Tag Archives: Kyle Hilla

Fall is here, but it still feels like summer. Here are some cocktails to help with that.

Yes, it might be fall, but summer don’t care. It’s decided to linger around North Texas and deliver one last beatdown, with temps in the mid-90s until early next week.

You don’t have to sit there and take it. Because when life hands you lemons, you make Sidecars, and when it hands you unbearably hot weather, you’re going to fight back with cool, refreshing cocktails.

Here are six drinks you should enjoy before autumn finally sets in.

BIG STICK MOJITO, The Theodore, NorthPark Center

Hugo Osorio, The Theodore
At The Theodore, Hugo Osorio’s Big Stick Mojito is nothing to speak softly about.

First of all, just look at this. This is a gorgeous drink. And the Big Stick Mojito – the “big stick” a reference to the famous “speak softly” quote from the president this NorthPark Center restaurant is named for – is as fun and delicious as it appears, a visual feast of green, white and red from bartender Hugo Osorio.

This mojito sweetened with tropical pineapple features a brilliant raspberry coulis that rests at the bottom of the glass, perfect for slurping through a straw while simultaneously offering balance in taste and texture.

“We wanted this cocktail to be super approachable,” says Kyle Hilla, bar director for Turn The Tables Hospitality, the group behind The Theodore as well as Bolsa, Smoke and other restaurants. “And on top of that, we wanted something incredibly stunning to look at.”

Mission accomplished, sirs.

RASPBERRY-WATERMELON FREEZE, Fat Chicken, Trinity Groves

Stephen Halpin, Fat Chicken
When it’s hot outside, your body naturally craves snow cones. It’s science.

You’re probably not surprised to see a snow cone on the list. When it’s hot out, your body naturally craves snow cones. It’s science.

However, you may be surprised to know this snow cone comes from Fat Chicken, the fried chicken joint at Trinity Groves. One of a trio of frozen drinks designed by Stephen Halpin, global mixologist for Patron tequila, the Raspberry-Watermelon Freeze is summery and fruity with a bit of DIY mischief: The mix of Patron silver, watermelon and lemon juices and muddled raspberries is presented in a small carafe that you get to pour into the heaping glass of Hawaiian shaved ice presented alongside. (Though I’d recommend first using your straw to dig out a shaft into which the liquid can descend so it doesn’t end up all over your table.)

“I wasn’t sure when I got here if people would want to drink their drinks out of a snow cone,” says manager Christopher Garrison. “But they love it.”

MEET YOUR MATCHA, Yayoi, Plano

Lyndsy Rausch, Yayoi, Plano
Shochu: It’s big in Japan.

When Lyndsy Rausch took over the bar program at Yayoi in Plano, shochu – the featured spirit at Japanese izakayas – was a natural starting point. “Adding matcha to it was really the first thing that came to mind,” she said, “because I wanted something earthy to match the complex flavors in shochu.”

A low-proof liquor distilled from rice, barley or sweet potatoes, shochu likewise is earthy; Rausch paired Iwai barley-based shochu with matcha powder, added citrus-y yuzu and mint to cut the bitterness, and topped it off with club soda. The result is radiantly green and highly drinkable, a liquid hammock to lay your thirst in when temperatures climb.

FROZEN GIN AND TONIC, Harlowe, Deep Ellum

Harlowe, Deep Ellum
This is probably why Billy Joel wrote the lyric “makin’ love to his tonic and gin.”

It’s got gin.

It’s got tonic.

And it’s frozen.

There’s much to like about Deep Ellum newcomer Harlowe, including the brunch-time lobster waffle and an expansive rooftop bar, but the simplicity of the Frozen Gin and Tonic is nothing short of genius on a 90-degree day. With nothing but a bit of star anise stranded atop the blindingly bright tundra of its surface, it’s a stone-cold certain way to punk that nasty summer-like warmth.

DUE SOUTH, Parliament, Uptown

Jeremy Koeninger, Parliament
If you’re wondering how to cool off in Uptown, I will point you Due South. (Photo by SungJoon Bruce Koo)

Another way to beat the heat is to fight fire with fire. At Parliament, bartender Jeremy Koeninger’s Due South puts a Texas spin on the tropical Painkiller, adding jalapeno to the tiki staples of rum, coconut and pineapple with a dash of orange and nutmeg.  “Being from Texas, I like the combination of spicy and sweet,” he says.

Presented with a jalapeno coin atop the foam, Due South is a terrific hot-weather refresher, showcasing creamy pineapple, cool citrus, peppery heat and a nutty finish. (I’m always surprised at how well coconut and jalapeno pair up, which is probably the one reason I never get tired of watching Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray in Lost In Translation.)

