In the movies, Elm Street might be the stuff of nightmares, but in Dallas’ Deep Ellum neighborhood, it’s become a cocktail drinker’s reverie. With a growing list of newcomers now riding alongside the unflappable Black Swan Saloon, this hopping stone’s-throw stretch between Good-Latimer and Malcolm X is a destination fit to spend a Saturday afternoon and evening while catching a show nearby.
Here are five drinks, at five different spots, that you could potentially have – or share! – while you’re at it.
PINA COLADA NO. 2 – at Armoury DE
Start at Armoury, because the place opens at 4. Share a duck-heart appetizer with your pal and pair it with the Pina Colada No. 2. This tangy tiki tipple comes from barman Cody Yarbrough, who was browsing through 1895, the excellent olive oil/vinegar shop newly opened a couple blocks away on Main, when he discovered the store’s coconut balsamic. “I tried it and I was, like, we have to do something with this,” Yarbrough said. The PC#2 is the result, a mouthparty of Brazilian cachaca, lime, orgeat and soda, plus that delicious coconut balsamic, garnished with a flamed pineapple.
THE DELIGHT – at Hide
Head to Hide, the cocktail lab near Malcolm X where the bar peeps get all NASA on your cocktails, producing drinks that are more delicious than gimmicky. Spirits are “milk washed” and relieved of their harshness; citrus juices are clarified for a pure veneer; soda and tonic water are eschewed in favor of a lighter-handed carbonating device. And because it’s still early, you’ll want the aperitif-style Delight, a low-proof bittersweet ballet of Aperol and Cynar tamed with grapefruit and elderflower. The cocktail is whirled in a Perlini device for a delicate carbonation; the fizz curls up on the roof of your mouth like a cat settling onto a sunny windowsill.
SLOWPOKE RODRIGUEZ – at Brick and Bones
By now you’re getting ravenous, and the duck hearts at Armoury barely sated your appetite. You want to some more grub before showtime, so look no further than across the street to Brick and Bones, which serves up some pretty fantastic fried chicken. The drinks at this joint all recall old cartoon characters, some more obscure than others. Try the Slowpoke Rodriguez, named for Speedy Gonzales’ acceleration-challenged cousin – a flavor fest of hibiscus-infused tequila with a sweet-tart mix of amaretto and blood orange liqueur and a splash of jalapeno syrup for spice. “It’s like a Margarita without the acid,” says bartender Dre Cantu.
SMOKEY BANDIT – at High and Tight
The show is over, and you and your concert ears are ready to start winding down. Head over to High and Tight, whose back entrance you’ll find in the parking lot adjoining Armoury – and have Austin Gurley’s hardy Smokey Bandit, in which cinnamon-spiced bourbon meets hickory-smoked Cynar 70, doubles down on the smoke with a bit of mezcal and goes deep with a power-boost of chocolate bitters and anise-y Pernod. The drink is garnished with a twinkle of star anise. “The idea was to be boozy and complex, but approachable,” Gurley says. Mr. Bandit, you may approach the bench.
PINEAPPLE RUM OLD FASHIONED – at Black Swan
Finally, it’s time for, you guessed it…. your nightcap on Elm Street. Pay a visit to Deep Ellum’s craft-cocktail old-timer, the Black Swan Saloon, just a door to the west. Inside this discreet dive-bar-style hideout, proprietor Gabe Sanchez’s Pineapple Rum Old Fashioned is a tropical tri-rum-virate, with Plantation’s aged pineapple rum the star of the show. While the idea of pineapple rum might sound contrived, it’s actually got centuries-old roots, as cocktail historian David Wondrich told the New York Times: “It was a thing distillers used to do. It was done in the island. They’d soak pineapple in the barrel; it gave the rum a sweetness and richness. It was not wildly popular, but you’d see it.” Now you can, too, with Sanchez’s elegant drink a fitting sign-off before your ride home.
The Singapore Sling is the Rashomon of cocktails: Everyone remembers it differently. Like a rumor that starts at one side of the table and wildly mutates by the time it comes back round again, it’s a tasty tale whose twists and turns vary depending on who’s doing the telling.
