Here’s some Halloween weekend activity that won’t have you saying Boo.
Monday’s event at Victor Tangos is the highlight, and the costume party/cocktail fest doubles as a charity effort, with proceeds benefiting Dallas CASA, an agency that helps abused and neglected children find safe and permanent homes.
The longtime Knox-Henderson craft-cocktail den is teaming up with Brian Floyd of The Barman’s Fund, a national organization of bartenders who hold monthly events to benefit worthwhile causes and donate their night’s tips to the proceeds.
The Victor Tangos party features an all-star cast of Dallas bar industry pioneers, including five members of the original teams at milestone craft-cocktail joints Bar Smyth and/or The Cedars Social, both of which earned national acclaim: Michael Martensen, Mate Hartai, Josh Hendrix, Julian Pagan and Omar YeeFoon.
Joining them will be Victor Tangos vet Emily Arseneau, Brian McCullough of The Standard Pour, Midnight Rambler’s Zach Smigiel and spirits distributor Kristen Holloway.
The fun gets underway at 7 p.m. with drink specials, with tracks spun by DJ Bryan C and prizes to be awarded for the best, most outlandish and most inappropriate costumes.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, the classic Windmill Lounge on Maple Avenue will hold its annual Halloween bash with drink specials, a midnight costume parade and contest ($100 for first place!) and DJs Chris Rose and Genova providing the beats.
Next Sunday, Dec. 13, you’ve got the chance to give and get at the same time. It’s a pre-Christmas miracle.
The 5th annual Trigger’s Toys Fantasy Draft Main Event takes place Dec. 13, with five all-star teams of bartenders and industry professionals staffing five tongue-in-cheek pop-up bars under one roof. Tito Beveridge himself, of Tito’s Vodka, will be there. The entire team of New York-based The 86 Co, will be there. YOU SHOULD BE THERE.
Twenty-five bucks in advance gets you in the door at Henry’s Majestic in Knox-Henderson, plus two drink tickets. (You can also buy tickets at the door for $30.) Then, wherever you want to cut loose and drop your dough is your choice: Will it be Chubbies, the dive bar, or yacht club bar Billion $ Baby? Karaoke bar Liquid Courage, or disco bar Studio Zoom Zoom? Or do you just want a place where you can call your own drink? Then it’s TOGA for you.
The best thing is, it’s all for a good cause. What cause might that be? Gather ’round and listen, boys and girls.
Bryan Townsend was at a hospital in Grapevine with his newly trained dog when he met a nurse distressed over a young girl who’d been in therapy for a year, unable to socialize with others. “She’s not getting any better,” the nurse said.
Townsend himself had been stuck for a while, in a corporate job where he wasn’t very happy. In 2008, he left and began focusing on other things. His dog, Trigger, was one of them.
He told the nurse: Maybe she’d like to give Trigger a treat?
The girl did.
“Then I wondered if she’d follow Trigger through a tunnel,” Townsend said. “And she did. The nurse went and got the girl’s mom; it was the first time she’d ever crawled.”
“I truly believe we’re all in the world to do something better.” – Bryan Townsend, The 86 Co.
Inspired by the experience, Townsend – now a vice president and sales director for spirits outfit The 86 Co. – launched Trigger’s Toys, a nonprofit that provides toys, therapy aids and financial assistance for hospitalized kids and their families.
“It instantly changed this girl’s life just because I was throwing treats for my dog,” Townsend says.
Last year’s Trigger’s Toys event, including sponsorships, raised about $100,000 for the cause. This year’s total is already at $87,000. “That’s the most we’ve had going in,” said Ariana Hajibashi, who’s handling publicity for the event.
Among the projects past funds have benefited include therapeutic equipment, Christmas toys and construction of a courtyard at Our Children’s House, a facility for children with special healthcare needs at Baylor Scott & White in Carrollton.
Sunday’s event runs from 8 pm until midnight-ish, with stacks upon stacks of participating bartenders coming from all over Texas. There’ll even be a couple from Oklahoma City.
This year’s bartending team captains are Ida Claire’s Bonnie Wilson, Parliament’s Stephen Halpin, Leonard Oliver of Austin’s VOX Table, Juli Naida of HG Sply Co. and Armando Guillen of The Standard Pour.
