Tag Archives: the 86 co.

Massive charity pop-up back for sixth time to help hospitalized kids

The Ultimate Cocktail Experience, coming soon to a Klyde Warren Park near you. (Photo by Don Mamone)

Oh, Cocktails for a Cause. My, how you’ve grown.

Four years ago, the annual, bar-industry-driven fundraiser for Triggers’s Toys was a modest Christmas-season party at The Standard Pour, with 50 bartenders in Santa hats raining cocktails upon their mirthful elf minions. These days… well, look at it: Repositioned in the expansive savanna of Klyde Warren Park, this benefit behemoth, now dubbed the Ultimate Cocktail Experience, last year raised more than $200,000 and aims to exceed that this time around. Naturally.

The 2017 version of the Ultimate Cocktail Experience is set to go down on Saturday, Sept. 30, from 6:30 to 10 p.m.  There will be food trucks and a charity casino area. Tickets, which range from $65 to $125 for VIP status, are available here. Or you can get your tickets for $80 at the door.

This big boy pop-up is the brainchild of Bryan Townsend, vice president and sales director for spirits producer The 86 Co., who a decade ago was a corporate wonk who didn’t like his job very much. In 2008, he left his job and began to focus on other things – including his dog, Trigger.

One day he was a Grapevine hospital with his newly trained dog when he met a nurse distressed about a young girl who’d been in therapy for a year, unable to socialize with others. Townsend suggested that maybe the girl would like to give Trigger a treat.

The girl did, and Townsend wondered if she might follow the dog through one of the hospital’s children’s ward play tunnels. Then that happened too. The nurse retrieved the girl’s mother. “It was the first time she’d ever crawled,” Townsend remembered.

Inspired by the experience, Townsend launched Trigger’s Toys, a nonprofit that provides toys, therapy aids and financial assistance to hospitalized kids and their families. That’s the organization at the heart of the revelry that now includes bartenders, brand reps and spirits distributors from Texas and beyond who come to lend their shaking, stirring hands.

A scene from 2016’s Ultimate Cocktail Experience at Klyde Warren Park. (Photo by Don Mamone)

Recast as a global throwdown, the Ultimate Cocktail Experience puts forward six unique bar “concepts,” each representing a different part of the world with drinks to match. This year’s showcased locales are Mexico City, London, New Orleans, Hong Kong, Havana and Casablanca, and each station’s drink lineup will include a classic drink and a non-alcoholic selection.

In the mix this year are bartenders Ash Hauserman of New York’s Havana-themed Blacktail, named Best New American Bar at this summer’s Tales of the Cocktail festival, and Iain Griffiths of London’s Dandelyan, which won the honor of the world’s best cocktail bar.

This year’s teams, classic drinks and team captains are as follows:

  • Casablanca (Mule): captain Andrew Stofko (Hot Joy, Uptown)
  • Havana (Daiquiri): captain Ravinder Singh (Rapscallion, Lower Greenville)
  • Hong Kong (Rob Roy): captain Robbie Call (most recently of Filament, Deep Ellum)
  • London (Gin & Tonic): captain Omar Yeefon (Shoals Sound & Service, Deep Ellum)
  • Mexico City (Margarita): captains Brad Hensarling (The Usual, Fort Worth) and Megan McClinton (Thompson’s, Fort Worth)
  • New Orleans (Sazerac): captain Keisha Cooper (Shoals Sound & Service, Deep Ellum)

For more information about Trigger’s Toys or to donate, visit www.triggerstoys.org.

Muscle your way to Shoals, Deep Ellum’s newest (and grooviest) cocktail den

Omar Yeefoon
The backbar at Shoals.

Shoals Sound & Service, the retro cocktail den from local cocktail luminaries Omar Yeefoon and Michael Martensen, is now open in Deep Ellum, after quietly marking its official opening night Thursday.

Deep Ellum
That 70’s, Shoals: Get your groove on.

The svelte Elm Street locale is sexy and soulful,  recalling the vibe at Bar Smyth, the swanky, short-lived speakeasy that both Martensen and Yeefoon once inhabited in Knox-Henderson. The vibe at Shoals is much more laid-back, all wood and angles and curves and comfort, with nifty artsy touches and a lounge-y back area with zig-zag-design love seats.

Shoals Sound and Service
Barman Yeefoon, shaking up a Sidecar.