How is it still considered a classic?
Because despite its many tweaks – “The Singapore Sling has taken a lot of abuse over the years,” wrote tiki master Jeff Berry in his book Beachbum Berry Remixed – it’s managed to stay delicious no matter how it’s interpreted. Even gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson considered it a favorite.
But somewhere along the line, the century-old drink attributed to bartender Ngiam Tong Boon of Singapore’s Raffles Hotel lost sight of its simpler beginnings, becoming a tropical mishmash of seven ingredients or more – and a headache for bartenders, which may be why you rarely see it on bar menus. “I remember Sasha (Petraske, founder of the classic New York City bar Milk and Honey) was not a fan,” says Chad Solomon of Dallas’ Midnight Rambler, who worked with the late cocktail legend. “But people loved drinking it. He was, like, ‘It’s got too many damn ingredients!’ ”
It’s a misfit of a drink, a gin-powered cocktail that muscled its way into the tiki canon through luck and guile, disguising itself in pineapple and grenadine. But while its more dignified origins faded in the process, two Dallas bars – Industry Alley and Midnight Rambler – are breathing new life into the Sleeping Beauty that’s been there all along.
Imagine two actor brothers born in close succession. They look just enough alike, and their names are similar enough, that they’re often confused with each other. The older brother teaches the younger one all he knows, but the younger brother’s easier disposition makes him more likable than his rugged, reserved sibling. And when the younger’s career veers from drama into comedy, making him a star, the family name rises to fame with him.
That seems to be the story of the Singapore Sling, whose sweeter flavors and catchier name propelled it through the thick and thin of cocktail lineage rather than its older brother, the Straits Sling. A sling is a type of drink, at its base a simple mix of spirit, sweetener and water. As cocktails historian David Wondrich observed in his book Imbibe!, it’s “a simple drink in the same way a tripod is a simple device: Remove one leg and it cannot stand, set it up properly and it will hold the whole weight of the world.”
The Straits Sling, born sometime in the late 1800s, was just that: A mix of gin (spirit), sweetener (Benedictine, a honey-sweet herbal liqueuer) and carbonated soda (water), plus lemon and bitters. But its defining flavor was cherry – in the form of kirsch, a dry cherry brandy.
The original Singapore Sling – at least as well as anyone can figure out – was basically the same drink, except that it used sweet cherry brandy instead of dry and subbed lime as the citrus. That’s the Singapore Sling you’ll get if you order the classic drink at Midnight Rambler in downtown Dallas, and a few dashes of Angostura make all the difference, giving depth to what would otherwise taste like an off-kilter black cherry soda.
Adam McDowell includes the mix in his entertaining and recently published Drinks: A User’s Guide, whose characterization is hard to argue with: “Here’s the correct recipe; ignore all other versions like the meaningless static they are.”
1 oz London dry gin
1 oz cherry brandy
1 oz Benedictine
1 oz lime
3 d Angostura bitters
Stir in a Collins glass. Garnish w/Maraschino cherries
You’ll also find the drink on the inaugural menu at Industry Alley just south of downtown, where owner Charlie Papaceno digs its less-is-more simplicity. “It’s like with French cooking: Here’s the mother sauce,” he says. “Here’s what we work from.”
But of course Papaceno had to tweak his version just a little. Rather than using equal parts, his recipe boosts the gin and tones down the liqueurs, with just a squeeze of lime. The drink is tart and a bit Scotchy thanks to its signature ingredient, Cherry Heering – not the summery cool pineapple drink the name usually calls to mind, but a leathery, autumn-ready gin-and-tonic.
“So, it’s like, to take it back,” Papaceno says. “Somehow it’s just gotten so tricked up.”
Until Wondrich tracked down the recipe above in a 1913 Singapore newspaper, no one really knew what the standard was for sure. By the late 1920s and early 1930s the rumor was a good ways down the table and already starting to morph; even the Raffles Hotel itself touted an “original” recipe in the 1930s with pineapple and grenadine, flowery additions that nonetheless endeared it to the wave of tiki that was just starting to emerge.