Each bar team is going all out, as usual: Tito Beveridge will be slinging with the Chubbies team, while Studio Zoom Zoom is gathering short rah-rah videos from classic bars around the world, including New York’s Employees Only and Pegu Club and The Violet Hour in Chicago – each of which will play disco music for an hour at their respective establishments in support.
“I truly believe we’re all in this world to do something better,” Townsend says.
In case you hadn’t noticed, mezcal is having a moment. The once misunderstood Mexican spirit has been seeping into the mainstream at a pace that has revved up in recent years, riding a craft-cocktail wave that has seen imbibers clamor for more and better ingredients.
For a spirit that at one time was known mostly as “that bottle with the worm in it,” this cousin of tequila has not only come a long way, but, it turns out, is way more interesting: a markedly smoky concoction that rewarded early adopters with broad (and wormless) expressions deriving from its ability to be cultivated from a range of Mexican agave plants. (Tequila, on the other hand, can only come from blue agave.)
“It’s just a great way to introduce mezcal to people who haven’t had it or think it’s too intense in other cocktails.”
— Bartender Moses Guidry, of Twenty Seven’s Smoke Ring
The plants’ hearts are roasted in pit ovens prior to fermentation, producing the spirit’s smoky influence that for many first-timers presents a line in the sand. But the days when mezcal cocktails were found only in mixology dens are over; I knew the U.S. had reached a milestone when, several years ago, I saw a mezcal-tinged cocktail appear on the menu at P.F. Chang’s. Now you’ll find mezcal cocktails everywhere from Pappasito’s to Frisco’s 3 Stacks Smoke and Tap House.
Many of those drinks, like the ones first rolled out even in craft-cocktail bars, have eased mezcal onto unfamiliar palates by placing it alongside tequila, like a kid brother riding sidecar. But drinks putting mezcal front and center are getting easier and easier to find.
Here are some of my favorites thus far in 2015.
BENITO JUAREZ, Mexican Sugar (pictured above)
In Oaxaca, where most mezcal is produced, the traditional way of consuming the artisan spirit is in small cups flanked by orange wedges and a spice mix of sea salt, crushed chilies and the ground remains of toasted moth larvae that feed on the agave plant. The combo is a mouth-pleasing explosion of smoke, citrus, heat, nuttiness and saltiness – and Plano’s Mexican Sugar pays homage to the tradition with this excellent blend – named after Mexico’s beloved former president – of mezcal, chipotle puree, orange, lime, honey and orange liqueur, slapped with a splotch of imported sal de gusano.
MEXICAN MARTINI, Origin
Alas, this one is no longer on the menu at the Knox-Henderson restaurant, but ask for it and you might get lucky.
Agave spirits and herbal Yellow Chartreuse liqueur are swell buddies and play nice here in Laura Ball’s south-of-the-border creation, along with lemon, agave, jalapeno and apricot liqueur. It’s sweet and piquant, tantalizing you with its boozy charms before fading away in a haze of spice and smoke.
MEZCAL OLD-FASHIONED, Henry’s Majestic
Hector Zavala has learned a thing or two in his many years as a bar back for luminaries such as 86 Co. co-founder Jason Kosmas, not the least of which that the classic Old Fashioned packs a kick in any language. Now bartending at the Knox-Henderson one-two punch of Henry’s Majestic and Atwater Alley, the Torreon, Mexico-born Zavala subs Wahaka mezcal for whiskey with a bit of agave syrup and bitters, and his handiwork lets the spirit announce itself like a poncho’d Clint Eastwood waltzing through your whistle’s saloon doors.
MR. BROWN GOES TO OAXACA, Tate’s
Mixmaster Creighten Brown’s deceivingly demure doozy may look like a mere wallflower in its Uptown surroundings, but it’ll impress your taste buds with its flavorful gift of gab. Supplementing mezcal with bittersweet Grand Poppy, dry vermouth, Hellfire bitters and chocolate bitters, this off-menu creation cuts through the smoke with floral and citrus swirls while the bitters offer lingering complexity.
