Dallas

Dallas’ 100 Best Bars, Dives, Craft Cocktail Dens and Speakeasies

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Patience Ndzimandze tends bar at Atwater Alley.

Kathy Tran

While the rest of the world is trying to figure out a path forward — the economy, politics, the Cowboys — the Dallas bar scene is racing ahead full throttle, flawless locks flowing in the wind.

In 2021 we created our list of the Top 100 Bars in Dallas with the intent of tweaking it annually, adding new destinations to replace spots that have closed or simply been outmuscled. This year, when looking at the scene from a wide-angle lens, two themes clearly emerged: a rise in preference for craft cocktails and the boom in speakeasies.

For the former, it’s no longer just a few local stops with a bartender well-versed in obscure liquors, flavor profiles and, perhaps most important, an understanding of how those meld. Take Apothecary, for example, which opened last year on Lower Greenville. This avant-garde cocktail den has a menu that requires an explainer, which a bartender will gladly provide as they describe the difference between rum and rhum agricole. (The later is fermented from with juice freshly pressed from sugar cane rather than molasses or evaporated sugar from any source.)

That might seem like too much when all you want is a drink to shake off a long week, but it’s not when the experience is so cathartic. Here, black-out curtains in front of the doors block all sunlight, keeping the room dim. It may even take a few minutes for your eyes to adjust. Most of the seating is deep chairs and couches. Servers have the table-side manners of Mr. Rogers welcoming a guest to his neighborhood, but in this case, the trip to the magic kingdom is fueled by finding that perfect tonic for your parched lips.

Speakeasies, in some form or fashion, are on the rise too. Trick Pony has Pony Tail, a four-seater bar in the back behind a closed door. Ever heard of Atwater Alley? You’ll have to ask the host at Henry’s Majestic how to get there. To find the craft cocktail den The Blackbird Society, look for a neon pink kitten in a window in Deep Ellum. Need an alibi for Saturday night? Just tell them you were at the candy store, which is a facade to the club Truth and Alibi in Deep Ellum.

Even Apothecary is hard to find in the bright summer light along Greenville Avenue. It has one small gold plaque about the size of a brick to mark its spot.

Patience Ndzimandze, 30, is a bartender at Atwater Alley. Her first job behind a bar was at a Hooters in Colorado, and she’s now one of the best in Dallas with a stint at Botanist before coming to this speakeasy in an alley. She thinks the pandemic drove many into cooking at home and playing bartender, which has led to increased interest in craft cocktails.

“People want to know what that taste is that they can’t identify. What’s making it tart that’s not just lemon and lime? I’ve seen a bigger interest in craft now than pre-pandemic,” Ndzimandze says.

At Atwater, they don’t have a menu, rather she and the other bartenders ask each customer a series of questions to land on a drink, if the customer doesn’t know what they want already. She likes to offer her own spins on classics, like a Vieux Carre, but she’s also seeing a big comeback in the espresso martini.

Atlas in The Bishop Arts District has a “back bar” (they don’t like the term speakeasy) that is only open late on the weekends. Co-owner Dan Bui previously worked at the once-popular club SISU Uptown, and he sees a great transformation in tastes from several years ago.

“At SISU it was a lot of one-and-ones: vodka tonics, Crown and Cokes, vodka Red Bulls,” Bui says. “Since we opened Atlas, we very rarely get one-and-ones here. A guy will come in with a Lakers jersey, tatted up, he’ll look young, and if I had to guess his order, I’d say a beer and a shot, but he’ll order a rye Old-Fashioned. We go through so many espresso martinis and Old-Fashioneds every night now.”

Bui links the progression of drink preferences to the local culinary scene.

“I definitely think Dallas is a lot more appreciative and knowledgeable of cocktails. There’s an evolution of the cocktail. It’s like the evolution of the culinary game, which I think has stepped up dramatically in the past five to seven years,” Bui says. We’d be remiss not to mention the from-scratch pho he’s serving at Atlas and perhaps one of the best Cuban sandwiches we’ve had as well.