Before long the drink with the catchy name became a game of eeny meeny miny mo, something everyone did but felt free to put their own spin on. “Of all the recipes published for this drink, I have never seen any two that were alike,” wrote David Embury in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (1948).
Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide (1947) included two versions; so did Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology (2003), listing the neglected Straits Sling recipe as “Singapore Sling #1” and offering a second that included triple sec.
“The Singapore Sling is a perfect example of the kind of drinks that came from outside the world of tiki establishments and took up residence on tiki menus everywhere,” wrote San Francisco bar owners Martin and Rebecca Cate in Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki (2016). The legendary Trader Vic, they wrote, included it on his first menu under the category, “Drinks I Have Gathered from the Four Corners of the Globe.”
Here’s a typically involved recipe, the one I favored for a while, from The PDT Cocktail Book: The Complete Bartender’s Guide from the Celebrated Speakeasy (2011):
2 oz. pineapple
1 ½ oz gin
½ oz Cherry Heering
½ oz grenadine (I use pomegranate molasses)
¼ oz Cointreau
¼ oz Benedictine
¼ oz lime
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled Collins glass filled with ice. Garnish with a cherry and a slice of pineapple.
Yep, that’s a lot of moving parts for one drink. No wonder Wondrich once wrote: “The Singapore Sling is one of those complicated drinks that taste better when you don’t have to make them.”
But, you might be saying, what about the Straits Sling? Isn’t it being neglected all over again?
Not anymore, thanks to Midnight Rambler, where mixmaster Solomon has revived his own version of the drink with a wry literary nod.
Even before he began learning the craft, Solomon had the Singapore Sling on his radar after reading Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in high school. “(Thompson) was describing sitting poolside at his hotel with a Singapore Sling, a side of mezcal and a beer chaser,” Solomon said. “I was, like — what’s a Singapore Sling?”
Then Solomon happened into the budding cocktail renaissance underway in New York City in the early years of the millennium, working at classic bars like Milk and Honey and the Pegu Club. In 2004, Ted Haigh gave a nod to the drier Straits Sling in his book, Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails – “but if you make it as Ted as written,” Solomon says, “it’s a terrible drink. Virtually undrinkable.”
Egged on by cocktails writer Martin Douderoff, one of his Pegu Club regulars, Solomon decided to see how he could improve on the drink while keeping its historical accuracy. By early 2006, he’d hit on a Benedictine-less version that used both dry and sweet cherry brandies – kirsch and Cherry Heering. It appeared on the Pegu Club menu later that year as the Solomon Sling.
Late this summer, as Solomon prepared Midnight Rambler’s fall menu, he knew he wanted to incorporate seasonal stone-fruit flavors, but not in an overly sweet way. When one of his bartenders suggested he reincarnate the Solomon Sling, he thought,“Okay. But let’s have some fun with it: Let’s serve it Hunter S. Thompson style and miniaturize it.’”
And that’s how you’ll find it on Rambler’s current menu – served “Gonzo-style” and slightly downsized with a side of mezcal and a Miller High Life pony. It’s a delicate drink, slightly sweet with a lush cherry finish – and did I mention it comes with a side of mezcal and a Miller High Life pony?
The sibling slings are finally having their day, and there’s little to fear or loathe about it.
It’s a scene still in the nest, but you wouldn’t know it from the mob scene at Maison Artemisia, an old-timey-chic urban hideaway in Mexico City’s trendy Roma neighborhood. As befits the global metropolis of 8.8 million, the bar’s three-deep lines are plush with people from all over – but on this night, many are in Mexico City for the most recent episode in a series of cocktail and spirits conferences set in places around the world.
Tales of the Cocktail (TOTC) – the spirits-minded juggernaut behind the eponymous annual festival every summer in New Orleans – came to Mexico last week, its latest push to highlight up-and-coming mixology markets worldwide as the U.S.-led craft-cocktail renaissance continues to chart new terrain. It’s called Tales of the Cocktail on Tour, and like a pared-down version of its mammoth mothership in NOLA, the bartender-oriented event is a mix of workshops, distillery tours, networking, distributor-sponsored brunches and parties and the chance to visit the bars leading the local charge.
