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.
Sometimes a cocktail comes into your life and fills you with pure joy. It is delicious, and you can’t get it out of your head. You tell everyone about it and try to rendezvous with it as often as possible. Then one day, it disappears. Perhaps the ingredients go out of season or the bartender changes jobs. Whatever the reason, the love of your drinking life is no more, and there’s no way to bring it back. All you have left is a soggy bar napkin with the drink’s smell on it to carry with you to your deathbed.
For me, that cocktail was the green bloody mary, which graced the brunch menu at Knife in 2015. It was like a regular bloody mary, but it swapped out the tomatoes for tomatillos, the spongey green fruit that acts as the base for salsa verde. The cocktail recipe also included green pepper hot sauce, celery juice and cucumber juice. Then one day, it ghosted on me. Poof. Gone. Adios.
Years later, I'm browsing the brunch menu at IdleRye, a new restaurant and cocktail spot in Deep Ellum and eye a curious item: the Spicy Tomatillo Bloody Mary ($7). It couldn’t be. I had spent years in therapy trying to forget about that drink’s pulpy, sweet, tart perfection, yet here it was. I hesitantly ordered it and was shocked to see that it was the real deal. In fact, the recipe was improved upon: The glass came rimmed with Tajin, a Mexican spice mixture of salt, lime and chilies. And that’s just one drink in a list of memorable cocktails at IdleRye.
IdleRye opened in May, a few doors down from Hide, another new and well-reviewed cocktail bar. In the current bar landscape of Deep Ellum — where Uptown-like bars are invading with lame concepts, bad drinks and boring crowds — this strip of Elm Street is proving itself to be a legit, blossoming cocktail destination.
IdleRye has high ceilings and exposed brick. When it gets busy, it’s loud and hot and sticky like a lively New Orleans joint. The staff hand dries each piece of glassware, taking care to polish it even when the customers are too animated to notice. The food and drink are all over the place. The eclectic menu includes pierogis, po’boys and mezcal cocktails. But there is a reasoning behind the madness: The owners were inspired by their eclectic, multicultural heritages.
The beverage director joined IdleRye after stints at the underappreciated Quill and — surprise, surprise — Knife. He has a particularly deft hand with chilies and spices. One of my favorite drinks at IdleRye is the Lolita ($12), which resembles a bloody mary but, like its spicy tomatillo variant, does not include tomatoes. The Lolita is made with thick ancho chili purée plus tequila, unaged mezcal, lime juice and jalapeño syrup. Anchos are the sweetest of the dried chilies, which is why the drink barely tastes spicy. It is earthy and more of a gentle introduction to Mexican spirits than Mexican heat.
For the Scoville scale daredevils, there’s El Picante ($11). Made with smoky mezcal, bitter Aperol, cayenne pepper-honey syrup, lemon juice and egg whites, this drink is not afraid of spice, but it doesn’t hit you until after you’ve taken a sip and set the drink down. That's when your lips start to tingle. The drink also looks elegant. The egg whites make it frothy, the Aperol gives it a deep red-orange hue and the lemon peel garnish brightens the whole drink.
Other drinks are reminiscent of the classics. The Smooth Operator ($10) — made with vodka, Cocchi Americano, blackberries, tamarind, lemon juice and prosecco — tastes similar to the bourbon-and-Champagne Seelbach cocktail. The fizzy Smooth Operator, however, smelled delightfully of tamarind. The Green Leaf Martini ($11) tastes more like a mojito in a martini glass than an actual martini. It includes vodka, elderflower liqueur, basil, lemon juice and cucumbers. It's shaken and strained, giving it an icy texture, and tastes like a bright summer garden.
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The bar also offers barrel-aged cocktails such as the Diamond Back ($12), made with rye, Green Chartreuse and applejack. The woody zip and sweet apple are a nice combo, but the flavors seem more appropriate to sip in front of a fireplace in the winter than on the patio in 120-degree heat. The drink also included chunks of floating sediment, which were unappetizing.
Still, the Spicy Tomatillo Bloody Mary will always have a special place in my heart. Visit and you, too, may find an IdleRye concoction worth falling in love with.
IdleRye, 2826 Elm St. Open 11 a.m.-midnight Monday-Wednesday; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Thursday-Saturday; and 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday.