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Sugar and spice and everything nice: 2018’s best in DFW cocktails

Some of the year’s best, clockwise from upper left: Cody Riggs’ Bitter Marriage at The Mitchell; Griffin Keys’ Let Me Clarify at Boulevardier; Matt Konrad’s Witch Hunter at Thompson’s Bookstore; and Ryan Payne’s Blu-Tang Clan at Tiny Victories.

Housing prices are falling, the stock market is flailing, but if there’s anything we can count on, it’s craft cocktails: From Dallas to Lewisville to Frisco, from Fort Worth to Trophy Club to McKinney, imbibers in 2018 had an ever-growing bounty of riches from which to choose.

The scene welcomed new destinations like Ruins, 4 Kahunas, 3Eleven and Tiny Victories into the fold, along with solid cocktail programs at new restaurants like Macellaio, Sachet and Bullion in Dallas, and Local Yocal in McKinney. While trying to keep up with it all is a Sisyphean effort, some trends did emerge from within the fray.

This was the year of designer dessert drinks and aguardientes, or sugarcane-based spirits: Rum, the most common, was more widely implemented, and not just at 4 Kahunas, Arlington’s legit new tiki outpost. With the thirst for new and unique liquors reaching ever farther into untapped regions, a pair of lesser-known aguardientes found footing in local cocktails – Oaxaca’s fabulous Paranubes and Michoacan-based charanda.

It wasn’t all sugarland, though: Singani 63, a gorgeous Bolivian brandy similar to pisco, and Italicus, the beautiful bergamot-flavored Italian aperitif, also made welcome inroads, while Spanish sherries flourished and Japanese shochu tiptoed on the fringes, most notably in George Kaiho’s ingenious Earth Wind and Fire at Jettison, which teamed it with mezcal and Green Chartreuse.

Visually, bartenders went the extra mile to create drinks as photogenic as they were tasty, such as Griffin Keys’ Let Me Clarify, a stunning Queen’s Swizzle variation at Bishop Arts’ Boulevardier; Matt Konrad’s fernet-topped Witch Hunter at Thompson’s Bookstore in Fort Worth; Ryan Payne’s captivating Blu-Tang Clan at Tiny Victories; and at the Mitchell, Cody Riggs’ tongue-in-cheek Bitter Marriage, garnished with a faux business card hawking the divorce firm of Ditcher, Quick and Hyde.

Cocktails were also a natural landing zone for turmeric, the “it” health ingredient of the year — for example, Wes Enid’s Turmeric Daiquiri at Atwater Alley in Knox-Henderson. Meanwhile, bartenders more boldly employed nuttiness as a flavor – as in Jones Long’s pecan-infused A Drink With No Name at Bolsa, or Kaiho’s sesame-paste-enhanced Concrete Jungle at Jettison – and increasingly looked to tropical fruits like banana, mango, passion fruit and guava.

As always, the cocktail cornucopia was hard to narrow down, but these were my 15 favorite drinks of 2018.

Guillen’s Gaucho Highball: Don’t cry for me, Argentina.

15. GAUCHO HIGHBALL (Daniel Guillen, La Duni, NorthPark Center)

Glenfiddich 12 Single Malt, Fernet, grapefruit soda

In the summer, the Speyside single malt Glenfiddich launched a campaign pushing its 12-year-old Scotch as the perfect vehicle for a whisky highball, a drink typically supplemented simply with club soda. But Guillen, beverage manager at La Duni, gave the drink Argentinian flair with a splash of Fernet – a darkly bitter Italian liqueur beloved in the South American nation – and a housemade grapefruit soda. “It’s so simple, and yet so good,” Guillen said. “You could drink a few of these, just like that.” With Glenfiddich’s rich pear-apple depths rolling over your palate, held in check by a pull of Fernet’s bitter reins, you might tend to agree – especially at the ridiculous happy hour price of just $6 a pop.

If a light touch you seek, this Brick and Bones invention will ride to your rescue.

14. DUDLEY DO-RIGHT (Bar team, Brick and Bones, Deep Ellum)

Tomato-infused vodka, basil syrup, lemongrass water

It may be the hardest sell on the menu, but Dudley Do-Right is the low-key star of the Brick and Bones show, where every drink is named for a cartoon character. A delicately flavored triumvirate of tomato-infused vodka, basil syrup and lemongrass water, “it’s like a Caprese salad” in liquid form, said bar co-owner Cliff Edgar. Simple, bright and refreshing, so nuanced is its touch that the vodka, typically content to be the vehicle for other flavors, actually shines in this one – completing a righteous drink worthy of its name.

Tiki met salted caramel in this one-night-only gem from Uptown’s Parliament at a pop-up event in Oklahoma City.

13. TAI OF SUM YUNG GAI (Eddie Campbell, Parliament, Uptown)

Pyrat XO Rum, lime, pineapple, ginger orgeat, soy sauce reduction

This one’s a bit of a cheat as it was rolled out at Parliament’s one-night pop-up fundraiser at Oklahoma City’s Jones Assembly in July. The event was pure Parliament, with a half-dozen bartenders making the trip along with a dazzling 21-drink menu. (Pop-ups typically sport no more than half a dozen.) “We wanted to keep it low-maintenance,” quipped bar owner Eddie Campbell. The lineup included this deliciously innovative tiki blend of rum and citrus tanged up with a ginger orgeat, then rimmed with a soy sauce reduction. Think sweet tropical meets salted caramel and you get the idea.

The Queen is Dead was among several Industry Alley cocktails bartender Tommy Fogle named after songs by The Smiths.

12. THE QUEEN IS DEAD (Tommy Fogle, Industry Alley, The Cedars)

Sherry, orange curacao, Licor 43, lemon

At Industry Alley, the low-key cocktail haven in Dallas’ Cedars neighborhood, bartender Tommy Fogle found his groove with liquorous treats like the Golden Mylk Fizz, a creamy riot of honey, coconut and turmeric, and the Boys Don’t Cry, a bitter spin on a cocktail from New Orleans’ Cure (hence the name). But my favorite of all was The Queen is Dead, a sherry-forward jewel that adorned the fortified wine with a wreath of lemon, orange curacao and Spanish vanilla liqueur, unleashing a citrus-grape tang that zipped across your palate like Zeke Elliott headed for the goal line.

When it came to Pisco Sour variations, I found myself constantly seeking Greener Pastures.

11. GREENER PASTURES (Cody Barboza, Armoury D.E., Deep Ellum)

Pisco Porton, Green Chartreuse, Luxardo maraschino, rosemary, lime, egg white

Armoury’s got a thing for Pisco Sour variations, which is fine with me, because so do I. Having already produced the Hungarian-influenced Speak of the Devil, which showed up on this list two years ago, the Deep Ellum bar this year introduced Barboza’s Greener Pastures, more fragrant and floral with a sprig of smoked rosemary. The herb’s aromas were just muscular enough to cap the cocktail’s botanical brawn.

The Old Spiced: Here to fulfill your dark chocolate cravings.

