an afterthought.
The alcohol is either over- or under-poured in every drink. The Pigeon ($11), a tequila cocktail made with raspberry liqueur, lime juice and ginger beer, tasted like the tequila bottle cap fell off while it was being poured, and the bartender just went with it. In the Forest Hills Swizzle, the rum seemed to have been left out altogether and replaced, instead, with more lime juice.
The most visually striking drink is the Ideal Stinger ($12), made with cognac, Branca Menta (a bitter mint liqueur) and simple syrup. It’s topped with a floater of chocolate cream and a mint leaf. But the drink was way out of whack; it tasted like a big glass of Branca Menta and not much else.
Getting a drink with a lot of alcohol in it is never in and of itself a problem — and sometimes, as most Yelpers would say, it feels like “a good deal.” Most people order a Manhattan, which is 100 percent booze, because they want it stiff. But when the alcohol seems to be out of balance, or when a cocktail has five ingredients but all you taste is tequila, that’s when it becomes an annoyance. You may as well just spend your money on tequila, neat.
There is also an ice situation at Lounge Here. The same, generic restaurant ice fills the water glasses and the cocktail glasses, including in a few drinks that are characterized by their unique ice. Take the Forest Hills Swizzle ($12). Swizzles are classic cocktails served over pellet or crushed ice. The small but abundant ice, along with the way it’s stirred with a swizzle stick, are the only things that define a swizzle. So why even call the Forest Hills Swizzle a swizzle if it doesn’t meet the drink’s most basic requirements?
You may be thinking, who cares about ice? Imagine going to Sonic and ordering a Cherry Limeade, but instead of getting it served over that awesome Sonic pellet ice, it comes out over regular old McDonald’s ice. It won’t necessarily ruin the taste of the drink, but it just ain’t right — and when you’re paying $10 to $12 per drink, a little attention to detail goes a long way. At Lounge Here, the ice is a mistake that’s hard to overlook, especially when you can find technically precise swizzles across town at Midnight Rambler and Parliament.
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Then there’s the old fashioned, which is also, inexplicably, poured into a rocks glass filled with the same kind of ice. This is an even more glaring error than the swizzle. Proper old fashioneds are served over a single, large cube, which melts slower than regular ice. That way, as you sip this booze-heavy cocktail through the evening, the ice doesn’t melt too quickly and dilute your drink. Dive bars in Dallas even manage to get this right.
Even more frustrating, Lounge Here’s website prominently displays a photo of a proper old fashioned that’s been poured over a single, large cube of ice. The bar knows that’s the right way to make it. They must think the Lakewood dads and grandmas who fill the booths don’t know any better or just don’t care. At Lounge Here, there’s no shame in ordering wine — they serve 11 by the glass.
Lounge Here, 9028 Garland Road, theloungehere.com. Open 4 p.m. to midnight Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday; 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.