So while the world around us may at times seem wayward, drinks in Dallas are flowing, which isn’t exactly surprising, come to think of it, but these are coming in high style.

For this year’s additions to the Top 100 Bars in Dallas, there are some swank cocktail dens cloaked in a bit of secrecy, but there were other changes, too. The rowdy and sporty Texas Live! in Arlington and Community Beer Co.’s massive biergarten are also new places where we love to grab a beer. We’re not snobs, after all.

Bars we lost this year include Shoals Sound and Service, Anvil, The Clover Club and Mama Tried in Deep Ellum. All were great bars, but challenges from the pandemic were deep and wide. Then we lost a couple to buyouts from big real estate companies, like Ten Bells Tavern (which plans to relocate) and The Local Oak, both on the same block in The Bishop Arts District.

See below for the fresh and clean new 13. For the full list, visit our Top 100 Bars page.

Apothecary

1922 Greenville Ave.
Apothecary.bar

click to enlarge Apothecary in Lower Greenville - KATHY TRAN

Apothecary in Lower Greenville

Kathy Tran

You will miss Apothecary the first time you attempt to visit. That’s part of its charm. This self-ascribed “avant-garde cocktail lounge” is a dark respite from the elements. Here the world is shuttered out, the noise turned down to a delightful whisper. On one visit, a guest at the next table was watching videos on his phone, loudly. Luckily he left before we were able to ask to move. It’s just not a phone-out, sound-up place. At all. There are plenty of those around the city, but not here. Every server knows the cocktail menu inside and out and could narrate a documentary on each drink. The menu is broken into three levels, starting with classics to more free-solo rock climbing type adventures like an R-Oaxaca-Fort (a blue cheese mezcal number) and Death in the Afternoon (absinthe and bubbles). The food menu includes a charcuterie board, caviar service, a vegan Bolognese and a short-rib plate served with potato pave and white chocolate. Make reservations to be sure to get a seat.

Atlas

408 N. Bishop Ave.
AtlasBishopArts.com

click to enlarge Atlas has a global cocktail focus with a separate back bar on weekend nights. - KATHY TRAN

Atlas has a global cocktail focus with a separate back bar on weekend nights.

Kathy Tran

Atlas opened in 2021 in the Bishop Arts District with a global cocktail menu. The vibe here is come-one-come-all. Pretty Aperol Spritzes stand tall alongside bottles of Lone Stars on the bar. It’s a fun mix of locals, tourists and first dates. Notice a bookshelf at the back of the bar and ask yourself if anyone here is doing much reading. Not likely. The bookshelf serves as a fake door that leads to a back bar, which rotates global themes (remember, Atlas) and seats about two dozen but packs in many more. It’s open in the evenings, Friday through Sunday. Try the pho, it’s co-owner Dan Bui’s family recipe, and it’s bliss. And their toasty Cuban with house-roasted pork is magnificent.

Atwater Alley

4900 McKinney Ave.
AtwaterAlley.com

In sorry-not-sorry news, we’re spilling the beans on hard-to-find Atwater Alley: Go past the door of Henry’s Majestic, toward the alley, then hang a right after the sidewalk ends and look for the door with an upside-down A over a right-side-up A. Once inside, Atwater doesn’t have QR codes or paper for menus, just tell the bartender what you want. If you don’t know — even better — after a few questions, you’ll quickly come to terms. We started with an Old-Fashioned, then the bartender suggested a take on a classic Vieux Carré, which was fantastic. Early in the evening, the dark hues, Baroque-style wallpaper and deep booths are perfect for an intimate date, but later it gets busier as Park City 20-somethings come in for a nightcap or three.