The name of the drink, Koeninger says, refers partly to the happy coincidence that any south-of the-border spirit – except for cachaca – works in the drink; pisco, in particular, is excellent.

ABSINTHE MAKES THE HEART GROW FONDER, The Cedars Social, The Cedars

The Cedars Social
If you’re both in need of refreshment and absinthe-minded, this drink is for you.

It might be hard to imagine absinthe as the basis of a soothing refresher, because unlike shochu, it’s notoriously anything but low proof. The Cedars Social’s Absinthe Makes The Heart Grow Fonder is a drink to ease the pain of a sweltering summer night, or a starry starry night, or in this case, an autumn night that still feels like summer.

Copper & Kings’ 130-proof absinthe is the star of this show, backed by a remarkable pecan-based orgeat and a chorus of soda. A fortifying fusion of licorice and pecan, it’ll almost make you wish the hot weather would linger a while longer. Almost.

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Bolting Bolsa: Stalwart bartender Kyle Hilla departs for parts north

Bolsa
Seven-year itch? The longtime face of Bolsa’s bar program is headed to NorthPark.

Bartenders are a mobile bunch, so it’s rare that a name becomes as synonymous as a place as Kyle Hilla’s did at Bolsa.

Friday was Hilla’s last day at the Oak Cliff restaurant, marking the end of a seven-year run that saw him rise from server to bartender to manager of Bolsa’s vaunted bar program, among the pioneering establishments of DFW’s craft-cocktail scene.

“I don’t think it’s hit me yet,” Hilla said at the end of his busy final night, after the place had pretty much emptied out.

The talented barman is on his way to NorthPark Center, where he’ll be heading up the bar at The Theodore, the new venture from the owners of Bolsa, nearby Bolsa Mercado, Chicken Scratch and The Foundry. In his stead, the gifted Spencer Shelton will be assuming Bolsa’s bar reins.

Like many a bartender, Hilla didn’t set out to pour drinks. Instead, he tired of a retail manager position (“To this day, I’m still the youngest store manager in Dollar General history,” he said) and aimed to head back to school. In the meantime, he figured, he’d be a server. That eventually brought him to Bolsa, where then-bar-managers Eddie “Lucky” Campbell and Dub Davis kept prodding the Boy Wonder to get behind the bar. He resisted – until the night Campbell asked him to help make drinks at an art gallery special event.

“I had the time of my life,” he said. Two days later, he was walking the aisles of a Kroger store with now-wife Jessica and realized he’d been transformed. “Everything I saw in the store, I was like, `Hmm, what can I make a cocktail with?’ “

Hilla embraced the jigger and shaker, and in the ensuing years, as the cocktail scene began to grow, both Davis and Campbell (and Jason Kosmas, who had left New York’s Employees Only to raise a family in Texas) departed for other projects. In 2010, Hilla took over the bar.

He further streamlined the program, making his cheerful, quip-smart presence a Bolsa mainstay, along with attentive service and creative mixology. “People before me laid an amazing foundation,” he said. “I just focused it.”

Campbell and Kosmas had created one of the bar’s best-known features, the weekly cocktail challenge on Wednesdays in which two bartenders would face off, creating cocktails based on a pair of customer-chosen ingredients and let the night’s sales dictate a winner. Those ingredients occasionally verged on the ridiculous, stretching bartenders’ talents and imaginations to extremes – for instance, banana ketchup. “Think about that, buddy,” he nodded with a wry smile. (He made a Bloody Mary.) “There was a time when I hated Wednesdays.”

Others included oysters, black garlic or Pop Rocks. “Pop Rocks were terrible,” he said.

Eventually, Hilla rescheduled the challenges to just the first Wednesday of each month, and his final match – against bartender Marcos Hernandez – took place on September 3. Hilla drew saffron and tangerines, Hernandez got plums and blood orange. It was Hernandez who late last year conceived a drink that paired the bitter Italian liqueur Cynar’s artichoke flavor notes with the smokiness of toasted mesquite chips. But it was Hilla who eventually named it, calling it the Imenta.

“When we first came out with it,” Hernandez said, “it was the Oaky Smoky Arthichoke-y.”

“And that’s why we started requiring drug tests at work,” Hilla cracked.

In his seven years at Bolsa, Hilla has gotten to know a few people. “I know 99 percent of the people who come in here,” he said as the minutes ticked down on Friday night’s last shift, and he hopes some of his regulars follow him to The Theodore, set to open late next month at NorthPark. He told one pair of retiree regulars, “Y’all just need to become mall walkers. I’ll tell you what – I’ll invent a drink called the Mall Walker just for you.”

