Sometimes it’s nice to visit Uptown on a Monday night. The streets are quiet after Saturday night’s revelry and Sunday’s late brunches. Many valet stands are closed, and there is street parking to be had. Staff—line cooks, maybe—stand behind restaurants, smoking and laughing. Their voices echo in the street. The Saturday nights have a sensual pleasure, a fullness of body and breath. Mondays are filled with quieter, introspective spaces.
The 350-square-foot Kennedy Room was founded by Pasha Heidari, nephew of Al Heidari, who owns the Old Warsaw next door. The bar bills itself as a quiet spot in Uptown. Not Kennedy Room for the party crowd, I hear from the barman, though the party crowd has stopped by, particularly when the Kennedy Room first opened its doors. Now the life of regulars has begun.
Bartender Joe Buenrostro tells me this. He is chatty and friendly and learned to tend bar at the San Francisco Rose. An older Brit holds court toward the back on the night I visit. The men wooing him for work are younger regulars. One carries a hard-shell briefcase that looks like it should hold trade secrets or stacks of money. I am nearly certain it does not. A shame, that.
The Kennedy Room is inside the Montaigne Club, in what was once the game room. The wooden benches are former church pews. A stag’s head hangs on a wall. A small mantle of books lies beneath one of the two TVs. From the dimpled red-leather couch beside the gas fireplace, the thick metal patio tables and chairs and street rise up into sight, quiet and waiting. The first floor of the Crescent Court is visible across the way. My eyes flick up from the story I am reading, Hisham Matar’s lyrical essay about his exile from Gadhafi’s Libya and his father’s imprisonment and likely execution. It feels like a strange inverse to the story of a democratically elected president assassinated on a public street.
A portrait of Jackie and John F. Kennedy hangs directly above the penny-covered, glass-topped bar that Joe and his artist brother James wrought. The Kennedys look young and vibrant, as they will always be in the collective public memory. There was already a Conspiracy bar and there was already Lee Harvey’s, Joe tells me, but there was never a Kennedy bar specifically. Pasha was always interested in Kennedy, his uncle Al tells me, hence the name, though Pasha is too young to remember the days when Kennedy was alive. As am I.
A woman brings in potato chips from the Old Warsaw. The chip salt spreads thickly across my tongue. There are no cherries today, and my Manhattan is rimmed with orange, which is pleasant. I am drinking a Manhattan because the beer is all bottled, not draft, and because the Manhattan suits the bar. One of my grandfathers often drank Manhattans at night. The other cried all day when Kennedy died. For that grandfather, Dallas was always the city that shot the president.
For me, Dallas was simply the city I lived in, where I went to school, where, now, my father is buried. By the time this story is published, I will have left the city. My husband is graduating from medical school and has matched a residency in Austin, the city where we met and were married, the city where our first child was born. My memory is working overtime to catalog what I now see and will take with me from Dallas, this city where our second child was born, where much of our married life has been spent. The hills of Oak Cliff. The long legs of Uptown. The giddy turn in the road when my kids know we are about to reach their grandparents’ house.
“There it was, the land,” Matar writes. “Reddish yellow. The color of healed skin. … The land got darker, browning. And, suddenly, my childhood sea.” What we take with us is sudden and rarely what we expect. What will captivate the memory catches hold in the future in surprising ways. Boys whose memories of Kennedy formed long after the man died built a Kennedy bar in Uptown. Surprising. And good.
For more information about The Kennedy Room, visit our online restaurant guide.