SMOKE RING, Twenty Seven
At Deep Ellum’s Twenty Seven, Moses Guidry’s frothy Smoke Ring is basically a mezcal Pisco Sour, subbing the smoky spirit for tamer Peruvian brandy alongside tequila, simple syrup, lime, cucumber, egg white and a sprinkling of Peychaud’s bitters. “It’s just a great way to introduce mezcal to people who haven’t had it or think it’s too intense in other cocktails,” says Guidry, who’ll you find behind the bar on Saturdays.
TRUE ROMANCE, Black Swan Saloon
At this Deep Ellum fixture, Gabe Sanchez’s riveting play on the Copper Cocktail gives mezcal the starring role over rum with a supporting cast of herbal Yellow Chartreuse, bitter Averna, lime and a bit of Szechuan pepper tincture. While the mixture might sound overpowering, the end result nicely shapes the best of each ingredient into something unique and memorable.
So, you’ve wowed your Fireball-drinking buddies with your superior knowledge of mezcal, tequila’s smoky and more exotic cousin. You’ve earned serious props for your appreciation of mezcal’s Scotch-like acquired taste. But dude: if you really want to prove yourself mas macho, try drinking mezcal the way it’s done in Oaxaca – with worm salt.
Among the benefits of the ongoing craft-cocktail renaissance has been the rising availability of mezcal, distilled from Mexico’s native maguey plant, a form of agave. Generations-old methods of artisan production – in which the plants’ hearts are roasted in pit ovens before the fermentation process, giving the spirit its distinctive smoky flavor – have spawned hundreds of choices, many of which you can now find in the U.S.
Typically it’s imbibed straight. Picture a tiny cup or shot of your beloved mezcal, served alongside a small plate of orange slices. Garnish those slices with a sprinkling of sal de gusano – a rust-colored powder of sea salt, ground chilies and the crushed remains of agave worms. Better yet, dip a slice into a bowl of the powder itself.
While you grimace, consider this: Despite the name, the worms aren’t actually worms. They’re the larvae of moths that start feeding on the hearts and leaves of the agave plant as soon as they’re born. In other words, they are living the life. Their brief and blissfully unaware existence comes to an end in late summer, when – in accordance with centuries-old tradition – they’re gathered up, dried in the sun and toasted, then pulverized along with sea salt and chilies to become the magical mix now before you.
Back to your plate. Take a bite of powdered orange and your mouth explodes with sweet citrus, faint heat and a wallop of salt. It’s a zesty complement to the swig of smoky mezcal you’re about to inhale. But wait: There’s another flavor there, too, almost paprika-esque. It’s lovely and rounds out the mezcal perfectly.
“It’s savory,” says bartender Hector Zavala of Dallas’ Henry’s Majestic. “It has that flavor of umami.”
Yes, a bit of the worm-salt experience and you might just be calling for your mommy. But insect consumption is a longtime tradition in resource-challenged Oaxaca, where critters like grubs and crickets provide a cheap and plentiful source of protein. (I once sampled a plate of not-so-bad dried crickets at a Oaxacan hole-in-the-wall in Phoenix, sautéed with lime and chili and served with a side of tortillas. The biggest issue – the little legs that get caught between your teeth.)
A few weeks ago, Zavala scored a shipment of sal de gusano from Mexican producer Gran Mitla; he’s now dishing it up Oaxaca-style at Henry’s Majestic and its speakeasy sidekick, Atwater Alley. (Appropriately, he serves it with Wahaka’s reposado mezcal, which incorporates the same agave worm.) At Uptown’s upscale Mexican place Komali, bar manager Leann Berry is pondering serving her recently obtained sal de gusano with mezcal flights, while you can also find it at Proof + Pantry in the Arts District, socked away in a Hefty bag labeled “grub salt.”
Zavala, of Henry’s Majestic, comes from the same small town in Mexico as fellow bartender Luis Sifuentes; they lived two miles apart but never met until they came to Dallas. Now both are among the badass bar crew assembled at Henry’s by beverage director Alex Fletcher. “Alex has a lot of trust in us,” says Zavala, who along with sal de gusano also procured a milder, sweeter powder of ground-up grasshoppers called sal de chapulin. “He lets us experiment and come up with our own ideas.”