“We pick markets that we see bubbling up and shine a spotlight on them,” said TOTC founder Anne Tuennerman. “When we say we’re going to a city, people think, there must be something going on there.”
The intent is to showcase each city’s potential for distributors and brand ambassadors and to enrich the local soil of knowledge with the wisdom and talents of industry veterans and experts like tiki writer Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and Esquire columnist David Wondrich. In turn, visiting bartenders gain insight into local ingredients and methods to take back home. Sponsor companies build brand loyalty. Ultimately, the rest of us get to drink better drinks in more places. Everybody wins.
The Tales on Tour gatherings are held in successive years before moving on to a new city, leaving the young bird to fly on its own. Mexico City is the third city to fall into the TOTC spotlight; Vancouver and Buenos Aires were before that. “What’s really cool is to see these cities after Tales has been there once,” said bar consultant Don Lee of Cocktail Kingdom, an online bar-implements and spirits literature seller. “They’re excited to grow.”
Having Tales come to Vancouver “was huge,” said bartender Dani Tatarin of the city’s Keefer Bar. “It gave us an extra push of publicity that people could see, and it highlighted the talents of people in the industry. Since then, we’ve kind of nurtured it along.”
The Mexico City attendees came from all over, from locals like Carlos Mendoza and Mauricio Hernandez of Podcast Borracho (“Drunken Podcast”) to a sizable posse from Guadalajara. There were bartenders from Austin, Key West, Miami, New York and Bellevue, Wash., cocktail writers from Seattle and Paris; groupies from Boston. Others came from countries like Puerto Rico, Brazil, Russia and Australia.
One afternoon, we piled into coaches for a tour of Bacardi’s Mexico plant in Cuautitlan Izcalli, an hour away from central Mexico City toward the state of Queretaro. Along the way, we rolled past graffiti’d embankments, homes with rooftop clotheslines and sprawling hillside communities before reaching the plant, where we found music, a carnivore’s lunch and, of course, mojitos and Cuba Libres. My favorite of the batch was La Familia, a well-rounded rumba of Bacardi, orange juice, Fino Sherry and sweet vermouth served in a coupe with a side of gooey, delicious chocolate-glazed popcorn or a slab of chocolate. It was a pleasingly perfect match.
In the facility’s musty, sweetly aromatic barrel storage warehouse, overhead misters moistened the air – and our hair. “It smells so good in here,” said bartender Juan Carlos Machuca of Guadalajara, where he’s creating cocktails for a new restaurant.
The next day brought a lineup of workshops and discussions, from the merits of sugar and modern bar technique to the pineapple as a symbol of hospitality and the “dark ages” of mixology (1958-1977), when convenience and quantity bested style and substance. “The Margarita suffered tremendously in the 1970s,” said writer Berry. “The blender was basically The Devil back then. It made life easier for bartenders.”
Each night brought chances to sample Mexico City’s fairly new but mostly impressive craft-cocktail culture, sprouting primarily in the trendy Roma and Condesa neighborhoods. (That’s also true for mezcalerias, such as La Nacional and Sobrinos, that specialize in tequila’s smokier cousin.) Spirits like Diplomatico Rum and Chivas Regal sponsored special menus during Tales’ run and bartenders from around the world came to help staff the busy bar nights. In general, drinks ran about $6-12 U.S.
“Designer cocktails are still a very small niche,” said a local food and drink blogger who goes by the handle Gastronauta. “It’s growing, but slowly.”
In addition to Maison Artemisia and pair of rogue visits to mezcalerias, I was only to get to barely a half-dozen spots on Tales’ itinerary, including Baltra and Bar Lilit. These were my three favorites:
LICORERIA LIMANTOUR, the city’s first real craft-cocktail bar when it opened three years ago. Next door to mezcal-minded Sobrinos in the Roma area, its two floors of well-crafted cocktails and dark elegance overlook busy Alvaro Obregon Avenue. Visiting mixologist Sebastian Gans’ of Paris’ Candelaria made one of my favorite cocktails of the week, the apricot-shaded Orange Is The New Black, with tequila, mezcal, carrot, kaffir lime, yellow lime and ginger. Even the shot-sized sangrita Gans made to complement a bit of straight tequila was outstanding, with mango, tomato, coriander, lime and chipotle.