Casablanca

200 N. Bishop Ave, Ste, 113
CasablancadTX.com

The Silk Road-themed Casablanca sits like an oasis in the heart of the Bishop Arts District, just a few steps off the main artery. Here the mood is a desert oasis with sandy hues and a Moroccan aura. Like any cool desert hangout, its centered on a calming pool of water (which is not for swimming). The menu of small bites stretches from the Middle East to Asia, from smoked edamame to pork and plum dumplings. Casablanca also expanded, adding an adjacent outdoor post called The Palm Bar with grab-and-go cocktails and a sandy lounge area. But if you and your friends like to get loud, get a room: Casanova is a sing easy in the back, with several swank private karaoke lounges for up to 15 guests. Reservations are a must.

Community Beer Company

3110 Commonwealth Drive
CommunityBeer.com

Community Beer Company is one of the original craft breweries in Dallas. Their Mosaic IPA is a pillar in the local beer community, and their shiny new brewery just northeast of downtown that opened earlier this year is an ode to how far the local craft beer scene has come in 10 years. With more than 70,000 square feet of elbow room, this two-story production brewery and biergarten is host to families, friends, birthday parties and plenty of pooches on the weekends. They offer almost two-dozen beers on tap, all their own. Community Kitchen, an on-site kitchen, is still in the works and expected to open sometime in 2022. For now, they host food trucks on Fridays and Saturdays and delivery drivers regularly drop off boxes of pizzas to picnic tables.

Four Corners Brewing Co.

1311 S. Ervay St.
FCBrewing.com

Four Corners Brewing Co. has come a long way since the 5-gallon home brew system it started with an over a decade ago. Their large brewery in The Cedars neighborhood hosts their manufacturing facility and a well-adorned taproom (we love the upside-down lamp installation overhead). They offer one-of-a-kind beers brewed on a smaller experimental seven-beer barrel system behind the taproom. One of the best times to visit is Thursday evenings for lotería, which is sort of like bingo but with fresh craft beer and 20-year-olds (although your nana is more than welcome). Nosh on fried fajita balls and nachos while learning new Spanish words. Their Heart o’ Texas red ale is an Observer staff favorite. Try out the Geeks Who Drink Trivia on Sundays and monthly bike rides for more good fun.

Kessaku

1401 Elm St.
KessakuRestaurants.com

Fifty floors atop The National building in downtown sits Michelin-star chef Danny Grants’ cocktail and sushi den, Kessaku. To find it, take the elevators to Monarch on the 49th floor, but instead of going to the restaurant, take a left into a hallway and head upstairs. You’ll find a posh cocktail lounge with floor-to-ceiling windows delivering a stunning skyline view. Hip-hop music overhead is turned up, and when the place is packed, it’s loud. We can’t report much on the cocktails and sushi, other than they went down real easy; perhaps it’s asking too much to compete with this view and big boss energy. Valet is available and reservations are a must.

Neon Kitten Izakaya

2805 Main St.
NeonKittenDallas.com

An izakaya is the Japanese version of an Irish pub or American tavern: a casual bar that serves small snacks. At Neon Kitten, which can be found by looking for the neon pink sign high in the window outside, the snacks are sushi and dim sum, and stacked plastic baskets allow the tender steamed dumplings and wontons to stay warm without getting soggy. The drinks are Japanese-inspired too. On a hot day, try the Osaka, a snowcone-like drink served in a ceramic Hello Kitty mug made with ume and cherry blossom liqueurs, Roku gin, and a touch of sage and grapefruit-like pomelo for a touch of acidity. Large peonies are painted across the walls. Head toward the bathroom and take notice of a bookshelf, which is actually a door that leads to The Blackbird Society. This speakeasy is a high-end cocktail lounge where a bartender will craft a drink for you based on your preferences, likely expanding the boundaries of what you thought was a good drink. The Blackbird Society is only open Thursday through Sunday. Check their website for reservations; on occasion, if the crowd is light, they may invite a few people from Neon Kitten back.