Fletcher finds the whole thing intriguing. “(Hector) brought those in to play with,” he says, wheels already turning. “I think doing a worm-salt, citrus-based mezcal cocktail would be fantastic.”
That’s what a post on the site Mezcalistas.com suggests. In fact, its play on the classic Margarita is basically the orange-slice tradition rolled into a drink, replacing tequila and lime with mezcal and orange juice and then serving it in a worm-salt-rimmed glass.
At Atwater Alley, Sifuentes gave the cocktail concept a go, too, mixing mild Wahaka mezcal with Carpano Antica sweet vermouth and a bit of bitter Averna. Worm salt lined the glass. It was a respectable blend, but it could just be that the spices’ jaw-punch of salinity is too aggressive to play well in cocktails, at least in significant quantity. Still, there’s nothing wrong with having it the traditional way. Sometimes simplicity is best.
Maybe food is the most logical complement of all. In Austin, you’ll find worm-salt-accompanied mezcal at Takoba, along with slices of Oaxacan cheese. And at The Pastry War in Houston, you can get mezcal with a straight-up side of toasted grasshoppers. If that makes you shudder, start slow – with a bit of worm salt.
“Psychologically, that’s a hump I had to get over,” said Proof + Pantry bartender Mike Steele. “But it’s pretty good stuff.”
There are so many reasons why you should drag yourself to tonight’s benefit bash for Trigger’s Toys at Henry’s Majestic in Knox-Henderson – the five pop-up bars, for instance, and the fact that the whole thing benefits hospitalized kids. But here’s one more: Mr. Fletcher is about to play the little ace that he’s been holding up his sleeve.
Some were surprised when the craft-cocktail wunderkind announced he was leaving venerable Victor Tango’s, and the bar program he’d helped lift to new heights, for Henry’s, the latest venture in the curiously unfertile space at McKinney and Monticello.
True, he’d known owners Jim and Cindy Hughes of Bread Winners Cafe since his days at the cafe’s adjoining Quarter Bar in Uptown. But still… “It’s more of a leap forward for me,” he told me just after the announcement. “It’s going to open some doors.”
Apparently those doors were more than figurative, because now it all makes sense: At Henry’s, just like a Transformer, there’s more than meets the eye. Turns out there’s an unused nook or cranny or two that have been ripe for the renovating, and the space once home to Cretia’s and Acme F&B has been – surprise! – a rabbit warren of bar potential.
Welcome to Atwater Alley, a long narrow corridor behind Henry’s kitchen – accessible on the Monticello Avenue side – that leads to a cozy, two-story den falling somewhere between modern Victorian and Old West saloon. Though larger, the dimly lit upstairs area is especially submarine-snug. And both stately back bars are a throwback; Fletcher thinks the upper one was actually shipped in from The Old Absinthe House in New Orleans. But incredibly, the space has sat here apparently unused for a decade — if it was ever used at all.
“This is kind of why I joined this whole team,” the typically understated Fletcher says. “I knew there was something really cool back here. I was like, `Oh, okay.’ It’s like a playground.”
It took a little work to revive, but the area is now ready to house two of tonight’s benefit pop-ups – the & and & cocktail lounge and the Booty Bar and Half-Mast Tiki Lounge. (The other three will be in Henry’s main bar area.)
For those unfortunate enough to miss tonight’s event, Fletcher plans to keep Atwater Alley going from here on out every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. “It’s a great little space,” he says.
As Ryan Fussell of Fort Worth’s Bird Café put it, it was a veritable who’s-who of craft bartenders, dozens of them assembled on a weekday afternoon for the first of several steps toward a purpose greater than themselves. The site was Uptown’s Standard Pour, where five boards had been posted above the bar, each topped with the name of a trusty tipple maker.
Yes, there’s a story there, but here’s what you really need to know: That on Sunday, Dec. 14, five teams of drink-slingers will face off at Henry’s Majestic as part of the Trigger’s Toys Fantasy Draft Main Event – not only for your imbibing pleasure but for the benefit of Trigger’s Toys, a Dallas charity serving hospitalized kids and their families.