10. OLD SPICED (Jones Long, Lounge Here, East Dallas)

Coffee-infused bourbon, crème de cacao, Fernet Branca, mole bitters

Jones Long, formerly of Oak Cliff’s Bolsa and Ruins in Deep Ellum, took over the bar program at East Dallas’ Lounge Here earlier this year. She took to her new role with aplomb and creativity, even fashioning faux olives from pickled grapes in her Don Vito, a riff on the classic Godfather. But my favorite was the Old Spiced, a hearty handshake of a drink that was not unlike biting into a bar of spicy dark chocolate, only more refreshing. It’s so satisfying that I can’t even be annoyed that every time I order it, I’m reminded of the Old Spice commercial jingle.

Libertine, you nut, you. Lower Greenville’s longtime cocktail landmark still got it goin’ on.

9. FIDELIO (Daniel Zoch, Libertine Bar, Lower Greenville)

El Dorado 12 Rum, Amaro Montenegro, pistachio paste, orange juice, egg white, salt, pistachio dust

The Libertine, on Lower Greenville, was one of Dallas’ early craft mainstays thanks to former bar manager Mate Hartai (now with spirits producer The 86 Co.), and while its cocktail program might not get much attention anymore, it’s still going strong with seasonal drinks like Daniel Zoch’s Fidelio. A dessert-like dance of sweet rum, delicately bittersweet Amaro Montenegro and pistachio, rimmed with ground pistachio dust, the Fidelio is creamy, nutty and lush, with just enough bitter to give it a lovely, nuanced finish.

Bowen House brought the heat with the peppery Puesto Del Sol.

8. PUESTO DEL SOL (Kayla McDowell/Greg Huston, Bowen House, Uptown)

Espolon blanco, muddled roasted red pepper, rosemary syrup, lemon, black pepper

It’s a joy to listen to McDowell and Huston brainstorm behind the bar, and this savory concoction was one of their many menu collaborations, pairing slightly fruity tequila with roasted pepper for a gently spicy sipper of a cocktail. Peppery citrus on the nose paved the way for a rosemary-forward body and a finish that complemented the drink’s aromas. Looking forward to seeing what this team comes up with in 2019.

A tribute to Pixar’s Coco, Mendoza’s Grito had me salivating for a sequel.

7. GRITO! (Henry Mendoza, The People’s Last Stand, Mockingbird Station)

Mezcal, lime, pink/black peppercorn syrup, agave, sage, Boston Bittahs

Mendoza’s Grito had me aay-yai-yai-ing like a joyful mariachi – the sound of which the drink’s name recalls. The first of several libations Mendoza devised in tribute to Pixar’s Day-of-the-Dead-themed Coco, its cool but fiery mix of smoky mezcal and sage, peppercorn syrup, agave and bitters was an otherworldly journey through smoke and citrus spice. Topped with a sprinkling of red peppercorn and cigarillos of dried sage, its pachanga-in-your-mouth mix of pepper and chamomile/citrus bitters was what made this spicy number shine.

The Nut House: Banana-nut bread in a glass.

6. NUT HOUSE (Josh Brawner, LARK on the Park, Downtown Dallas)

Flor de Cana 7-year rum, Don Ciccio & Figli nocino, Tempus Fugit Crème de Banane, walnut bitters, nutmeg

Hey LARK, it was real: Shannon Wynne’s airy, chalk-art-bathed restaurant shuttered before year’s end, but not before its bar program had returned to the glory of its opening days. Bar manager Josh Brawner’s Nut House was a standout, inspired by his love of banana nut bread. “I’m a foodie, so I always try to replicate things in my drinks,” says Brawner, now at Wynne’s Meddlesome Moth. Built on aged rum, the Nut House was a liquid treat, festive and nutty, awash in walnut and banana liqueurs with a dash of walnut bitters to boot; a shaving of nutmeg added flattering aromatics.

I could wax Brazilian all day about Pollard’s luscious Autumn in Brazil.

5. AUTUMN IN BRAZIL (Jason Pollard, The Usual, Fort Worth)

Avua Amburana, sherry, Cocchi di Torino, demerara syrup, saffron bitters

A couple of years have passed since cachaca, Brazil’s national spirit, enjoyed a brief moment in the DFW sun, but thankfully The Usual’s Jason Pollard hasn’t let the spirit’s grassy, banana-fruit magic slip into obscurity. His Autumn in Brazil takes Avua’s aged Amburana cachaca and balances its notes of caramel, vanilla and spiced bread with the rich nuttiness of sherry, rounding it out with sweet vermouth and caramel-esque demerara syrup. With hints of raisin, chocolate and cinnamon and the aroma of musky grapes, it’s a sensational seasonal sipper.

Powell’s Mango Lassie, a fabulous reinterpretation of India’s summer refresher.

4. MANGO LASSIE (Jesse Powell, Parliament, Uptown)

El Dorado 5, citrus, mango, yogurt, honey, tajin

On a trip to Chicago’s Pub Royale – an Anglo-Indian-style tavern – earlier this year, Powell discovered the wonder of the mango lassi, India’s traditional mango milkshake. Naturally, as he savored its mix of yogurt, mango, milk and sugar, he thought to himself: How can I make this into a cocktail? Luckily for Dallas, he came through like a champ, structuring its viscous, sour-sweet depths atop a foundation of rum and garnishing the Creamsicle-orange drink with cool mint and a clever rim of Mexican tajin, the chili powder often gracing that country’s mango street snacks. Poured over crushed ice, it was a tasty summer refresher that I still craved in the cold of winter.

The Mitchell’s Gillespie wasn’t monkeying around when he came up with this cocktail.

3. MONKEYING AROUND (Sam Gillespie, The Mitchell, Downtown Dallas)

Gin, Chareau, Genepy des Alpes, Dolin Blanc

Gillespie originally crafted this exquisite spring cocktail for a special event at the bar featuring Monkey 47, a berry-influenced gin made in Germany’s Black Forest. He accentuated its flavors and feel with rich aloe liqueur, herbal alpine liqueur and dry vermouth, but the gin’s high price-point made it impractical to put on The Mitchell’s standard menu. Instead, he substituted standout Botanist gin, serving the drink in a clear patterned glass that highlighted its see-through appearance. With herbs and white grape on the nose, it’s a gorgeously botanical Martini – all cucumber, spearmint and sweet spice and an herbal sweet-sour finish.

George Kaiho and Andrew Kelly, Jettison

2. SLEEPY COYOTE (George Kaiho/Andrew Kelly, Jettison, West Dallas)

Coffee-infused Paranubes, cinnamon syrup, Ancho Reyes, horchata

Kaiho and Kelly, the personable one-two punch behind the bar at Jettison, wanted to create a cocktail using horchata, the Mexican cinnamon rice milk. Specifically, as a popular after-dinner destination, they wanted to craft a dessert drink, so as fans of The Big Lebowski they devised this buzzy riff on a White Russian, using a base of banana-funky Paranubes – a Oaxacan aguardiente – infused with coffee, cold-brew style. To that they added cinnamon syrup and a splash of spicy Ancho Reyes liqueur, then poured it over crushed ice for a rich cinnamon coffee with a kick.