Rare Books Bar

6959 Lebanon Road, Suite 110, Frisco
RareBooksBar.com

It’s not too late to try to latch on to the bourbon boom that’s swept the nation for the last decade or so. If you want to broaden your whiskey horizons beyond Jack Daniel’s or Jim Beam, then Rare Books is where you need to be. It’s a speakeasy-style joint inside J. Theodore’s Restaurant in Frisco, and each week, Rare Books announces a classic literary title that you’ll need to give to the Librarian to get in. Seating is limited to 50 or so patrons, but if you can get in, be ready to do some reading; the bourbon (and scotch, rye, Japanese whisky and Irish whiskey) menu stretches eight pages, with further options for flights and crafted cocktails. If there’s a rare whiskey you always wanted to try but could never afford a bottle, chances are Rare Books can offer you a pour. (Editor’s note: the spelling “whiskey” for general uses and whisky for Scotch, Canadian and Japanese version is an AP Stylebook rule. Maybe the well-read folks here can explain why, but don’t ask whether Jack Daniel’s should be called bourbon unless you’re spoiling for an argument.)

Texas Live!

1605 E. Randoll Mill Road, Arlington
Texas-live.com

Just outside Globe Life Park is a bevy of restaurants and bars, all housed under one roof called Texas Live! And if you’ve ever thought, “Sure wish I could watch the game somewhere fun tonight” this is your home. Before a Rangers game, it’s packed with families and sports fans scarfing down plates of nachos and sipping cold drinks. The ginormous screen at the center of it all, including many other TVs around it, makes this one of the best places to watch a Stars or Mavericks playoff runs. Neighbors include Troy Aikman’s restaurant and live music place, aptly called Troy’s. There’s a Guy Fieri taco stand as well. Texas Live! host concerts, DJs, family movie nights watch parties and serve local craft beer and whisky.

Tiny Victories

604 N. Tyler St.
Wedothisandthat.com/tinyvictories

One appeal of Tiny Victories might be that it’s near the Bishop Arts District, but not in it. Not that we don’t love the eclectic entertainment area, but you need to stretch out before you try to find parking. Here, at West Davis and Tyler Street, is a cozy cocktail den with a patio and happy hour that says, “Well, hi there, neighbor,” with a wink. They offer half-priced cocktails from 4 to 7 p.m. every Tuesday through Friday. The cocktail menu has classics like a 1916 Aviation with gin, Luxardo Maraschino, Creme de Violette and lemon. From the not-so-classic menu try a house shot called Spring Break ’99 (strawberry and vodka). My Neck, My Daq is a Miller High Life with a “Snaquiri.”

Trick Pony

2819 Main St.
TrickPonyDeepEllum.com

Trick Pony is a side-hustle bar of Marlow MXM but has a completely different energy. While it can get rowdy on busy weekends, it often displays characteristics of a more mild-mannered middle child. While the interior design has a harsh industrial feel, the cocktails are anything but. As they like to say, this isn’t a one-trick pony; the theme here changes every few months, offering a buzzy tour of the world. Last summer, they were shaking up island-inspired drinks for a tiki lounge stint. They just finished a New York City tour with drinks like No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn and a You Can Kick It (yes, you can). Next up is Havana then Paris. But they always have a staycation menu of Dallas favorites, like the Don’t Be a Prick with vodka and prickly pear, rhubarb, watermelon lime and mint. For a more intimate experience, ask a bartender if Pony Tail is available, a separate four-seat bar in the back with a dedicated bar and server.

Truth and Alibi

2618 Elm St.
TruthandlAibi.com

This Deep Ellum speakeasy is accessed through a faux candy storefront. You’ll have to check their Facebook page for the weekly password to get in. The lounge at Truth and Alibi is posh with deep couches and chairs, and if want to make sure if you get a table, make reservations. DJs play a mix of hip hop, some old school. The menu, which is paper but LED-lit (thank you), has classic cocktails like a Sazerac and a Manhattan, both made with Bulleit, which is the whiskey of choice here. They also offer bottle service if you’re ready to go big. Check them out on Thursdays when they host a candy shop burlesque show at 10 p.m. And if anyone asks, you’re were at the candy store, which is not only the truth but also your alibi. 



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