Patrons can get their groove on with a classics-driven drink menu (think Sidecars, Old Fashioneds, Daiquiris and French 75’s) or go off-menu with the bar staff’s own whims — or call your own shot, like a Bols Barrel-Aged Genever Old Fashioned. Liquid refreshment comes served against a 1970s backdrop with vinyl tracks from Al Green and Elton John occasionally topping the turntable.

Deep Ellum
Love and happiness: Shoals’ retro vibe includes plenty of vinyl.

The food offerings are simple, with vegan options available: The sandwich leans either bologna or veggie; the delicious empanadas, beef or veggie. Butter beans and jars of in-house pickled veggies are on the list too.

Martensen, who is also a partner in the Arts District’s Proof + Pantry, delivered a Champagne toast to mark Shoals’ opening, proudly acknowledging the team behind the bar. “The sacrifice they have given over the hurdles that I’ve given them are far beyond what I would have ever expected,” he said.

Deep Ellum
Shoals’ vibe is decidedly 70s retro.

It’s  a treat to see Yeefoon behind the bar again; after stints at Bar Smyth and The People’s Last Stand, the talented Dallas native spent a couple of years as Texas representative for The 86 Co., a now-ubiquitous New York-based line of spirits, but he never really quite warmed to the business side of the industry.

Now, with his smooth manner and signature shake, he seemed at home. Had he much missed behind being the bar? “Every day of my life,” he said.

SHOALS SOUND & SERVICE, 2614 Elm Street, Dallas.

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

Sunday’s holly-jolly-palooza for charity gives you five bars in one

Henry's Majestic
At last year’s Trigger’s Toys benefit, bartenders sling tiki drinks at one of the event’s five pop-up bars. (Mary Christine Szefzyk)

‘Tis the season, yo. Of giving.

Next Sunday, Dec. 13, you’ve got the chance to give and get at the same time. It’s a pre-Christmas miracle.

The 5th annual Trigger’s Toys Fantasy Draft Main Event takes place Dec. 13, with five all-star teams of bartenders and industry professionals staffing five tongue-in-cheek pop-up bars under one roof. Tito Beveridge himself, of Tito’s Vodka, will be there. The entire team of New York-based The 86 Co, will be there. YOU SHOULD BE THERE.

Twenty-five bucks in advance gets you in the door at Henry’s Majestic in Knox-Henderson, plus two drink tickets. (You can also buy tickets at the door for $30.) Then, wherever you want to cut loose and drop your dough is your choice: Will it be Chubbies, the dive bar, or yacht club bar Billion $ Baby? Karaoke bar Liquid Courage, or disco bar Studio Zoom Zoom? Or do you just want a place where you can call your own drink? Then it’s TOGA for you.

The best thing is, it’s all for a good cause. What cause might that be? Gather ’round and listen, boys and girls.

**

Bryan Townsend was at a hospital in Grapevine with his newly trained dog when he met a nurse distressed over a young girl who’d been in therapy for a year, unable to socialize with others. “She’s not getting any better,” the nurse said.

Townsend himself had been stuck for a while, in a corporate job where he wasn’t very happy. In 2008, he left and began focusing on other things. His dog, Trigger, was one of them.

He told the nurse: Maybe she’d like to give Trigger a treat?

The girl did.

“Then I wondered if she’d follow Trigger through a tunnel,” Townsend said. “And she did. The nurse went and got the girl’s mom; it was the first time she’d ever crawled.”

“I truly believe we’re all in the world to do something better.” – Bryan Townsend, The 86 Co.

Inspired by the experience, Townsend – now a vice president and sales director for spirits outfit The 86 Co. – launched Trigger’s Toys, a nonprofit that provides toys, therapy aids and financial assistance for hospitalized kids and their families.

“It instantly changed this girl’s life just because I was throwing treats for my dog,” Townsend says.

**

Last year’s Trigger’s Toys event, including sponsorships, raised about $100,000 for the cause. This year’s total is already at $87,000. “That’s the most we’ve had going in,” said Ariana Hajibashi, who’s handling publicity for the event.

Matt Orth, Lark on the Park
He’s making a drink, he’s shaking it twice. LARK on the Park’s Matt Orth doing good for goodness’ sake at the 2013 Trigger’s Toys benefit event at Standard Pour.

Among the projects past funds have benefited include therapeutic equipment, Christmas toys and construction of a courtyard at Our Children’s House, a facility for children with special healthcare needs at Baylor Scott & White in Carrollton.