Jenkins’ Alpine Blues: A heady expression of forest growth in a glass.
  1. ALPINE BLUES (Scott Jenkins, Hide, Deep Ellum)

Singani 63, Pasubio amaro, Cap Corse quinquina, Nux walnut liqueur, clarified lemon

Scott Jenkins, Hide’s resident mixmaster, killed it again this year: The Oaxacan Shaman, his mezcal-aguardiente mashup, was masterful, and Quest for the Sun, a sunflower-seed-infused vodka vehicle, was lusciously butternutty. But my favorite of all was his Alpine Blues: He missed the mountains, see; a whirlwind trip had filled him with memories of brisk, chilly air and damp ground covered in foliage. He let his longings inspire this wonderfully balanced reflection of nature’s growth. In his mind, walnut liqueur formed the base soil, deep and rich with decomposing nettles; blueberry-influenced alpine bitter liqueur was the surface – “earthy and fruity; there’s still some life in it;” a quinine aperitif and clarified lemon juice were the new growth, with the bitter citrus of biting into a young stem; Singani 63, a botanical Bolivian brandy, was the blossom. “There were specific slopes and colors in my mind,” he says. “It made me have the blues not to be there.”

Halloween party, at least for a night, raises classic Dallas cocktail team from the dead


Victor Tangos, where Monday's Halloween bash benefits a good cause. Photo by Mei-Chun Jau.
Victor Tangos, where Monday’s Halloween bash benefits a good cause. Photo by Mei-Chun Jau.

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.

Bar Smyth
Josh Hendrix and Omar YeeFoon, behind the bar at since-closed Bar Smyth. Now spirits ambassadors, both will be pouring at the Victor Tangos event.

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.

The Windmill's Halloween party gets underway at 9 p.m. (Image courtesy of Windmill Lounge)
The Windmill’s Halloween party gets underway at 9 p.m. (Image courtesy of Windmill Lounge)

Both events are free.

Victor Tangos, 3001 N. Henderson, Dallas.

Windmill Lounge, 5320 Maple Avenue, Dallas.

Follow the bouncing bartender: Nine craft-cocktail moves you should know about

Hops and Hominy, Cafe du Nord
Unfortunately for Dallas, Meddlesome Moth’s Loiselle has taken her talents to ‘Frisco. Um, the one in California. Shown here at San Fransciso’s Hops and Hominy, she’s now at Cafe du Nord.

We all know that the people who make your cocktails can be right up there with your doctor, your shrink, your spiritual leader and your favorite podcast host when it comes to simple week-to-week survival. Sometimes they’re kind of all of those things rolled into one, except that they can also knock out a good drink – which might make them the most important people of all.

So when the best of them move on to new places, you want to know. Here’s a roundup of some of Dallas’ craft-cocktail peeps who’ve found new digs.

Chefs for Farmers 2013
Don’t start freakin’ if you haven’t seen Eakin: He’s over at soon-to-open Rapscallion.

If you haven’t seen Eddie Eakin mixing things up at Bishop Arts’ Boulevardier lately, it’s for good reason: The buff barman has been busy readying beverage operations at soon-to-open Rapscallion, the new Lower Greenville venture from the folks behind Boulevardier.

With Eakin at the helm and one wall pretty much entirely devoted to bar space and storage, you know it’s going to be serious.

In Eakin’s absence, former Meddlesome Moth mixmaster Austin Millspaugh has stepped in to fill the void. The man who once incorporated foie gras into a cocktail is now overseeing Boulevardier’s bar program and is already in full tinker mode; if your tastes lean toward bitter, try his smoked Negroni with Fernet, thyme and Green Chartreuse. His ambitious alchemy should be interesting to watch as the year goes on.

Boulevardier, Dallas
Millspaugh: Your new master of ceremonies at Boulevardier.

Oak, in the Design District, is another place to put on your radar: The high-end restaurant has gotten double-barrel-serious about its cocktail program by bringing on both Michael Reith and James Slater, who between them produced three of my favorite cocktails of 2014.

One night, Reith was working his last night at the venerable Windmill Lounge in T-shirt and jeans, and the next he was pouring fancydranks in Oak’s signature white button-down shirt, black pants and tie. “I love it here,” he says. “It’s going to be a chance to shine again.”

Spoon Bar & Kitchen
Done with the utensils: After gigs at Knife and Spoon, Slater is now at Oak.

Slater, formerly of Spoon, is likewise happy about the move; the dynamic duo have already put their formidable imprint on Oak’s cocktail menu with classic variations that include a killer Negroni and an Old Fashioned made with Old Tom gin. Though the two are different in style, their philosophies are simpatico, and the Panamanian-born Slater aims to inspire patrons to consider them as much of an accompaniment to dinner as wine.

“We’re going to change the bar program,” Slater says. “We’re like Batman and Robin.”

Reith: Taking things up a notch at Oak.

Meanwhile, it’s been six weeks since the much decorated Daniel Guillen left La Duni, for … well, for what no one was exactly sure – but after more than nine years with the operation, whose cocktail operations had become synonymous with his name, it was time to make a change.

It turns out there was a beast waiting to explode: The proudly Peruvian-born bartender has been unleashing his passions for Central and South American drink culture at places like Proof + Pantry and pop-up events – like next week’s cocktail dinner with Chef David Anthony Temple at Twenty Seven.

Proof + Pantry
Guillen, here at Proof + Pantry, is loosing Latin libations on Dallas after his long stint at La Duni.

“Most bartenders focus on classic American cocktails, maybe a few from Europe,” Guillen says. “In my case, that doesn’t make sense. I would be one of many. So I thought, what can I bring to the table?” Look for more of the same while he and cocktail guru Sean Conner, he of the metroplex’s northern hinterlands, work on an upcoming project set to launch this fall.

At Blind Butcher, Ian Reilly is putting his own spin on things after joining the meat-forward establishment a couple months ago. “He’s the shit,” a departing and obviously happy patron says one evening. “He educates you and he makes you a badass drink.”

Reilly’s variation on the Old Fashioned, which he calls the Hubris, features whiskey with a hops-based syrup, because, “If I had to envision something that men here would want to drink – guys on the prowl, out celebrating, maybe going from beer to cocktails – what better way than to use hops as the sweetener?”

Blind Butcher
The Beard and the Butcher: Reilly, now pouring on Lower Greenville.

It’s one way that the bearded bar man is easing his way in at a place that has carved out a niche on busy Lower Greenville. “The formula here is working,” says Reilly, formerly of Bowl & Barrel and The People’s Last Stand. “I don’t want to stomp on that.”

Barter’s closing in January dispersed a number of souls to the winds – and one of them was the understated Creighten Brown, who has resurfaced at Tate’s in Uptown. (Juli Naida, as noted in 2014’s end-of-year post, has joined Mate Hartai’s team at Remedy.)

Tate's Uptown
Mr. Brown is back Uptown, at Tate’s.

The talented tipple maker – whose Black Monk was also among my favorite cocktails last year – went from bar-back to bartender at Barter and is already hyped to be among Robbie Call’s team at Tate’s, along with Pro Contreras and Ryan Sanders. “The whole gang, man,” he says. “Good times, good times.”

Finally, Dallas recently bid farewell to two budding talents – Lauren Loiselle, who headed the bar program at Meddlesome Moth, and bartender Damon Bird of LARK at the Park. Both also figured prominently in my 2014 list but found themselves drawn to the Bay Area (and who can blame them?). “Two of our real good friends live in San Francisco,” Bird told me before they left. “We talked about it a long time and just decided to give it a go.”

Mikkeller Bar, San Francisco
The Bird has flown: Formerly at LARK, he’s now settling in at San Francisco’s Mikkeller Bar.

Leaving Dallas was bittersweet, but both are excited about their new opportunities: Loiselle has joined the bar team at Café Du Nord, the new venture from the owners of Trick Dog. The team knows what it’s doing: Trick Dog is among four finalists for Best American Cocktail Bar at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards, to be awarded next month. “I’m super stoked,” she says.

Bird, meanwhile, has nested at Mikkeller Bar, a beer-centric spot near Union Square featuring the best of brews from around the world. While he misses the craft-cocktail world, you can tell the easygoing drink-slinger has found his people. “This was my choice place,” he says.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misidentified Tate’s Ryan Sanders as Ryan Frederick.

You need a sherry milkshake in your life: At Remedy, the fizz is in

Mate Hartai, Remedy
Sherry, baby: Embrace your inner child with the RxPx.

There was a moment as I was savoring Remedy’s delicious RxPx cocktail when everything else became insignificant – any thoughts of calories, my tendency to shun “dessert-y” drinks, the bustling bar around me, the very fact that I was an adult – and I simply lapped up my ice cream like an 8-year-old kid. Such was the allure of Mate Hartai’s decadent drink, which perfectly suits the motif at recently opened Remedy on Lower Greenville Avenue.

Pedro Ximenez sherry is probably the richest player among the Spanish fortified wine’s many varieties, and its raisin-like notes make it a welcome garnish for vanilla ice cream. Hartai, the beverage master at Remedy and formerly of Libertine Bar, took that idea further, adding ice cream to an ounce of sherry and topping it with a balsamic cherry. The result is sinfully good. “It’s basically a Pedro Ximenez milk shake,” he says. “The three flavors play really well together, and then you have that cherry, and it’s, like – boom.”

Remedy’s approachable and unique bar program is inspired by the elegant soda fountains of the first half of the 20th century, before they settled into stuffy, Leave It To Beaver versions of themselves. And sodas (available straight-up) are the driving force behind Hartai’s compact, simply conceived drink menu, from its breezy highballs to the more adventurous wild cards and after-dinner treats like the RxPx.

Mate Hartai, Remedy
The Oleomaize: Among the anchors of Remedy’s cocktail lineup.

At Libertine, Hartai’s wonkishly thoughtful enthusiasm for the craft made the neighborhood bar’s cocktail program an under-the-radar gem, so it’s not surprising to see him undertake Remedy’s mission with a similar zeal. The innovation here is the carbonated water itself, produced in a recirculating fountain that constantly roils the water to promote carbon dioxide absorption, which Hartai says gives it “the same level of carbonation as Topo Chico, if not better.”

The heightened fizz means Remedy’s bartenders can pump soda water into drinks without having to stir, which lets the drink retain more carbonation. In other words, upping the carbon levels itself becomes a mixing tool. (And skipping that step also means bartenders can theoretically get your drink to you faster. So there’s that.)

For the most part the cocktails pack a light-handed punch, the very definition of soft drinks to complement Remedy’s hearty comfort dishes like fried bologna sandwiches and chicken pot pie. But while the lineup has little to echo the obvious heft of, say, a Sazerac, its soda-jerk pep offers a spirited diversion.

Mate Hartai, Remedy
Hartai and his Mustachio.

Among the highlights: The French-75-like Bitter Lemon, with Meyer lemon syrup meeting gin, sparkling wine and the herbal bitter Suze; the sturdy Oleomaize, Hartai’s twist on a classic Corn and Oil employing dark rum and lime syrup in its Cuba Libre-like favor, and the playful Mustachio, whose white-chocolate shavings begin to descend into the drink about halfway through to be straw-slurped along with rye, cacao and an orgeat syrup made from pistachio and pumpkin seeds. And the fantastic spiced apple soda is one worth having on its own. “It’s like Christmas in a glass,” my pleasantly surprised friend Hollie said.

The mindfully seasonal menu is about to undergo a revamp with ingredients like Meyer lemons going out of season, but Remedy sports a sufficiently good foundation to ensure that happy days will be around for some time. The warmer weather to come should prove an ideal setting for soda drinks to shine. Not to mention sherry milkshakes.

2014: It was the best of times, it was the thirst of times

Michael Martensen, Abacus
An unforgettable cocktail launched an unforgettable year: Martensen’s Apple Boilermaker.

It was the best of times, it was the thirst of times, and 2014’s constantly unfolding craft-cocktail kaleidoscope unfurled a spirited array of events for DFW’s imbiberati. Here’s a look back at the year’s top stories:

Campbell and Martensen: Spittin’ spirited rhymes at Abacus for all too brief a time.

JANUARY: Eddie “Lucky” Campbell and Michael Martensen together behind the bar at Abacus

From darkness, light: For a brief but glorious time, the chaos set in motion by Eddie “Lucky” Campbell’s displacement from the late Chesterfield and Michael Martensen’s abrupt exit, along with his bar team, from Bar Smyth and The Cedars Social actually set the stage for two of the city’s most talented and influential bar men to pair up behind the bar at Abacus. The two have a longstanding rivalry – “I’m Seabiscuit and he’s War Admiral,” Campbell once told me. “I’m hard working, and he’s a fucking genetic miracle” – that continued to unfold at Abacus to customers’ benefit, especially late, once the kitchen had closed. One evening we rolled in and the two went back and forth like b-boys, throwing down cocktail creations to put each other’s to shame until Martensen slipped off to a corner to focus on a bit of handiwork. “What’s he doing over there?” Campbell wondered with his sly smile. Martensen emerged with what you see at top: A frothy apple boilermaker made with Deep Ellum Blonde, Cointreau, apple brandy, whole egg and a hollowed-out half-eggshell cupping a whiskey shot. Boss.

Libertine Bar
Libertine’s influential former head barman doing his thing.

MAY: Mate Hartai says goodbye to The Libertine Bar

For years, Hartai — chief barman at Remedy, opening tonight –was synonymous with the Libertine, which he helped transform from solid neighborhood bar to a den of craft-cocktail prowess and innovation. But after five years at the Libertine, Hartai decided it was finally time to move on to other things – namely The Cold Standard, the craft ice business he’s been shaping for some time – and most recently, Remedy, the new Lower Greenville project from HG Sply owner Elias Pope.

Tales of the Cocktail 2014
The Dallas crew, clockwise from upper right: Hartai, Brian McCullough and Charlie Moore; Bonnie Wilson, Trina Nishimura and Julian Pagan; Josh MacEachern and Josh Hendrix.

JULY: Texas Tiki Throwdown at Tales of the Cocktail, New Orleans

The DFW presence at the spirit industry’s biggest annual gathering has gotten larger and larger, with dozens of bartenders and spirit reps on hand for 2014’s event. Among the festival’s kickoff happenings was the Texas Tiki Throwdown, where DFW drink-slingers went mano-a-mano with others from Houston, Austin and San Antonio. It’s fair to say everyone left the conference room with Lone Stars in their eyes.

Um, this.

JULY: Driftwood introduces an oyster shooter flight

They say the world is your oyster, but sometimes oysters are your world: This little bit of brilliance from Oak Cliff’s disappointingly defunct seafood establishment briefly brightened up my existence. Four oysters on the half-shell, each shell filled upon consumption with one of four spirits or liqueurs: Manzanilla sherry, mezcal, single malt whiskey and Pernod. Let bivalves be bivalves!

Hendrick's Gin
Out of the wilderness, a mysterious elixir.

AUGUST: Hendricks Gin’s Kanaracuni unveiling

Dallas was one of a handful of cities this summer in which Hendricks Gin chosed to unveil its rare Kanaracuni gin, a single-batch production made from a plant culled from the Venezuelan rainforest. Hendricks knows how to put on an event, and the fancifully exotic tasting, conducted at the Dallas Zoo, did not disappoint: Bordering on elaborate fantasy, it featured tales of adventure and large insects and finally samples of the amazing kumquat-flavored gin, which in intentionally ephemeral fashion shall never be seen again.

Proof + Pantry
Josh Maceachern, among Michael Martensen’s reunited bartending crew at Proof + Pantry.

AUGUST: Parliament and Proof + Pantry open

As noted above, Lucky Campbell and Michael Martensen’s longstanding rivalry can occasionally reach ridiculous proportions, so it was only logical that their two long-awaited projects would open on the same night — Parliament in Uptown, and Proof + Pantry in the Arts District. (“How ridiculous is that?” Campbell told me a couple of nights before the big event.) Both have met expectations, garnering local and national acclaim.

Dallas cocktails
Everything is illuminated: The new gem in Dallas’ cocktail scene.

OCTOBER: Midnight Rambler opens

Behind their Cuffs and Buttons consulting enterprise, cocktail masters Chad Solomon and Christy Pope have long been influences in DFW’s drinking scene, but it wasn’t until this fall that Midnight Rambler, the bar the two have long dreamed of opening, launched at the Joule Hotel. The swanky subterranean palace and its lineup of well-conceived libations take the city to another level, marking another step in its craft-cocktail evolution.

Windmill Lounge
Venerable barman Charlie Papaceno: No longer tilting at the Windmill.

NOVEMBER: Charlie Papaceno leaves the Windmill Lounge

After nine years at the landmark lounge he co-founded with Louise Owens, Papaceno left the venerable dive spot to pursue plans to open a new bar in Dallas’ Cedars neighborhood. One of the scene’s elder statesmen, Papaceno’s bespectacled mug was a steady presence behind the bar at Windmill, which became an early haven for Dallas’ budding craft-bartender scene and went on to garner national attention – including a nod as one of Esquire’s best American bars.

Henry's Majestic
Slinging tiki drinks at one of five pop-up bars at Henry’s epic Trigger’s Toys benefit. (Mary Christine Szefzyk)

DECEMBER: Trigger’s Toys annual benefit event featuring five pop-up bars

I was crushed to miss this epic event, which made use of the long-unused warren of space at recently opened Henry’s Majestic in the Knox-Henderson area. Five pop-up bars featuring teams of bartenders from DFW and beyond went all out to raise money for a Dallas charity serving hospitalized kids. From sports bar and tiki bar to country saloon and nightclub, it was a raucous party that garnered $100,000 for the cause.


ONGOING: Collectif 1806’s bartender book club events

The bartender education and support arm of Remy Cointreau USA, helmed locally by Emily Perkins, has helped remind that the whole craft-cocktail thing is less revolution than revival. At its periodic exclusive book club gatherings, bartenders page through some of Cointreau’s extensive collection of vintage cocktail tomes, perusing recipes and gleaning old knowledge and then passing the reaped benefits along to consumers. Everybody wins.

Dallas bartenders help create a buzz at spirits industry’s annual festival in New Orleans

Tales of the Cocktail 2014
The Standard Pour’s Brian McCullough, all smiles amid the storm that was Texas Tiki Throwdown.

NEW ORLEANS — They came, they saw, they cocktailed. Never mind that it was 10:30 in the morning: That’s how Tales of the Cocktail rolls.

Naturally, no state was better qualified to kick things off than Texas, which launched the annual spirits industry’s opening salvo for the third straight year. The Texas Tiki Throwdown and its lively contingent of bar peeps representing Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio had transformed the chandeliered conference room of New Orleans’ stately Hotel Monteleone into a little tiki paradise, with thatched-roof huts, Hawaiian shirts and a makeshift parrot perched on the shoulder of Dallas ice master Mate Hartai.

It was the kind of atmosphere in which a woman with blue-green hair could tell you her name was Christa Monster and get away with it. The bartender from Houston’s Bar Boheme had won a Bacardi-sponsored competition to earn the trip to Tales, and her clever, crowd-pleasing Lady of Lake Laguna did not disappoint – a frozen blend of aged rum, coconut, orange soda, blue curacao and a spiced-peach-and-Sriracha puree that alternately offered ice and heat. “It’s like, not taking tiki too seriously,” she said.

Tales of the Cocktail 2014
From upper left: The Texas crew; the TOTC logo in host Hotel Monteleone; Christa Monster’s Lady of Lake Laguna cocktails; Houston’s Ricardo Guzman; your guess is as good as mine.

Dallas was well represented, with seven bartenders stationed behind three tables knocking out drinks in all manner of tropical style. Along with Hartai, there was Brian McCullough of The Standard Pour, Bonnie Wilson of Fork It Over restaurants, Knife’s Charlie Moore and the soon-to-be crew of Michael Martensen’s Proof + Pantry: Julian Pagan, Trina Nishimura and the two Joshes, Hendrix and MacEachern.

“There’s too much to try this early in the morning,” said conference attendee Teddy Bucher, though that didn’t dissuade the Houston engineer, friends Laura Villafranca and Michelle Mata and the dozens of others mobbing the room from making a valiant effort.

Over in the Austin corner, David Alan, aka the Tipsy Texan, mined his own cocktail book for the Flor De Pina, a tequila concoction pairing tequila with St. Germain, while Houston’s Ricardo Guzman of the bar Trinity planted “KISS” cocktails on anyone lucky enough to try the mix of Veev, cinnamon syrup, lemon and pineapple.

Tales of the Cocktail 2014
They’re from St. Louis.

Houston Eaves of the always reliable Esquire Tavern was among those representing San Antonio, churning out an intriguing Tiki Tejano with tequila, carrot juice and crème de cacao, plus the pleasantly sweet Coyote’s Den, made with aquavit, acai-based Veev, orgeat, grapefruit, lemon, simple and Peychaud’s bitters.

Tales of the Cocktail 2014
The Western, Brian McCullough’s contribution to the event.

McCullough’s standout cocktail, which he called simply The Western, gave Treaty Oak rum a little giddy-up with orgeat, yuzu juice, mint and Angostura bitters. One attendee, having made the rounds, walked up and proclaimed McCullough’s drink the best. That prompted some friendly joshing of the Joshes, Hendrix and Maceachern, who were serving up their drinks from a punchbowl at the next table.

“You’re gonna trust that palate?” countered Hendrix, whose Flashy Slang – a cherry-infused blend of Sailor Jerry spiced rum and citrus, would get support from another attendee, Dallas underground-dinner chef David Anthony Temple.

But it was all in fun anyway, a means to kick off the first of the festival’s five days of workshops, tasting rooms, trainings, dinners, parties and general mayhem.

Tales of the Cocktail 2014
The Dallas crew, clockwise from upper right: Mate Hartai, Brian McCullough and Charlie Moore; Bonnie Wilson, Trina Nishimura and Julian Pagan; Josh MacEachern and Josh Hendrix.

“I’ve been coming to this (festival) for years,” said Houston’s Villafranca, a high school counselor who got into craft cocktails when the pioneering bar Anvil opened near her home. “I went in there, and it was like – oh my god. I trust them completely.”

Between the three friends, they’d been able to sample most of the four Texas cities’ creations.

“Houston was great,” Mata said. Then she whispered: “But I’m leaning toward Dallas.”


And so it begins: Tales of the Cocktail 2014 kicks off in New Orleans

Tales of the Cocktail 2013
Dallas’ Mate Hartai, second from left, and Brian McCullough, second from right, doin’ Texas proud at the Texas Tailgate Party that kicked off Tales of the Cocktail 2013.

NEW ORLEANS — It’s that time again – time to let the good times roll, time to learn about agricole, time to sip some Aperol. You know what I mean: It’s time for Tales of the Cocktail 2014.

The nation’s most ginormous industry event for bartenders, bar owners, spirits makers, liquor reps, enthusiasts and the wretched chroniclers of said shenanigans is upon us for its 12th year in that most perfect of cities, New Orleans.

Oh, New Orleans: You complete me. You are the primordial jambalaya from whose loins sprang the mighty Sazerac, the sultry Vieux Carre’, the demanding Ramos Gin Fizz, the insufferable Hurricane.

We know her as NOLA, and she is among America’s craft-cocktail matrons, with heralded institutions like Arnaud’s French 75, Antoine’s Hermes Bar and the Court of Two Sisters evidencing craft culture before its modern renaissance; it’s not for nothing that the Museum of the American Cocktail is based here. That’s not to say there aren’t some great new cocktail bars in NOLA: Cure, Bellocq and Cane and Table have earned much national acclaim.

I’ll hope to visit them if I can find the time. That’s because this five-day festival can be grueling, chock full as it is with workshops, happy hours, competitions, spirit-paired dinners, tastings, Bloody-Mary breakfast stations, new product unveilings, cocktail tours, chance wee-hour reunions, huge parties and… even huger parties. A smorgasbord of delights, for sure; but also a test of one’s resolve; there are opportunities to be missed if you aren’t careful – including “whiskey dialogues,” seminars about how to launch a spirits line or about the Chinese spirit baijiu, tips for bartenders charged with making drinks in front of TV cameras and advanced bartender trainings.

Tales of the Cocktail 2013
The William Grant & Sons party at last year’s Tales conference, complete with the Hendrick’s Gin cannon at right.

This is my third year at Tales and I’ll be bringing you dispatches from the front lines where members of Texas’ bartending community are representing the Lone Star State, many for the first time – including Alex Fletcher of Victor Tango’s, Barter’s Stephen Halpin, The Standard Pour’s Christian Armando, Absolut Vodka rep Ashley Williams (formerly behind the bar at Boulevardier) and Sissy’s Southern Kitchen’s Chase Streitz, whose victory in a recent Jefferson Bourbon competition earned him the trip here (I was among the contest’s judges). Most of the action will be going down at the veritable Hotel Monteleone on Royal Street, home to the revolving Carousel Bar.

The festival kicks off with Wednesday morning’s Texas Tiki Throwdown, because obviously nobody knows how to throw a party like Texas, and the ensuing days will feature other Texas bar peeps along the way: Former Dallas luminary Jason Kosmas will wax proud about his popular new line of spirits; Bonnie Wilson – here with her flock of Fork It Over Restaurants staffers – will churn out cocktails for an Anchor Distilling Co. shindig; Austin’s Chris Bostick will compete at Wednesday’s Battle of the Sexes bartender competition. Also, because this is New Orleans, there will be beignets.

I asked a few TOTC veterans to offer tips for festival first-timers and for their can’t-miss destinations while in New Orleans.

BRIAN McCULLOUGH, The Standard Pour – 6th time at Tales

The Standard Pour
Brian McCullough of The Standard Pour in Uptown.

SURVIVAL TIPS: One, eat when you see food. Two, drink when you see water. Three, sleep when you can. And four, you don’t have to finish that.

MUST-DO’S: You’ll do yourself a disservice if you don’t go to Frenchman Street.  Café Le Monde, for sure. Port of Call for a cheeseburger. And the alligator cheesecake at Jackamo’s – the tables are all uneven, but the food is absolutely astounding.

BONNIE WILSON, Fork It Over Restaurants (Whiskey Cake, Mexican Sugar, et al.) — 4th time at Tales

Bonnie Wilson, beverage director for Fork It Over Restaurants. (Photo courtesy of Fork It Over.)
Bonnie Wilson, beverage director for Fork It Over Restaurants. (Photo courtesy of Fork It Over.)

SURVIVAL TIPS: Everything in moderation. You can go down and have things be crazy, or you can go down and have it be a fun educational event. Be moderate about it. Do everything you want to do, but just control yourself.

MUST-DO’S: I always go to Mother’s for the Ferdy’s special. That’s 100 percent a must. They do this stuff called debris. It’s a ham and roast beef sandwich with basically the juices, the pan drippings, all the goodness, spices and fat and everything.

MATE HARTAI, The Cold Standard – 3rd time at Tales

Libertine Bar
Dallas’ Mate Hartai. (Photo by Jason Raney)

SURVIVAL TIPS: Lots of (dehydration preventative) Pedialyte. And cardio.

MUST-DO’S: Get out of the French Quarter. Check out the architecture. I’m from Hungary, and this place reminds me of Europe. I’ve been to New York and San Francisco, all the supposed European cities, and this city makes me more homesick to be in than anywhere else.

BRAD BOWDEN, Barter – 3rd time at Tales

Brad Bowden, lately of Uptown’s Barter.

SURVIVAL TIP: Nothing good happens after 5 AM.

MUST-DO’S: Mad Hatter. I always try to stop in and get myself a hat. And the Erin Rose – I always go there and get one of those Bailey’s drinks they have there. (Erin Rose is renowned for their frozen Irish Coffee.)

Victor Tango's
High West’s Chris Furtado and Remy Cointreau’s Emily Perkins showing off their skin art at Dallas’ Victor Tango’s.

EMILY PERKINS, Remy Cointreau brand rep, Dallas – 2nd time at Tales

SURVIVAL TIPS: Just let it wash over you. But be responsible. And be careful; it’s easy to forget that New Orleans can be a dangerous place.

MUST-DO’S: Domelise’s, for the po-boy sandwich.

CHRIS FURTADO, Texas rep for Utah’s High West Distillery


* Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

• Take time to eat. Often.  When dashing from seminar to event to party, sometimes meals fall to the side.  You are doing yourself a disservice both physically and culturally.

• Don’t book yourself solid; leave some time free.  A lot of cool stuff will come up that you didn’t know about.

• Be ready for rain. It’s New Orleans, it’s the summer.  It’s not a question of if but when.


* The U.S. Bartenders Guild toast at The Old Absinthe House – Thursday at midnight.  There’s something cool about seeing the street packed with bartenders raising their glasses in the air and yelling cheers.

* Have a Lucky Dog. Get a slice of pizza also.  Skip the Hand Grenade (drink) though.

* The Alibi is a great late-night spot.  It’s where local service industry peeps go to unwind.