Moving on and up is the next logical step for Hilla, but it’s hard to see familiar traditions end. Bolsa was among my first cocktail finds when I moved to Dallas five years ago, so for my last Hilla-made drink there, I asked for something bitter/sweet to commemorate the moment. He produced a blend of bourbon and Cynar goodness and made clear that in spite of the change, he and Jessica won’t be forgetting Oak Cliff anytime soon.

“We just closed on a house here,” he said. “I’ll always be a part of this community.”

Coming soon: Five pop-up bars all under one roof — and it’s all for charity

The Standard Pour
Bolsa’s Kyle Hilla, left, is all smiles as the pop-up bar “draft” gets underway in preparation for Sunday’s annual fundraiser.

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.

The Standard Pour
Your five pop-up bar captains: Campbell, Sanders, Orth, Moore, Hilla. Yup, it’s going to be a party.

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.

The Standard Pour
Knife’s Moore, left, meets outside The Standard Pour with members of his team, including Windmill Lounge’s Reith, Windmill co-founder Charlie Papaceno and Proof + Pantry’s Hendrix.

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:

Burning Saddle Saloon: https://www.facebook.com/burningsaddledallas

Red Card Sports Bar: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Red-Card/597869657005457

Klub Dreemz: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Klub-Dreemz/628717833906094

Booty Bar and Half Mast Tiki Lounge: https://www.facebook.com/bootybartiki

The & and &: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-And-/317489505118782

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.

The Standard Pour
LARK’s Matt Orth, center, meets with his “drafted” team at The Standard Pour. The nightclub-themed pop-up will be called Klub Dreemz.

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.”

 

Enjoy craft drinks, help make kids’ wishes come true at Sunday’s Cocktails For A Cause

Cocktails for a Cause: And a good one, at that.
Cocktails for a Cause: And a good one, at that.

It’s holiday season, and that means you’ve added a few more things on your to-do list.

  1. Give to charity
  2. Have a holiday cocktail or two

Well,  joy to your world: Now’s your chance to do both at once at the second annual Cocktails For A Cause, happening this Sunday at The Standard Pour in Uptown from 6 p.m. until close.  The evening’s “ultimate pop-up bar” will feature $10 cocktails made by a rotating, ridiculously rife assortment of local bartenders, with all proceeds going toward Trigger’s Toys, a charity benefiting hospitalized children.

The cool thing, says charity founder Bryan Townsend – who named the organization after his golden Lab – is that bartenders have been clamoring to join in on the reindeer games. “It’s been overwhelming, the response,” he says. “People were actually really upset that they missed out last year.”

And not just because they might have missed the inaugural event’s spectacle of bar man extraordinaire Michael Martensen in a Santa suit: No, this is a chance to help make children’s wishes come true, to help create awwwww moments like the night when Townsend and his pals get to deliver a truckload of toys to kids Baylor Medical Center. “My favorite night of the year,” Townsend says.

Last year’s event, which Townsend coordinated along with Standard Pour’s Brian McCullough and Sean Conner of Whiskey Cake in Plano, raised $17,000. He’s hoping that Sunday’s event, combined with what sponsors have already donated, will raise as much as $50,000 to help fund the charity’s efforts in the coming year.

And so, 45 of your favorite drink crafters will be taking turns behind the bar, which as you might guess is just about every bartender in Whoville. In addition to Conner, McCullough and Martensen, the lineup includes Abacus’ Lucky Campbell, Alex Fletcher and Chris Dempsey of Victor Tango’s, Central 214’s Amber West, Bolsa’s Kyle Hilla, Bonnie Wilson of The Ranch at Las Colinas, Windmill’s Charlie Papaceno, a smattering of bar peeps from Fort Worth’s The Usual – the list goes on and you’ll be checking it twice to make sure you’re not just seeing things.

At Standard Pour
Brian McCullough, Mike Martensen and Charlie Papaceno will be among the all-star lineup at Sunday’s event.

“It gives us a chance to get together and have some fun and not compete,” Conner says. “To just throw out some really good drinks and raise money for the less fortunate around holiday time.”

They have fun. You drink craft cocktails from an all-star lineup of bartenders. Children’s wishes come true. Everybody wins.

THE STANDARD POUR, 2900 McKinney Avenue, Dallas. 214-935-1370.

 

Dallas bartenders make a Lone Star splash at national cocktail festival

As Private/Social’s Rocco Milano put it, things went wrong. Campari bottles broke. Ordered produce was nowhere to be seen. A batch of concentrated blackberry mix blew up in Whiskey Cake bartender Bonnie Wilson’s car.

Whatevs. Texas knows how to go big, never mind the circumstances. And given their chance in the spotlight, Dallas bartenders left their Lone Star mark on this year’s 10th annual Tales Of The Cocktail conference in New Orleans: No one who stepped into the Iberville Ballroom of the Hotel Monteleone could leave saying they didn’t have a good time. OK, maybe whoever had to clean up the blackberry juice. But on the whole. Seriously.

