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.
When I moved to Dallas a few years ago, everyone told me to go drink at Windmill Lounge. Great jukebox and best cocktails in town, they said. In fact, in 2013, Esquire named it one of the best bars in the country.
For whatever reason, though, I never went to Windmill Lounge. It was on The List, waiting to be ticked off, but always passed over for a newer, shinier spot. Then earlier this year, the bar changed ownership and was remodeled. I decided this may finally be my chance to check the place out.
Windmill Lounge — in its current iteration — looks as if a dive bar was drowned in bleach, shellacked over with erotic art and told to smile. The bar has a confusing mix of décor, including a DJ booth, a pool table, a digital jukebox and a cigarette machine stocked with Parliaments. The bartenders are extremely friendly, but the space doesn’t seem to have a personality, a soul, to grasp on to.
The cocktail list is long and includes crudely named drinks such as The Poppin’ Cherry. A more innocent one is the 3-G, a pink concoction made from gin, St. Germain (elderflower liqueur) and grapefruit juice. I found it to be quite sweet and, for some reason, salty. Another, the Ancho Mama’s Mule, is a Moscow mule spiked with chile liqueur. The chile left you with a throat burn — a nice addition to the nostril burn you were already getting from the ginger ale.
One section of the menu is dedicated to Manhattan variations, which don’t vary from each other all that much. The Classic is made with bourbon, sweet vermouth, aromatic bitters and maraschino cherries. The South Street is made with bourbon, sweet vermouth, orange bitters and maraschino cherries. The Manhattans mostly all tasted the same, and overpoweringly of sweet vermouth.
As someone who had no personal attachment to Windmill Lounge before the changes, it’s hard to see what the fuss was about. But a friend of mine recently recalled a transformative experience she had there years ago.
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She had visited New Orleans and fallen in love with the French 75 cocktail, but she didn’t think anyone in Dallas would be able to make it. She meekly asked her bartender at Windmill Lounge if he knew of it. Not only did he whip her up a delicious replica of the Champagne cocktail, but the knowledgeable guy also told her the entire history of the drink dating to World War I. She says it made her fall in love with cocktails. But she hasn’t been back in ages.
It’s a nice memory of a good bar — which, when it comes to Windmill Lounge, is all anyone seems to have left.
Windmill Lounge, 5320 Maple Ave. Open 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily.