There’s more to Dallas than state fairs, Larry Hagman, and presidential assassinations. It’s a chic city with a rich legacy of art and culture, and you can also get very drunk in it. One of our goals during a recent brief trip to the Big D was to hit as many of its most noteworthy and acclaimed bars as we could in two nights. Unfortunately events conspired to only limit us to four in total, but those four are all interesting in their own way, and represent four very different approaches to running a bar in 2022. From high-class cocktail spots to kitschy dives, we won’t soon forget our two nights of drinking in Dallas—if we could actually remember them, that is.
Our first night started at Catbird, a hyped up spot on top of the Thompson Hotel on Akard and Elm. With its backlit marble bar top, copious gold and brown accents, and giant glittery Matryoshka doll, Catbird is glam but with a touch of goofiness; you could easily see the Sex and the City characters drinking here, but it doesn’t feel too cool or exclusive for all us regular old drunks. It helps that the drinks are pretty great. The Redhead is a crisp classic with Maker’s, ginger, lemon, honey and mint, slightly sweet with the right amount of burn from the ginger and bourbon. The Southern Bell is a smoky delight that combines mezcal with bell pepper reduction, Thai basil, and a seared bell pepper on top. Sure, it’s a cutesy name and gimmick, but it also tastes great, so we can tolerate the wordplay. Catbird keeps its bar front moving by not having any seats at the bar, and if you want some fresh air when it gets slammed during the busiest hours you can head outside and enjoy its sprawling patio space. It’s suitably classy and a little bit precious, but with its warm atmosphere and excellent cocktails Catbird offers a memorable night out.
After two drinks we decamped Catbird and took a quick Uber to the Bishop Arts District, where the small but inviting Tiny Victories awaited. Not quite a dive, but still warm, relaxed, and laidback, Tiny Victories feels like the kind of place you make your regular spot after graduating from the college bars and party scene. Like, it has a deep list of well-made classic cocktails and creative, inspired originals, but also will show an Elvira-hosted Pop Up Video version of Puppet Master on its TVs (we had no idea Paul Le Mat was in this, btw). I don’t think any of the bartenders at this cocktail bar would care if you just ordered a High Life instead of its fancier creations. We weren’t here for beer, though. Sam served us a mezcal sazerac, with mezcal replacing the rye alongside absinthe, cane sugar, and Peychaud’s bitters; we’re not big mezcal drinkers, but hey, it’s Texas, and this drink was really good, both familiar and completely different due to that one crucial substitution. We followed that up with one of Tiny Victories’ signature drinks, My Neck, My Daq, which pays tribute to Khia’s unforgettable 2002 rap classic with a bottle of High Life and a small snack-sized daiquiri shot. We leisurely alternated between the Daq and the champagne of beers, enjoying the contrast while Tunneler, Leech Woman, and the rest of those murderous puppets turned on their master and brought him to a gruesome end. Tiny Victories is a big win.
Mike’s Gemini Twin
Night one ended with a long stay at Mike’s Gemini Twin, a new-old dive recommended to us by multiple bartenders throughout the city. We’ve been to a lot of bars that try to feel like a blue collar joint from the ‘70s, but few pull it off as convincingly as Mike’s. It opened in 2019 but feels untouched over the last 50 years, with classic country playing when we walked in, vintage light fixtures over the tables and pool table, and a massive, dark brown bar taking up most of one wall. We started with a black Manhattan and immediately saw why this was a favorite of local bartenders; that first drink was stiff but delicious. After another one of those, a Shiner, and a Lone Star (again, it’s Texas, we had to), the only thing we could do is eat one of Mike’s hot dogs, cooked on the bar in one of those old hot dog roller grills; after a night of drinking in an unknown city, that unassuming little wiener tasted like manna from Heaven. Mike’s Gemini Twin felt like a place we’d been going to our entire lives the first time we walked in the door, which is probably the greatest thing you can say about a bar.
We started the next night’s activities at the bar we were most excited about visiting: Swizzle, which proudly calls itself “the only Tiki bar in Dallas.” (Notice it doesn’t say anything about Arlington, the home of 4 Kahunas, which we sadly weren’t able to visit during this trip.) Swizzle is a kitschy, colorful tribute to the classic Tiki bar, and during our visit it was decorated for Halloween, which means skeletons and spiderwebs alongside the tropical tchotchkes and Tiki heads. It has enough of the classic aesthetic to please the purists, with a taste of the goofy, tongue-in-cheek retro bent of many modern Tiki bars. And yes, the drinks were what you hope for from a Tiki joint. We started with a classic mai tai, of course, and a Dole whip with rum as good as anything you can get at Trader Sam’s. Round two featured the Martiki Swizzle 2.0, an almost painfully sweet original with two rums, lime, pineapple, and rock-candy syrup; yes, it probably spiked our blood sugar to dangerous levels, but damn if it didn’t taste good. The highlight, at least in terms of presentation, was Don Mateo’s Pule Pule—aka the Spam Can Cocktail. This “bartender’s choice” drink was a powerful combo of some amount of rum and some amount of fruit juice served in an actual Spam can. We don’t remember what was actually in the drink—we were perhaps already past the point of remembering when we ordered it—but we do remember absolutely loving how it tasted and, moreso, how it looked and felt to be slurping down booze from inside a Spam can. Oh, and don’t sleep on the food here, especially the spam sliders and taro chips.
We had also hoped to check out the highly regarded bar Midnight Rambler, but it was closed for a private event when we tried to go. Dallas seems like a big convention town—multiple downtown hotels were packed with attendees of various work functions, which made it a little hard to get into some of the more hyped bars and restaurants in town. Oh well: just more reason to make it back to Dallas soon.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.