JULES’ BASEMENT, in the ritzy Polanco neighborhood, is a nicely conceived speakeasy below a Mexican restaurant accessed by what at first looks to be the door of the restaurant’s walk-in freezer. (There is a large, suited doorman outside. And a small hostess.) If you’re lucky enough to be on the list, the door will open, and the sound of thumping bass will signal the dark otherworld below. Down the stairs and you’re in a low-ceilinged, dance club atmosphere where able bartenders crank out house drinks and classics like the Cucaracha, Old Cuban and Mary Pickford. Overall, not typically my scene, but the drinks were well executed and the service was top-notch.
BAR FELINA: If I lived here, this low-key but classy refuge sited in the quirky, subdued Hipodromo neighborhood near Condesa would be my hang. There, Minneapolis transplant Jane Soli-Holt could be credited for one of the best Old Fashioneds I’ve had in some time – a beautifully presented Almond Old Fashioned made with Angostura 1919 rum, almond-cinnamon syrup, orange-allspice bitters, Angostura bitters and a thin curl or two of mulato pepper. Its sweetness spoke of depth rather than cloyingness. The bar’s casual vibe was accented by a DJ spinning classic vinyl dorm-room-style. It was more of a den in which to enjoy fine drinks and talk about big ideas than a place to see and be seen.
Beyond that, Mexico City itself was a sensory delight, from its plentiful in-city parks to the magnificence of the Palacio de Bellas Artes and the grandiosity of Plaza de la Constitucion. I enjoyed one of the best street-taco experiences ever at hole-in-the-wall Los Cocuyos, no doubt just the tip of the iceberg. It was easy and inexpensive to get around; Uber operates in Mexico City now along with worthwhile competitors, such as Yaxi. I loved how street-crossing was a constant game of Frogger, as equally well played by the elderly as the young; cars and people move in closer proximity on busy city streets than we are used to here. And one of the finest views in the city can be had from an eighth-floor café in the Sears Department store.
But for cocktail fans, it’s good to know that you can visit the city and find a decent drink, a situation that in Tales’ wake seems only destined to improve.
“You have no idea how important this is to us,” said Philippe Zaigue, Mexico brand ambassador for Havana Club rum. “It’s allowed us to communicate to the world what we’re doing. And, it will give us the feedback we need to make things better.”
“The culture of drink endures because it offers so many rewards… above all the elusive promise of friendship and love.”
– Pete Hamill, from the documentary Hey Bartender
Yeah, think about that. You’re at your favorite bar, which is your favorite bar because they know what you like, or are clever enough to play to your tastes, or because they give you that little extra pour, or because they slyly started that conversation with you and that cute girl two seats away – but wait. Who’s they?
It’s bartenders, that’s who. And in this craft-cocktail renaissance that has demanded even higher levels of professionalism from those fine gents and damsels behind the counter, they are your tour guides.
Now comes a 2013 documentary that marks their role in the ongoing cocktail revival. Hey Bartender will screen at 7 p.m. Monday at the Highland Park Village Theater. Written and directed by Douglas Tirola, the film launched in New York City and Los Angeles earlier this year and follows the ups and downs of two bartenders: Steve Schneider, a retired U.S. Marine who hopes to tend bar at New York City speakeasy Employees Only; and Steve Carpentieri, owner of Dunville’s, a struggling pints-n-shots corner bar in small-town coastal Connecticut.
Employees Only, of course, is where Texas’ own Jason Kosmas earned his juice as one of the pioneering bar’s co-owners before he relocated to Dallas. (It’s also a bar Esquire’s David Wondrich calls “the greatest date bar in the world.”) Kosmas, who now co-owns The 86 Co. spirits venture, has since moved to Austin but had helped convince 4th Row Films to offer the screening here.