As if that’s not enough reason to get yourself over there, consider this: The agency’s third annual fundraiser will feature five pop-up bars of varying tongue-in-cheek themes, and if you’re wondering how Henry’s – the recently opened Knox-Henderson gastropub in the space once occupied by Acme F&B – is going to pull that off, you’re going to have come see for yourself the little ace that bar manager Alex Fletcher has been hiding up his sleeve.
So on this afternoon, the gathered bartenders were at The Standard Pour for the “fantasy draft” that would produce the five teams of 13, along with bar concepts and sponsored spirit lineups. Organizer David Alan, the Austin-based Tipsy Texan himself, was here with his team, the lot of them dressed like referees. Actually, it wasn’t so much a draft as a draw, with each captain – Parliament’s Lucky Campbell, Bolsa’s Kyle Hilla, Knife’s Charlie Moore, LARK at the Park’s Matt Orth and, from Austin, Drink.Well’s Jessica Sanders – picking names out of a bowl to compile their teams. While most of the crews represent the Dallas-Fort Worth area, a number are coming in from elsewhere to aid the cause from places like Austin, San Antonio, San Diego and Los Angeles.
“Dang, my team looks good,” Moore crowed after drawing Fletcher’s name from the batch, adding to a lineup that already included Bolsa’s Spencer Shelton, Proof + Pantry’s Josh Hendrix and Michael Reith of the Windmill Lounge. “That’s it! It’s over. Everybody go home.”“Stacks on stacks,” Hendrix added.Your pop-up bar lineup will include a sports bar, honky-tonk saloon, nightclub, tiki bar and, of course, bespoke cocktail lounge. Each ephemeral entity is already being promoted on Facebook and other social media, and you’ll find them here:
The event runs from 8 pm to midnight at Henry’s Majestic, 4900 McKinney in Dallas. Pre-purchased tickets on Eventbrite (available here) are $20, which includes two drinks. You can also buy tickets at the door for $10, then spring for your drinks inside.
Along with donations from sponsoring spirit producers, last year’s bash at The Standard Pour pulled in a whopping $45,000 for Trigger’s Toys, which in addition to financial aid provides kids with toys and therapy aids. With the help of the bartenders giving their time on Sunday, founder Bryan Townsend – who named the agency for his dog after seeing the animal’s positive effect on a child in need of therapy – hopes to take that to new levels.
“Not only are you changing this industry,” an emotional Townsend told the group. “What we’re doing today will change lives.”
I don’t usually need a good reason to wear gingham and overalls, but now I have one: Sissy’s Southern Kitchen in Knox-Henderson is throwing its second annual Halloween Hoedown, with a $200 prize for best hillbilly-themed costume – possibly enough cash to get that Dodge Charger off the concrete blocks.
Halloween-themed $8 cocktails will abound, incorporating the bar’s heavy hitter spirits – from the Tito’s vodka Slaughtered Mule to the Moet-powered Voodoo Blues. Also, there are now drinks called the Witch Doctor and Zombie Handshake, to which I say: It’s about time.
Arrive in costume and you’ll get a raffle ticket for numerous prizes given throughout the occasion, which runs from 5 pm to midnight with live music from Southern Renaissance. And you can even feel good about the whole thing since 15 percent of the proceeds support Family Gateway, an organization fighting child homelessness.
Interested in staying for dinner? Reservations are recommended. Word is there’ll be fried chicken.
SISSY’S SOUTHERN KITCHEN, 2929 N. Henderson, Dallas. 214-827-9900.
The craft-cocktail revival is in full swing, with its attention to classic recipes, seasonal ingredients and fresh-squeezed juices. If there’s one man you could credit for relaunching the mixology movement, it’s Dale DeGroff, who presided over New York City’s Rainbow Room starting in the late 1980s.
Tonight, Dallas’ Smyth will honor “King Cocktail” — now author, consultant and founder of New Orleans’ Museum of the American Cocktail — by recreating one of his original Rainbow Room menus for the evening. From the Derby cocktail to the Orange Breeze, you’ll have a chance to be transported back in time, and if Smyth’s Ryan Sumner has his way, 1980s tunes will be on the playlist will help you get there. Let’s hope that doesn’t mean any Huey Lewis and the News.
Don’t forget to make — and keep — your reservations.
