The Espresso Martini Reigns Supreme in Dallas

The espresso martini is stealing the show at bars around Dallas.
The espresso martini is stealing the show at bars around Dallas. Lauren Drewes Daniels
The espresso martini is thriving as it approaches its 40th birthday. It has become the drink for Dallasites and a must for every menu, and its origins speak to Dallas’ soul.

Celebrated British bartender Dick Bradshell created the iconic cocktail in 1983 when a young model requested a drink that would “wake her up and fuck her up.” A little vodka, coffee liqueur, espresso and sugar with a fierce shake got the job done. Post-pandemic lockdown, Dallas demands the same.

“We use the Mr. Black [coffee liqueur] in our traditional espresso martini, and we are the leading sales account for Mr. Black across the country,” Leela’s Wine Bar concept director Nicolas Head says.

The cocktail checks all of the boxes for the wine bar: sweet, packs a punch, pretty and elevated. And it’s leading Leela's sales, wine included.

Leela’s is known for its seasonal decor pop-ups. The typical pop-up seats 10,000 guests in a six-week period. Head says at least 25% of those guests order an espresso martini. They make theirs unique by topping it with an aerated cream and torched cinnamon and a dab of Frangelico hazelnut liqueur.

Likewise, Atlas, a cocktail bar in Bishop Arts, crowns the espresso martini as its top cocktail. The bar poured 668 espresso martinis in June alone even though it wasn’t even initially on the menu when the bar opened about a year ago.

“People are no longer ordering as many one-and-ones like your vodka tonics, your vodka Red Bulls, gin and tonics,” Atlas owner Dan Bui says. “They are ordering cocktails, specifically, cocktails that have been around forever.”

Bui says the drinking tides have shifted. Dallas drinkers have become increasingly worldly and educated in mixology. Patrons are paying attention to quality ingredients and flavors that complement each other to enhance the drinking experience.

Atlas uses fresh espresso for its martinis. For those who want to diversify, Bui suggests substituting tequila for vodka.

“If you put tequila into it, you're adding that little level of depth of flavor of the agave, the sweetness of it and, especially with the reposado, you're adding the smokiness to it,” Bui says. “I personally like it with tequila.”
click to enlarge
The Blackbird Society makes an espresso martini with mezcal.
Lauren Drewes Daniels
Midnight Rambler’s general manager Gabe Sanchez tried to resist the fad, but the people get what the people want.

“We relented and started doing it last October, and we probably sold a couple thousand of them, at least,” Sanchez says. “Now when we put it on the menu, we would go through a couple of gallons, 128 ounces, which is divided by three and a half [ounces, the size of an espresso martini], and we would go through a lot a day. I didn’t think it would be that popular.”

The espresso martini is not on the Midnight Rambler’s current menu but is always available.

Sanchez says the key is a good coffee base. The Midnight Rambler combines Sugar In The Raw with a cold brew concentrate sourced from Weekend Coffee — the coffee shop in the lobby of the Joule hotel — to create the syrup for its version of the classic. He also recommends Full City Roasters, Oak Cliff Roasters, Noble Coyote and Kiestwood.

Sanchez says the drink should be a balance of bitter and silkiness with an overall sweetness. Part of its appeal is its versatility, he says.

“It looks cool on a table, it looks cool on a bar top and when it has the coffee beans, or the chocolate coffee beans on top of it, it just looks cool,” he says. “It doesn't really have a gender to it, so you'll get any person ordering it.”
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Desiree Gutierrez is a music and culture intern at the Dallas Observer. Equipped with her education from Dallas College Brookhaven Campus and the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism, Desiree has transformed the ability to overthink just about anything into a budding career in journalism.