Sunday’s event runs from 8 pm until midnight-ish, with stacks upon stacks of participating bartenders coming from all over Texas. There’ll even be a couple from Oklahoma City.

This year’s bartending team captains are Ida Claire’s Bonnie Wilson, Parliament’s Stephen Halpin, Leonard Oliver of Austin’s VOX Table, Juli Naida of HG Sply Co. and Armando Guillen of The Standard Pour.

Each bar team is going all out, as usual: Tito Beveridge will be slinging with the Chubbies team, while Studio Zoom Zoom is gathering short rah-rah videos from classic bars around the world, including New York’s Employees Only and Pegu Club and The Violet Hour in Chicago – each of which will play disco music for an hour at their respective establishments in support.

“I truly believe we’re all in this world to do something better,” Townsend says.

For more details, to purchase tickets or to make a donation, please visit http://www.triggerstoys.org/

HENRY’S MAJESTIC, 4900 McKinney Ave., Dallas.

Edgy, fun and sexy: LARK on the Park meets The 86 Co., and everybody wins

Jason Kosmas
The 86 Co. spirits line, shown here at New Orleans’ Gravier Street Social.

Perhaps you are accustomed to your wine and beer dinners being proper, stately affairs. Perhaps you are given to gatherings punctuated with string quartets and at which your only words to a total stranger might be “Check, please.”

Then perhaps you are not quite prepared for Aug. 18’s “86 & Noise” dinner that aims to infuse Dallas’ LARK on the Park with an experience that head barman Matt Orth calls “edgy, fun and sexy.”

Imagine realigned tables and a revamped sound system. “It’s going to be as brash as possible,” Orth says. “But in a good way. We want you guys to mingle and jump around.”

And, possibly, to jump up and get down.

The four-course dinner will highlight The 86 Co., the celebrated spirits line launched in late 2012 by a trio of fine gentlemen including Austin-by-way-of-Dallas-resident Jason Kosmas. Kosmas, co-founder of legendary New York craft-cocktail bar Employees Only, will host the dinner along with Orth and 86 Co. Texas brand ambassador Omar YeeFoon.

“It’s not going to be like your normal wine-tasting dinner,” YeeFoon says. “We’re gonna try to make it very communal. We’re going to try to get people who don’t know each other to sit together.”

Bombay Sapphire competition
LARK on the Park’s Matt Orth, who not only knows how to make a good drink but how to enjoy one too.

In other words, wear deodorant. But mostly, prime your palate for a 6 p.m. cocktail hour with cocktails and tastings of The 86 Co.’s signature spirits: Tequila Cabeza, Ford’s Gin, Aylesbury Duck & Weave Vodka and Cana Brava Rum.

Dinner – which will include grilled shrimp, steak tartare and grilled jerk chicken – will start at 7 p.m., with each 86 Co. spirit having its turn in a Matt Orth-designed cocktail to accompany each course.

“The whole idea behind it is to just be fun,” YeeFoon says.

Tickets are $75 plus tax and gratuity. I’d make reservations if I were you.

LARK ON THE PARK, 2015 Woodall Rodgers Fwy, Dallas. 214-855-5275.

Amid the mayhem, camaraderie: Texas weathers the Tales of the Cocktail storm

Tales of the Cocktail's Absolut Welcome Party
At Tales of the Cocktail’s opening party, the great Dale DeGroff crooned Sinatra-style standards.

NEW ORLEANS — Here in the city that sets the standard for revelry, you never know what you might see: A Santa Claus in shorts, random people on stilts, or perhaps a llama. Add to that the loosely organized mayhem that is Tales of the Cocktail, the spirits industry’s largest national gathering, and you‘ve got “Rum Institute” class sessions, tasting stations disguised as giant Cointreau bottles and sponsored parties teeming with booze and spectacle.

Exhibit A: Absolut Vodka’s Wednesday-night welcome bash at Mardi Gras World, a circus-themed soiree featuring drink-slinging midway characters, Andy Warhol lookalikes in various sizes and craft-cocktail founding father Dale DeGroff crooning jazzy standards in the garden of gigantic floats. Or: the acrobat-dotted William Grant & Sons-sponsored party at Lakefront Airport, a restored art-deco edifice where I’m 85 percent sure I saw a camel.

Clockwise, from upper left: Esquire's David Wondrich at a Tales workshop; The Old Absinthe House; French Quarter llama sighting; The 86 Co.'s Jason Kosmas; Italian amaro producer Orietta Varnelli; a freakin' camel; a TOTC cocktail.
Clockwise, from upper left: Esquire’s David Wondrich at a TOTC workshop; The Old Absinthe House; French Quarter llama sighting; The 86 Co.’s Jason Kosmas; Italian amaro producer Orietta Varnelli; a freakin’ camel; a TOTC cocktail.

This was the 12th annual TOTC gathering; nearly 23,000 people attended last year. The whole experience can be a bit much, a day-to-day beatdown so grueling that it’s tempting to keep score. “Goodnight NOLA, you’re a worthy adversary,” went Dallas’ Trina Nishimura’s fifth-night post on Facebook. “This round however, goes to me.” (Her final score: NOLA 2, Trina 2, draw 1.) But the frenzy couldn’t obscure the little things that make the annual festival special: The random run-ins with friends not seen since last year, the face-to-face encounters with people known only through social media, the new friends made over spirited dinners and Thursday’s massive midnight toast outside the Old Absinthe House by members of the U.S. Bartenders Guild. The days were sprinkled with seminars on topics like bitters, a history of women working behind the bar or the Chinese spirit baijiu, but it was also worth taking a breather to browse the event’s bitters-and-book store or the Cocktail Kingdom-run shop with its gold-plated jiggers and beautifully reproduced vintage tomes like “Harry Johnson’s Bartender’s Manual – Or: How To Mix Drinks of the Present Style” (1900 edition).

Tales of the Cocktail 2014
DFW’s Bonnie Wilson held down one of Anchor Distilling’s tasting stations.

The Lone Star State was well represented. It was Texas, of course, that kicked off the jauntiness with Wednesday morning’s Tiki Throwdown at host Hotel Monteleone. The next day, Bonnie Wilson, beverage program manager forFrontburner’s Fork It Over Restaurants – think Plano’s Whiskey Cake or The Ranch at Las Colinas – crafted mini cocktails for the sampling hordes at one of numerous drink stations in Anchor Distilling’s tasting room. Later that afternoon, Austin’s Chris Bostick represented not just Texas but an entire gender at a Battle of the Sexes event sponsored by Mandarine Napoleon. And that night, Dallas’ Brad Bowden (Barter) and Christian Armando (The Standard Pour) were among the many visiting bartenders getting behind the stick at festival-related parties popping up at French Quarter-area locations.

Tales of the Cocktail 2014
In case you ever wondered what a Rum Institute looks like. Presented by Angostura.

Austin-via-Dallas resident Jason Kosmas, the easygoing co-founder of legendary New York bar Employees Only and one of the driving forces behind Dallas’ now thriving craft-cocktail scene, took some time to talk up The 86 Co., the fledgling spirits line he started with fellow EO barman Dushan Zaric and liquor ambassador Simon Ford. He held afternoon court at New Orleans’ Gravier Street Social, describing his products like a proud daddy recounting his 3-year-old’s budding sports prowess. “If it wasn’t for Tales, I don’t think we would have had the resources and relationships to take it to the next level,” he said.

Friday night would bring yet another party, this one sponsored by The 86 Co. – the annual bar battle pitting half a dozen bars from around the country against each other in a raucous atmosphere to see who could best handle the pressure, evoke their home environment and make the best set of cocktails. In short: To see who was mas macho. As with last year’s event — at which Dallas’ late Bar Smyth made an admirable showing — the throwdown was promoted boxing-style, this time with fancy posters and clever profile cards proclaiming each bar’s staff, fighting styles and words of warning to the competition. In addition to the Tiki Throwdown team, the night’s powerful Texas showing included at least a half-dozen Dallas-based state beverage reps; bartenders Alex Fletcher of Victor Tango’s, Sissy’s Southern Kitchen’s Chase Streitz, Barter’s Stephen Halpin and Brad Bowden, Libertine’s Will Croxville and Driftwood’s Ryan Sumner; even cocktail gadabout Sean Reardon.

Upstairs, Houston bartending luminary Bobby Heugel poured mezcal. Vegas-based “Modern Mixologist” and author Tony Abou-Ganim singlehandedly lit up an entire corner of the dark room with his big-time smile. There was New York’s Julie Reiner, co-founder of the Flatiron Lounge, Pegu Club and Clover Club – but wait, who was that once again behind the bar at The 86 Co.’s  station? None other than Dallas’ own Omar YeeFoon, the former Bar Smyth/Cedars Social cocktail magician who joined The 86 Co. as Texas state brand ambassador earlier this year.

Tales of the Cocktail 2014
Bar Fight Club, clockwise from upper left: Trick Dog’s drink menu; The Williams & Graham team; Texas’ Brian McCullough and Jason Kosmas; New York’s NoMad squad; happy revelers; the guys from Herbs & Rye; Dallas’ Omar YeeFoon; The menu from Boston’s Backbar; Bar Fight Club 2014’s poster.

My favorite sips of the evening, aside from the chicory-syrup-enhanced Milk Punch Hurricane poured at Boston’s Backbar, leaned toward the trending mezcal, including Vegas-based Herbs and Rye’s brilliant Smoking Mirrors – a spicy, sweet and smoky mix mining Fernet and pineapple syrup – and Denver stalwart Williams & Graham’s voluptuous Gold Digger, which matched the smoky agave spirit with Pierre Ferrand dry curacao and two kinds of sherry.

San Francisco’s Trick Dog would take the judges’ top prize, boosted by its carnival theme and cocktail-filled watermelons suspended in mini hammocks for midair imbibing through tiny spouts. Williams & Graham’s team – whose lead man, Sean Kenyon, would earn Tales’ nod as American Bartender of the Year, worked hard to recreate the bar’s library-esque atmosphere. A guy from New York’s NoMad climbed atop the bar and rained shots of premium mezcal into willing mouths, while Backbar was fronted in part by a fierce and impressively bearded madman with habanero eyes. Los Angeles’ Harvard & Stone was back there in a corner somewhere, out-crazied by the adjacent team from Herbs and Rye with its gaudy chandeliers and a leopard-bikini’ed woman the size of a Galliano bottle primping atop the bar, which in turn inspired Seattle bar man Rocky Yeh to peel off his shirt, leap aboard and let out his best beastly roar.

Tales of the Cocktail 2014
You’ll have whatever he makes you. At Boston’s Backbar station at Fight Club 2014.

Could that have been what ultimately earned Herbs and Rye the People’s Choice award? Who knows, but it was that kind of night. It was that kind of week. And for a community whose living revolves around giving guests a great experience, a time to soak in camaraderie and a great experience for themselves.

“I’m Dallas bound,” wrote TOTC first-timer Lauren Spore, a cocktail waitress at Southlake’s Brio Tuscan Grille, in a Facebook post when it was all over. “But thank you to everyone I met, the new friends I made and the old friends who helped make this even more amazing. This has been one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had in my life and to all the people who made it happen, thank you.”

Tales of the Cocktail 2014
Words can’t even: The Absolut Welcome Party at Mardi Gras World.

 

Follow the bouncing ballers: Bar peeps on the move

Clyde Mays Old Fashioned competition
Omar, we hardly knew ye: YeeFoon, The 86 Co.’s new Texas state ambassador.
The spirits scene is fluid. People move around, and maybe you’ve lost track of a few. Barmoire is here to help you out.

 

Last month came the official news that bartender extraordinaire Michael Martensen planned to open Proof + Pantry at One Arts Plaza; that’s still on track, with the space – formerly the Commissary – opening hopefully before summer. But while Martensen had hoped to reassemble the fine crew of bar talent that had formerly held sway at The Cedars Social and Bar Smyth, it appears at least one band member won’t be joining the reunion: Omar YeeFoon, who is joining Jason Kosmas’ The 86 Co. as Texas brand ambassador.

“I’ll be working with friends,” YeeFoon said last week over pasta and cocktails at the Windmill Lounge’s inaugural Spaghetti + Western night. “And it’s a product and a brand I believe in.”

Fork It Over Restaurants
Movin’ up the chain: Wilson, bar programs director for Fork It Over Restaurants. (Courtesy of Fork It Over Restaurants)

Meanwhile, Bonnie Wilson, the bartender who helped put Whiskey Cake on the cocktails map in Plano before taking over the bar program at The Ranch at Las Colinas, is now bar programs director for the entire group of Fork It Over Restaurants, which includes Mexican Sugar and Velvet Taco. Fork It Over has already expanded the Whiskey Cake brand to Oklahoma City and will soon open one in San Antonio.

Caledonia Spirits
Representin’: Farm-fresh-minded Amber West now with Vermont’s Caledonia Spirits
We’ve also missed the upbeat presence of Amber West, former lead bartender at Central 214 at the Hotel Palomar whose garden-to-bar enthusiasm never failed to mesmerize. West is now Texas brand ambassador for Caledonia Spirits, the Vermont-based company that produces honey-tinged Barr Hill Gin and other liquid goodies soon to appear in bars and restaurants around the state. She and her new portfolio were behind the cocktails at last Saturday’s Polo On the Lawn fundraiser in Oak Point.
She’d met Caledonia founder Todd Hardie through former Central 214 chef Graham Dodds; their similar views forged a connection. “Caledonia Spirits is all about his connection with the land, beekeeping and farming,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”
Nora and Windmill Lounge
If you’ve been looking for this guy, he’s taken his talents to Maple Avenue.

 

Meanwhile, for those who’ve been wondering whatever happened to bartender Michael Reith, the man whose drinks once shone at Lower Greenville’s Nora, the low-key barman has resurfaced at the esteemed Windmill Lounge on Maple Avenue, where he was last seen firing up cider-y accompaniments for the divey spot’s just-launched, above-mentioned Spaghetti + Western dinners on Mondays.

At TOTC’s national bar battle, Dallas’ Bar Smyth showed it could pack a good punch (and a few good cocktails besides)

At Tales of the Cocktail 2013
The Bar Smyth crew — sharing space with Chicago’s Barrel House Flat — was one of eight bars facing off against a deluge of humanity.

You can’t say Dallas’ Bar Smyth didn’t try. Did any of the other half-dozen establishments facing off at Tales of the Cocktail’s Bare-Knuckle Bar Fight sport a derby-hatted fire eater?  Could any of them claim to wield as original a punch as mobile cocktail service poured out of a backpack keg?

That was Bar Smyth, going big and gloves-off in its debut at the nation’s largest cocktail conference in New Orleans. Friday night’s annual showdown-slash-party pitted bar crew against bar crew for yearlong bragging rights, measuring bars on the quality of their beverages, sense of atmosphere and ability to churn out cocktails for the great, buzzing tides of humanity thirsting for drink. It was a madhouse. It was supposed to be.

Tales of the Cocktail 2013
Smyth’s record-album covers evoked the Dallas speakeasy’s 70’s-esque decor, part of the judging criteria.

The chaotic hordes began forming outside the Jackson Brewery’s microscopic entryway well ahead of the event’s 10 p.m. start time and before long resembled a ravenous weasel trying to poke its nose into some tiny field mouse’s hiding hole. Once inside, the senses were dazzled by a raging tumult, tables piled with pasta trays, a spunky rockabilly band and monitors spilling footage of Muhammad Ali.

Tales of the Cocktail 2013
The event was sponsored by The 86 Co., a new spirit line that includes Tequila Cabeza.
Tales of the Cocktail 2013
The drink lineup from New York City’s The Daily included a chamomile Negroni and a watermelon-shiso Collins.

But people were here for the drinks, and of those there was plenty: Eight bars in all, plucked from around the country by The 86 Co., the just-launched spirit line that sponsored this year’s event. The company’s aim was to showcase notable up-and-coming bars rather than the established stalwarts of years past: There was Miami’s Broken Shaker, with its Santeria vibe and a killer banana-mint daiquiri; Queens’ Sweet Leaf with its Jose Camel, a tequila-mezcal pachanga laced with coffee liqueur and Punt e Mes; the two were my favorite sips of the night.

Tales of the Cocktail 2013
The atmosphere at Miami’s Broken Shaker recalled a botanica store.

Los Angeles’ Old Lightning threw down with a mezcal Negroni. New York City’s The Daily had a popcorn machine and an air of uniformed aplomb amid the fray. Chicago’s Barrel House Flat poured shots from a bottle labeled “Encyclopedia Brown” – a tantalizing formula of Rittenhouse Rye, Punt e Mes, Amaro Montenegro, Cynar, Angostura bitters and salt.

I failed to find San Diego’s Polite Provisions in the maelstrom, but Boston’s Citizen Public House and Oyster Bar was remarkably hospitable considering its three-deep crowd and the fact that it was bartender Sabrina Kershaw’s birthday; the bar’s red-velvety Negroni variation, called The New Black, was as delicious as it was alluring.

Tales of the Cocktail 2013
Sweet Leaf, of Queens, served up one of my favorite drinks of the night, with tequila, mezcal and coffee liqueur.