Your barman true: Libertine’s steady steward makes bittersweet decision

Libertine Bar
Libertine’s lead barman in his laboratory — but not for much longer. (Photo by Jason Raney)

I’m sitting with another right now and all I can think about is you. Your curves: finer. Your colors: brighter. Tucked into every pocket of a memory, some drop of precious time holding echoes of so many bright moments. Warmth and comfort lined with intrigue and amazement, there is no inch of you that has not sat silent vigil to the chaotic magic of a serendipitous night. Some light up a room when they walk into it, but you, you are the room. You have seen me in the most revealing moments of the triumph of gravity over a single stubborn object more times than I would wish. You have also watched me stand many times my height with steel in my gaze and lead in my feet. I have watched over you as you gave warmth to many in a dim cold haze and I have seen you let the wind wildly shake tail over every curve and dimension. The days you cracked, tore and buckled – but never fell – charged me with the same will. You showed me the pain of compassion in the witness of true loss. Truly there is no light I have not seen you in but always in the most intimate of proximity. Soon that will become distance; familiarity, perspective; and responsibility, pride. I can’t say goodbye because you will be the object of my many thousand-yard gazes. Hopefully tomorrow we will have the perspective to see how much we were for each other yesterday.

Your barman true, Máté Hartai

You’ll have to forgive Máté Hartai if he’s got some strong feelings about the Libertine, the Lower Greenville institution whose bar program he’s headed for the last several years. In that time, disguised as merely a popular neighborhood bar, the Libertine has instead been the Trojan Horse in our midst: Under Hartai’s stewardship, both its beer and cocktail selections have emerged as among the most daring and erudite in DFW, and yet its subtle bearing, modest location and reluctance to promote itself as much more than a community servant conspired to curb it off the star-bar radar.

Cellared beers, morel-mushroom-infused rye, beer- and cocktail-paired dinners – Hartai had them all underway before they were trendy around these parts.

But the moment has come, Hartai says, to – well, he can’t even say the words. Not to move on – no, to move in a different direction. The Cold Standard, the nascent ice enterprise he’s been nurturing for several years is demanding more and more of his attention, as are other projects he’s got in the works, so…

“It’s time to let the Libertine go,” says the Hungarian-born Hartai, who joined the Libertine as a bar-back in 2009. “I’ve trained that baby to where it can run on its own.”

Tuesday, May 27, will be Hartai’s final day at the Libertine (his final day behind the bar will be Sunday the 25th), and fittingly his stint will end with one of the bar’s signature dinners – this one a Utah-themed event featuring both of his passions, beer and spirits.(Click the link above, then the box to the right.) It’s also his birthday, and Hartai is letting it all out, planning to unveil some of his rarest cellar keepsakes.

“It’s the bridging of two things I’m passionate about,” he says. “The beer is going to be out of this world.”

Hartai, whose family came to the U.S. when he was a middle-schooler – “just young enough to lose my accent,” he says – is among the most knowledgeable of bartenders, quirky and wonkish, with a nerdy, scientific approach to his work. When Bar Smyth, the Knox-Henderson speakeasy to which Hartai was briefly attached, was invited to compete against other bars at a national cocktail-industry convention last year, it was he who devised the ingenious backpack keg with which he waded through the crowds with his Texas-stamped helmet, pouring cocktail shots.

In an industry where mobility is a constant, Hartai was a mark of steadiness and community involvement, even as he shunned social media — he had to be goaded into joining Facebook — and self-promotion.  Within bartending circles, his grasp of the craft is well known.

“Everybody on this side knows what Máté has been doing,” said Eddie Eakin, bar manager at Oak Cliff’s Boulevardier. “He’s intelligent, he’s cutting edge. Definitely among the upper crust in Dallas.”

Yet some still scoff when Eakin directs them to the Libertine for cocktails, deceived by the bar’s unassuming presence. By excelling in all areas – including its solid kitchen – it couldn’t be pegged as making its “thing” any single one of them.

“It’s one of the most well-rounded bars in the city,” says bar manager Ryan Sumner of Driftwood. “If you open up a neighborhood bar – that’s what it should be.”

Libertine Bar
Hartai’s budding ice enterprise, The Cold Standard, demands more attention. (Kara Edwards photo)

As the Dallas cocktail scene exponentially matured behind names like Michael Martensen, Brian McCullough and Charlie Papaceno, Hartai always viewed the Libertine, with its homey, den-like atmosphere, as a place to feel comfortable enough to take those first few steps into a much deeper pool of alcohol knowledge. Co-owners Simon McDonald and Michael Smith trusted his oddball seasonal menu inspirations, with experiments like the cocktails named after Smiths song titles; you wouldn’t know what you got until you actually ordered the drink.

Libertine’s classic cocktail menu has stayed the course since Hartai instituted it, but that’s since been supplemented by bar favorites and other rotating theme menus like “By Friends, For All,” a tribute lineup with cocktails designed by fellow craft-cocktail bartenders like Trina Nishimura and Julian Pagan. “The Brave, The Bold” featured Hartai creations named the Coburn, the Bronson, the McQueen and the Brynner with ingredients like pulled-pork-infused tequila and five-spice rum. “All it is, is a liquid kitchen to me,” he says.

He’s loved his job, he says – and why shouldn’t he? He gets to throw a party every day. But in moving on, Hartai will leave behind a consummate bar – not a great beer bar, not a great cocktail bar, but a great all-around hangout. He’s eager to see the Libertine continue to develop without him, supported by a training program he willfully built over time. “There’s a lot of talent in that house,” he says.

Co-owner McDonald wishes Hartai the best, knowing that he helped build the bar into what it is today. “He’s a really smart guy who just worked his way into knowing everything about everything,” McDonald said. “But he’s so humble about it.”

No matter where he lands, Hartai says, it won’t be for long. “I like being behind the bar too much,” he says. “It’s like when you cut down Obi-Wan: I’m going from being the old man in the robe to being the blue glowie.”

The May 27 dinner begins at 7 p.m. and seating is limited. The price is $60 a person – more than worth the opportunity to wish Hartai a happy birthday and see the Jedi in his temple one last time.

“It’s the culmination of everything I’ve been working for,” he says. “It’s gonna be a magical night for me.”

LIBERTINE BAR, 2101 Greenville Avenue. 214-824-7900.

Tales of the Cocktail 2013
Hartai and Sean Conner, formerly of Plano’s Whiskey Cake, beat a punch-cooler drum roll at last summer’s Tales of The Cocktail festival in New Orleans.

Pairing spirits with dinner: More of that, please.


Whiskey Cake, Plano
Plays well with food: Last month’s whiskey-paired dinner at Plano’s Whiskey Cake.

More than three years later, the memories linger. Five courses at one of the city’s best restaurants, each paired with cocktails made by five of the city’s best bartenders, and all featuring Maker’s Mark whiskey.

The scene was Seattle’s Spur Gastropub, and the chefs were rocking it as usual. (Example: sous vide pork belly with sunchokes and Bing cherries – whut whut?) The all-star bartender lineup cranked out an assembly line of original cocktails like the Pine Box, with its grilled-pineapple garnish. There was even some Maker’s 46, which was about to hit the market in summer 2010. We were a happy bunch.

I moved to Dallas soon afterward, and since then I’ve been to barely a handful of spirit or cocktail-themed dinners, though not for lack of want. Last month some friends and I hit a Hudson Whiskey-themed dinner at Whiskey Cake in Plano. And as I do every time I go to one of these events, I wondered: Why doesn’t this happen more often?