AND JUST LIKE THAT, sweet things are already happening behind the bar at Abacus, the five-star fancypants restaurant that has long wowed critics with its Pacific Rim cuisine. The recent addition of bartender-slash-apothecary Lucky Campbell to its staff of able libationists was a sign that the Knox-Henderson landmark was ready to boost its bar program too.
Hint one that change is afoot: The barrel flanking one end of the swanky bar’s bottle stash. Mid-afternoon last Friday, that barrel was filled with Old Fashioneds and presumably destined to age, but by 10 p.m. Campbell was already positing that the bar had sold more Old Fashioneds in one night than in the past two months. By weekend’s end, he said, the barrel was nearly empty.
This is Abacus, people. Wine, Martinis and Champagne cocktails are the rule, right?
But witness the new, Asian-flavored menu (priced from $12-$14), set to roll out today: A deliciously gorgeous Blackberry Smash made with Maker’s Mark bourbon. A Brandy Stinger featuring Tempus Fugit’s top-notch crème de menthe. And preparing to float lava-lamp-style in the extremely dry, Champagne-driven Femme Fatale: pearls of effing Violette.
That’s right: little spheres of lavender-y Creme de Violette, one of Campbell’s lab projects. A jasmine-tea cordial and five-spice tincture are already bubbling in a back room, and even the Martini menu has been primped, with one knockout version offering Islay-Scotch-and-cracked-pepper blue cheese olives, stuffed in-house.
Said bartender Jordan Gantenbein: “I’ve been waiting three years to do this.”
The sensibilities that guide Abacus’ renowned kitchen are seeping into the dimly lit bar. So it wasn’t surprising to find Chef de Cuisine Daniel Burr himself on a stool late one night, helping the black-clad bar samurai as they brainstormed an Asian-themed Margarita variation and suggesting matcha green tea powder as a component.
There are some real curiosities on the new menu, like the clever Banksy with “spray-paint spices,” a Yuzu Collins with Bing Cherry soda and the “Ninja Rita,” with its foam of Togarashi, a Japanese spice powder.
Abacus is having some fun now. This is a place worth keeping an eye on.
Don’t look now, but The Man in the Fedora is on the move again. And apparently, so is his fedora. After five months at Uptown’s Standard Pour, Lucky Campbell has taken his crafty talents to The Bar at Abacus, the five-star Kent Rathbun restaurant in Knox-Henderson.
It’s a significant move for the elegant, Pacific-Rim-themed restaurant, which is looking to ramp up its bar program as Dallas cocktail culture continues its rapid maturation beyond hipster bar territory. “We’ve always had a great wine program, but we wanted to give a little more attention to our mixology and cocktails,” says Abacus manager Robert Hall.
It’s also a big step for the gifted, gravelly-voiced Campbell, who’s swapped his trademark fedora for the clean-cut, all-black duds of the Abacus bar corps. Though that might sound a bit like Superman doffing his cape, Campbell was giddy in his third day on the job, riotous hair tamed back into a ponytail as he roamed his posh, dimly lit new surroundings Saturday night like a youthful Steven Seagal.
“I’ve never worked with a kitchen of this caliber,” he says. “It’s good to be around people who understand what you want to do.”
Campbell, whose resume includes the Mansion at Turtle Creek, Bolsa and the ill-fated Chesterfield, is now flexing his frenetic, creative energies alongside barmen Jason Long and Jordan Gantenbein, and he hopes to eventually have some influence on Abacus’ evolving drink menu and bottle selection, which typically trends toward martini spins and classic variations.
The kitchen, he says, has a Zen feel to it, a sort of flowing, if regimented, rhythm that the bar staff hope to instill as well. That means more efficient use of space and time. It could also mean barrel-aged cocktails. “Nobody here is waiting for a drink,” Campbell says.
“I miss my boys (at Standard Pour),” he says. “But I am loving the new gig.”
In a place where creativity is nourished, where the pastry chef and other staff are responsible for the gorgeous artwork gracing the walls, you get the sense that Lucky is feeling very lucky indeed.
Booze news and adventures in cocktailing, based In Dallas, Texas, USA. By Marc Ramirez, your humble scribe and boulevardier. All content and photos mine unless otherwise indicated. http://typewriterninja.com