Rocco's Last Stand: After One Last Night, the Mansion Bar Mixologist Leaves for Private Social

You could hear the soft sounds of Mr. Pink the second you broke the seal on the restaurant's front door. No need to ask for directions, just follow the music and you'll find the party. The Rosewood Mansion at Turtle Creek is a polished place, but this weekend several variables played in tandem -- a hotel packed with LSU fans, a decent band, and the departure of bartender, Rocco Milano. It all turned the hotel bar into a sultry spot.

The four-piece band played on an impossibly small stage crammed with a baby grand. The soft-edged tones of a De Armand guitar poured through the warm tubes of a vintage amp while bass strings laid out a rhythm for a ridiculous set list. Little Feat and Prince mixed with jazz and blues standards. Perry Como followed by Prince's I Would Die 4 You, and suddenly it's a Marvelous Night for a Moon Dance. Somehow they pulled it off. Colin Currans-Sheehan, a bearded singer in a pink shirt and white jacket, hit all the notes while giving many ladies an eye that said, "We're going to talk after this set." Rest assured that they did.

A couple moved together in the narrow gap between tables on the marble tiles-turned-dance floor. First, an almost slinky swing, then the Cha-Cha. In the corner a small woman in a smaller skirt lounged on the lap of a much older gentleman. A woman in an impossibly tight (and maybe a little see-through) dress announced an interesting tattoo. There were short, flirtatious dresses and lots of lingering glances.

Yet the whole thing carried a certain sophistication. This was, after all, Rocco Milano's final farewell to the Mansion Bar, a five-star establishment and Dallas darling. He's leaving to run the show at Private Social, a new McKinney Avenue restaurant led by Tiffany Derry, who appeared on Top Chef after cooking at the now closed Go Fish Ocean Club.

Rocco was a wandering rogue before landing in Dallas, tending bar on the Jersey Shore, at a California biker bar ("a wild place"), Guatemala, and then up at the Windstar Casino in Oklahoma. It was at the Mansion, though, that his passion took hold. The managers gave him carte blanche, letting him work with any ingredient or technique he thought would enhance a guest's experience. He focused on classic cocktails -- the flips, sours and other boozy concoctions that require a sense of balance to pull off. Too much of one spirit and it overwhelms the drink, too little of another and the cocktail burns with booze.

At Private Social he plans on showcasing his best techniques in a more accessible manner. "The Mansion can be intimidating with $15 cocktails," he told me. "The new place will be much more approachable."

But this weekend, the focus was less on the future and more on the present. "This is your last night at the Mansion, right?" I asked. He nodded to confirm. "Then make me a farewell cocktail, something to say goodbye with." And Rocco went to work. Minutes later a small, cordial glass of smokey-colored liquor arrived at my table. "It's absinthe," Rocco announced, as I picked up the glass and noted its slightly warm touch. The liquid was cloudy, lightly diluted and tasted simply of anise and sugar. An understated send-off on a night that was anything but. Follow City of Ate on Facebook & Twitter. Follow me at @scottreitz

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