Wine and beer dinners have long been a thing, but bartenders like J.W. Tate – formerly of Tate’s Dallas – at first faced resistance to the notion of making a one-stop night of cocktails and food. That’s starting to change as DFW’s cocktail culture comes of age – a welcome and logical step in the scene’s continuing evolution.

Tate’s offered two spirits-paired dinners before J.W. left Dallas earlier this year to head up a company venture in Winston-Salem, N.C., and places like Dallas’ Libertine Bar and La Duni have experimented with the idea too. “People are trying it,” says Libertine’s Mate Hartai. “It’s just going to take a while for the wheels to hit the ground.”

Among a cocktail dinner’s challenges: Quickly producing drinks en masse. At Seattle’s Spur, an assembly line of bartenders churn out pairings for a Maker’s Mark dinner.

One reason for the slow going is that these dinners — which generally run from $35 to $100 — aren’t easy to pull off. Cocktails are time-intensive and demand smaller groups; achieving drink consistency can be difficult when produced in a bunch. And the kind of patron who embraces the idea of a cocktail dinner isn’t going to tolerate pre-batched drinks.

On the other hand, the ever-broadening assortment of quality spirits, cordials and apertifs give bartenders a grand palette to work from.

“It’s rewarding when you do it right,” Hartai says. “But it’s much more difficult than people think.”


The glasses are set, pretty orbs in a row, when a legion of Sazeracs appear in our midst. The classic cocktail is the evening’s first volley at last month’s Hudson-themed dinner at Whiskey Cake. The Plano restaurant’s dinner showcased the Hudson line’s various incarnations, from its New York Corn Whiskey, well paired with chef Brent Hammer’s charred octopus; and Four Grain Bourbon, solidly supporting an extraordinary, In-N-Out-inspired dry-aged-sirloin burger; and more.

Whiskey Cake, Plano
Whiskey Cake’s Hudson dinner kicked off with a classic Sazerac.

Sean Conner, Whiskey Cake’s beverage director, tackles pairings the way he does cocktails, dissecting courses’ flavor profiles to match. “Certain things go with blackberry or cinnamon or basil,” he says. “It takes six weeks to plan out four or five different cocktails and make them really special.”

Pairing cocktails with food offers some of the same challenges that went into creating, say, sweet-and-sour chicken, with its mix of sweet and savory. “You try to figure out how someone else solved that puzzle,” says Libertine’s Hartai. “To me, that’s really fun. It takes a lot of out-of-the-box thinking.”

Last year, when Tate’s offered a cocktail-paired dinner with chef DAT (David Anthony Temple), “DAT sent over a menu, and I riffed on that,” Tate says. “We talked a bit, and I threw out a cocktail menu, and we each made changes as it got closer…. It’s a lot like making music, with two people jamming – you throw something out there and the other person runs with it, and five weeks later you’ve got something.”

When Temple said he was doing garlic soup, Tate immediately thought of Campari and came up with a drink called the Italian Resistance. On its own, the drink’s various elements struggled to mingle, but fared much better as a pairing. Similarly, a chanterelle-and-pink-peppercorn-infused vodka drink went nicely with Temple’s speck and arugula salad but its savory character made it less pleasurable as a stand-alone cocktail.

The bar’s whiskey-themed dinner in April was a treat, pairing peppery Buffalo Trace Single Oak Barrel whiskey, for instance, with corn soup with fried pig ear, parsley crème fraiche and house-made hot sauce.

J.W. Tate, formerly of Tate's Dallas, among spirit-paired dinners' early adopters.
J.W. Tate, formerly of Tate’s Dallas, which was among spirit-paired dinners’ early adopters.

And last year, at Libertine’s whiskey-and-beer-paired dinner featuring three Scotches and two hefty beers, Hartai wanted to echo the flavors of Lagavulin. “I sat down with the chef and said, `I need smoke, earth and some kind of heat.’ He did a mushroom compote with this awesome smoked-pork thing and some vinegary thing for a kick. It took the whiskey apart into its larger flavor components.”

More recently he did what he called an Italian dinner, but by dinner’s end he had unveiled it more precisely as a vermouth-paired dinner. “The whole point was to change people’s minds about vermouth,” he says. “By the end, people were drinking straight glasses of vermouth and saying, `This is great!’ Well, yeah, it is.”

Hartai likes to save a palate-testing curve ball for the last course. “I want to jar people, give them a reason to talk,” he says. “If you realize you’re putting together an experience aimed at creating lasting memories and challenging palates, you can make an awesome dinner.”

Tate's Dallas whiskey dinner
At Tate’s whiskey dinner, Buffalo Trace Single Oak Barrel was paired with this delicious corn soup with fried pig ear.
Whiskey Cake's dinner featured this tasty sirloin burger alongside Hudson's Four Grain Bourbon.
Whiskey Cake’s dinner featured this tasty treat alongside Hudson’s Four Grain Bourbon.

Looking for a cocktail or spirits-themed dinner? Contact these spots and see what’s on the schedule, or follow them on Facebook.

WHISKEY CAKE KITCHEN AND BAR, 3601 Dallas Parkway, Plano. 972-993-2253. Offers quarterly alcohol-paired dinners.

LIBERTINE BAR, 2101 Greenville Ave., Dallas. 214-824-7900. Does dinners monthly, generally beer.

LA DUNI LATIN KITCHEN, four locations in Dallas/Fairview. Offers cocktail-paired, three-course dinners. Join the restaurant’s “inner circle” at one of its locations or at www.laduni.com to advance notice of such events.

KOMALI, 4152 Cole Ave., Dallas. 214-252-0200. Offers occasional tequila- and mezcal-paired dinners.

Get your cocktail on at Fort Worth’s Modern Art Museum

Enhance your art appreciation with a cocktail like this. (Photo courtesy of the Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art)
Enhance your art appreciation with a cocktail like this. (Photo courtesy of the Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art)

Cocktails, cocktails. They’re everywhere. Heck, even P.F. Chang’s has a pretty decent drink menu now. You might have thought museums were the one place that cocktails had missed, but you’d be wrong, because on Thursday, Aug. 15, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth is offering an evening of fancy drinks, tasty bites and live music at its own Café Modern.

A solid slate of area bartenders will be on hand to create works that go not under glass but in your glass – from Fort Worth, Brad Hensarling of The Usual; and from Dallas, Mate Hartai of Libertine Bar and Bar Smyth, Emily Perkins of Victor Tango’s and Ten Bells Tavern’s Greg Matthews.

Their palette will consist of products from William Grant and Sons, including Hendrick’s Gin, Art in the Age, Reyka Vodka and Monkey Shoulder Whiskey. If you’d rather get your tipples from a punch bowl, you can try one of two cocktail punches made with Milagro Tequila or Solerno blood orange liqueur.

The museum has offered wine-based events in the past, but this time around, says district manager Sharon Whieldon of William Grant and Sons, “they were looking for something a little more engaging and cocktail-driven for their members.”

So maybe it’s not such a stretch, you know: Some cocktails are quite artful, and many are even classics.

Admission is $60, not including tax or tip. The event runs from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Make a reservation by calling the café at 817-840-2157.