Drinks flowed. Multitudes appeared. Moods lifted. The Chesterfield’s Eddie “Lucky” Campbell sang a song. And this was all before noon.

The Chesterfield’s Campbell with the double-pour.

“Come And Get It! Cocktails Texas Style!” was the title of the Wednesday morning tasting event, and despite the tricky A.M. draw on the festival’s opening day, word in the stairwells was that the session was the rockingest party in its time slot. An all-star crew of Dallas barmen and women shook their stuff for a packed room of conference attendees: There was Mike Martensen of The Cedars Social, Oak’s Abe Bedell, Standard Pour’s Brian McCullough, Jay Kosmas of Marquee Grill & Bar… the list goes on.

But even before the doors opened at 10:30 a.m., things looked a little shaky, and not in the diffused citrus and disintegrating ice-crystals sort of way. A day earlier, Bonnie Wilson had arrived with bottles of blackberry puree corked and sealed by Whiskey Cake’s Sean Conner, then checked into the hotel. Sugars fermented. Pressure built. The next morning, they opened the car to find that streams of puree had burst through the box overnight. “It looked like a paintball gun had hit the roof,” Conner said.

One bottle survived. And now it was Wednesday morning and the Dallas bartenders frantically readied workstations, setting up tiny sampler glasses, organizing their mises-en-place.

Then, suddenly, Bonnie Wilson’s voice cut through the room: “Oh, Anthony!”

Then, anyone who turned to watch, which was everybody, saw a blast of burgundy spewing in a volcanic rush from Conner’s surviving bottle of berry mix, which Whiskey Cake’s Anthony Krencik had just uncorked. Before they could stanch the flow, much of the mix had doused them and the hotel carpet in a bath of goopy concentrate.

Kosmas, as always unflappable amid the chaos, walked in two minutes later. “Oh, another explosion?” he said.

Bonnie Wilson’s “Bird” was a fetching blend of Evan Williams single-barrel whiskey, black tea, blackberry puree and Benedictine topped with sweet vanilla cream and mint leaf.

Meanwhile, Bolsa’s Hilla had had to scramble when the produce he’d ordered never showed, forcing a last-minute cab ride to the market. His planned drink – the Cherry Pit – became, well, something else. “You can call it the Plum Pit,” he said.

Before long the troublesome juju was lost in an increasingly happy flow of people, who sampled drinks ranging from Abe Bedell’s Barbados Breeze – a frosty blend of Mount Gay XO rum, basil, ginger, lime, pineapple and banana-coconut sorbet – to Kosmas’ Oaxaca Sour, a deliciously smoky blend of Ilegal mezcal, Texas grapefruit, honey cordial, egg white, lime, barrel-aged bitters and a sprinkling of nutmeg.

Bolsa’s Kyle Hilla made do with a last-minute produce run.

Martensen and Cedars Social owner Brian Williams had recreated a mini version of their bar in the ballroom, propping up signature menus and a small array of books on the table to evoke Cedars’ study-like atmosphere. Martensen had gone as basic as possible. “I’m doing the original margarita,” he said. “We want to represent Texas, right?”

Martensen has been coming to Tales for years, and Williams joined him starting four years ago. But Dallas was barely represented otherwise, and today’s splash showed how far the scene has come.

“It’s good representation for Dallas,” Williams said. “We have so many chain restaurants, and people get caught up in the whole restaurants-per-capita thing It’s good to let people know we’re out there.”

The Cedars Social’s Mike Martensen made margaritas. “We’re representing Texas, right?”

Eventually, Chesterfield’s Campbell – who was flanked by New Orleans native and Dallas chef David Anthony Temple, he of the festive “underground” dinners – would make a prideful speech and belt out “Deep In The Heart Of Texas.”

You could say Private/Social’s Milano was, well, moved. “As I look around the room, this is, to me, a minor miracle,” he said. “This is awesome. We are not a backwater third-tier market.”

And Krencik, in the conference T-shirt he’d quickly bought to replace his berry-drenched top, added this: “Texas is one of those states everybody knows, but they probably don’t expect us to bring a cocktail game. But from five years ago to now, it has just skyrocketed. We’re, like, the underdogs, coming out and showing that we can shake.”

The fun showed no sign of slowing down until conference officials finally shooed everyone out of the room. As the buoyant Dallas bunch headed onto the streets of the French Quarter to celebrate at nearby Mr. B’s Bistro, a hotel staff person came up to Bolsa’s Hilla.

“Sir,” she said. “Your produce is here.”

Dallas’ Lauren Laposta was here to help the Lone Star State represent.

— Marc Ramirez

Published 7-27-12