Dallas’ Bar Smyth made the most of its prime real estate on the brewery’s second floor. Smyth barmen Mike Martensen, Omar Yeefoon, Josh Hendrix, Julian Pagan and, inexplicably, Standard Pour’s Brian McCullough slung drinks as fast as they could muster. The crew donned Lone Star aprons, and bar host Ryan Sumner stirred up the crowd, occasionally from atop the bar counter – whooping and hollering, ringing a bell, kick-starting choruses of “Deep In The Heart of Texas.”

And despite a superior Cuba Libre anchoring its drink lineup, it was what Smyth had conjured beyond the bar that set it apart: Bar-back Charlie Ferrin blazed a trail through the darkness, wowing anyone within eyeshot with his fire-eating prowess. (“You only see the bartender side of me,” the longtime circus performer explained.) And bartender Mate Hartai waded through the crowd with a handmade backpack keg and a Texas-stamped helmet, pouring shots of Smyth’s Mexican Monk, a habanero-watermelon spin on a Tom Collins.

Tales of the Cocktail 2013
Smyth’s Mate Hartai poured drinks from his handmade backpack keg.
Tales of the Cocktail 2013
Hartai’s boozy contraption.

Texas represented well: There was Austin star barman Bill Norris; The 86 Co.’s Jason Kosmas, the bartender extraordinaire recently relocated to Austin from Dallas; Emily Perkins of Dallas’ Victor Tango; Bonnie Wilson of The Ranch at Las Colinas; Kevin Gray of CocktailEnthusiast.com and Hypeworthy’s Nico Martini.

When it was all over, Boston’s Public House had taken People’s Choice honors, no doubt aided by its giveaway signature cozies and fans (brilliant in light of the unspeakable humidity) and a machine dispensing frozen Julep Slushies. Then it was time for the judges’ decision: “We got to try drinks tonight from some of the best bars in the world,” one of them announced. “Those of you who tend bar know what it takes. Not just cocktail creativity, but teamwork, speed and execution. We know what it takes to make people happy not just this one night, but every night of the year.” And with that it was declared that The Daily of New York City had taken top prize.

Ah, Dallas. There’s always next year.

Tales of the Cocktail 2013
Lone Star pride: Smyth’s Ryan Sumner works up the crowd.
Tales of the Cocktail 2013
The fired-up champion bartenders of New York’s The Daily.

Jason Kosmas is taking his talents to Austin

At Libertine Bar
Austin-bound badass Jason Kosmas, who leaves an indelible mark on Dallas’ cocktail culture. Monday, at Libertine Bar on Lower Greenville.

Bolsa, in Oak Cliff, was among the pioneers of Dallas’ early cocktail scene, and Standard Pour’s Eddie Campbell, who headed Bolsa’s bar program at the time, remembers the first Friday he ever worked there with a new guy from New York named Jason Kosmas.

It was 2011. Fridays were ridiculously busy, and that night was no different: people were shouting orders from three or four deep, and Campbell and his regular sidekick Johnny were getting killed. “Hey, should we check on the new guy?” Johnny asked.

Campbell had forgotten all about Kosmas amid the flurry, so the question threw him into a mild panic. He ran over to the other end of the bar and asked what he could do. Without an ounce of stress, Kosmas turned and said, “I think I’m okay.”

“And he was,” Campbell recalls. “Everybody on his side of the bar was happy, with a full drink — beautiful colors and garnishes…. every drink looked like a masterpiece. That’s when I realized: Jason Kosmas is a total badass.”

Kosmas is a total badass, but you would never know it from his demeanor. Co-founder and co-owner of New York City’s renowned Employees Only and one of the bartending luminaries behind new spirits line The 86 Co., Kosmas is one of the most humble, upbeat and likeable guys around. But if cocktail culture in Dallas has gone from practically zero to 60 in the last two years (and it has), it’s fair to say that Kosmas has been among those at the wheel.

Now Kosmas is taking his talents to Austin, which will no doubt benefit immensely from his arrival.

It’s difficult to fully capture the impact that Kosmas has had on Dallas since arriving here with his unflappable, affable scruffiness. You can talk about the places he worked at and helped put on the map early on (Bolsa, Windmill, Neighborhood Services Tavern) and the places he opened (Marquee) and the very many places he’s left his mark on (Malai Kitchen, The Greek, etc.), but for many in the scene, it’s his ready assistance and mentorship behind the scenes that resonate most powerfully.

“Gonna miss you J,” wrote The People’s Last Stand’s Brad Bowden on Facebook. “Thanks for all the advice and words of wisdom you have given me… meant a lot to me.”