The events in Hey Bartender take place about the time Kosmas came to Texas – one reason, he says, he’s not more prominently featured in the film. On the other hand, it gave him the chance to see Dallas cocktail culture go from tottering baby deer to the swaggering buck it is today. (And of course Kosmas had much to do with that, though he doesn’t say so.)
In that sense, getting 4th Row Films to screen the film here was a way to thank his local bartending and alcohol industry community for eschewing the standard vodka-and-Red-Bull approach to help to bring the scene to where it is now.
The film features contributions from Dale DeGroff, widely acknowledged as man behind the revival; Charlotte Voisey, representative for family-owned distillery William Grant and Sons, which has partnered with the film; and prominent New York bar owners and drink makers Jim Meehan, Audrey Saunders and Sasha Petraske.
The film features a black-and-white photo of a youthful, less hirsute Kosmas in his mid-20s, when he met fellow Employees Only co-owner Dushan Zaric. Both were tending bar at Pravda, Dale DeGroff’s first venture outside the famed Rainbow Room. “We were kids,” he says.
Tickets to the film are $11.95, but seats are very limited. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to call the theater beforehand to confirm availability. Or try buying tickets here. Kosmas, for one, will be returning to Dallas for the occasion.
“I’m really excited,” he says. “It’ll be great to come back home.”
Because sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.
HIGHLAND PARK VILLAGE THEATER, 32 Highland Park Village. 214-443-0222.
Sometimes the little guys really do get the glory. While Dallas’ cocktail culture has gone from practically zero to 60 in a little over two years, a few enthusiastic souls were already out there revving up the engine before the whole thing even went into drive.
For the most part, those people are unsung pioneers. That’s why it was nice to see this month’s issue of Esquire packing a nice surprise for Charlie Papaceno and Louise Owens, owners of the veritable Windmill Lounge, the decidedly unfancy cocktail bar along a decidedly unfancy patch of Dallas’ Maple Avenue.
Some time earlier, someone at the magazine had asked the two to send a high-resolution photo of the place, and at most they figured (excitedly) that esteemed cocktail scribe David Wondrich was going to somehow slide in a brief mention of the Windmill in his column.
But when a patron came in and said that Wondrich had ranked the place as one of the best bars in America, Charlie and Louise were absolutely stunned.
Wondrich’s introductory article laments the loss of dive bars, the vanishing crop of juke joints low on pretension and high on quality drinks. The accompanying list cites bars that are, if not actually dives, at least those that Wondrich figures have a chance to become long-lasting institutions. Most are fairly new, and the two I’ve actually been to – Bellocq in New Orleans, and Cambridge’s Brick and Mortar – are far from divey; instead they’re polished and popular, with excellent drinks and food beyond your standard bar snacks. The vibe at Bellocq was sleek and effortlessly New York cool, and I especially loved Brick and Mortar’s Whale Song, a plaintive splash of Jamaican rum, Amaro Montenegro, spiced cranberry and lime..
You would never find something called a Whale Song at the Windmill. What you will find are some of the best classic cocktails in town – solid Manhattans and fabulous Negronis, dished up by a pair of bartenders who have been at it for longer than most craft-cocktailers have been in DFW. You’ll also find, as Wondrich notes, a punk-heavy jukebox, crusty regulars and all-day $3 highball specials. Nothing fancy here, as I noted in a previous post on the city’s overall lack of pretension: No fuss, no frills, no fireworks (“The idea of fire in my bar scares me,” Papaceno says): Just your basic watering hole, a place to hang with your homies and drink the classics the way they were meant to be.
This is good timing for the Windmill, which tonight marks its 8th anniversary (has it been that long? seriously?) with a bash starting at 9:30 p.m., complete with DJ. Stop by, have a little rum or somesuch, and offer Charlie and Louise the congratulations they deserve. (Note: Parking will be tight, and surrounding lots are mostly off-limits: Papaceno suggests trying the Rio Grande Supermarket parking area.) You may find yourself tilting before long.
WINDMILL LOUNGE, 5320 Maple Ave., Dallas. 214-443-7818
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