Kosmas came to the Dallas area for both family reasons and business opportunities, and that’s what’s taking him deeper into the heart of Texas: The capital city is more centrally located, putting him in better touch with amped-up drinking cultures in Houston and San Antonio as well. Besides, he’s done what he can in Dallas, which has now eclipsed adolescence, a vibrant cocktail city ready to move forward on its own.

“What I can contribute is over,” he says. “There’s not a lot of challenges left for me here.”

Other people have helped make that happen too, and the city’s collaborative atmosphere has propelled it forward. Kosmas was instrumental in instilling that sense of teamwork.  “As time went on,” says Standard Pour’s Campbell, “we all got to know him better and realized what an incredibly nice guy he is, and watched as he offered help to anyone who wanted it. I’ve constantly been amazed at how easy he makes everything look.”

Kosmas, who has already been moving back and forth between the two cities, doesn’t plan to be a stranger here once he leaves for good, by week’s end.

In his own modest way, he wrote about his departure:  “I have been embraced and am grateful to have been a part of a rapidly growing restaurant community….  It is bittersweet. I feel so fortunate to have been able to watch the city change and play some small role in it.”

Dallas’ Bar Smyth chosen to compete at national bar battle in New Orleans

Are these bartenders ready to represent or what? Some of the Bar Smyth staff headed to New Orleans.
Are these bartenders ready to represent or what? Some of the Bar Smyth staff headed to New Orleans.

Another big coup for Dallas on the national cocktail front: Bar Smyth has been chosen to compete in this year’s bar-versus-bar-versus bar cage match at next month’s annual Tales of the Cocktail conference in New Orleans.

Smyth’s selection to the so-called Bare Knuckle Bar Fight gives the months-old lounge another dose of national publicity in the short time since it opened earlier this year in the Knox-Henderson neighborhood. In March, Vogue magazine cited the new venture from Michael Martensen and Brian Williams – co-owners of The Cedars Social – as a factor in naming Dallas one of the four “buzziest cultural capitals” in the world alongside Lisbon, Toronto and Istanbul.

Smyth will go up against six other competitors: Polite Provisions (San Diego), Sweat Leaf (Queens, NY), Broken Shaker (Miami), The Daily (New York City), Barrel House Flat (Chicago) and Citizen Pub (Boston).

This year’s bar battle royale is unusual in the sense that the establishments chosen to compete are typically seasoned entities with some mileage under their tires. It’s part of a new focus on new and upcoming bars, a philosophy espoused by the event’s new host, The 86 Co., which launched a new line of spirits earlier this year.

Surely it helped that Dallas bartender extraordinaire Jason Kosmas is among The 86 Co.’s ringleaders, putting Smyth and its smooth 1970s vibe that much closer to the national radar. “It’s usually the biggest and best that get the acclaim,” Kosmas said. “But (this year’s contestants) will be the ones that get no acclaim.”

Dallas' Bar Smyth, about to prove itself on the national stage
Bar Smyth, about to prove itself on the national stage despite opening just three months ago.

But Smyth’s bartenders – including Omar Yeefoon, Josh Hendrix, Trina Nishimura and Mate Hartai – are among the best in Dallas’ come-of-age craft-cocktail culture. They’ll help Smyth represent at the annual event, which in essence is a massive wall-to-wall party of 1,000 people with competing bar staffs scattered throughout a gi-normous space, judged for character, quality, originality and speed in a frenzied atmosphere.

“They’re going up against some real talent,” Kosmas said. And this year’s focus will be riffs on the classics, daring each bar staff to not adhere too closely nor to venture too far from the original formula. “It was, like, these events have to outdo themselves every year,” he said. “We figured, let’s just go back to the basics.”

Bars are also expected to recreate in some small form the character of their actual establishment. Last year, for instance, Seattle’s Rob Roy brought along its signature deer-hoof lamp.

“We’re flattered,” said Smyth’s Martensen. “Our brains are already working. Do we show up with vinyl records?”

The team will no doubt have some tricks up its sleeve, and perhaps one surprising advantage: Bar Smyth is the only one of the seven competing bars that doesn’t have a Web site. Added Martensen: “Now that our wheels are spinning, now that we know who we’re competing against…. We can see what they do. ”

“We’re excited,” Yeefoon added. “Bring it.”

Tales of the Cocktail's annual competition: Not for the faint of bar
Tales of the Cocktail’s annual competition: Not for the faint of bar