In the third night Smyth was open, Omar Yeefoon, the bar manager, walked across the herringbone stained wood floors to the ’70s style shag carpet where we sat, near the walls of record shelves, and asked us each about what we liked to drink and what we were in the mood for. This was in March. There were no menus that night, though there will be soon. On our visit, it was just Yeefoon cataloging our tastes, then making drinks.
Smyth is part of The Establishment, a bar/coffee shop/oyster bar complex across from Travis Walk from Michael Martensen and Brian Williams, the guys behind Cedars Social. Smyth was the first of the trio to open. The bar’s name comes from the idea of a smith—as in, a goldsmith or blacksmith, a craftsman who works with his hands.
We loved the drinks.
None of the ingredients was unusual— fresh lemon with whiskeys, strawberries with Champagne—but each drink was balanced, elegant, and really, really good. Based on my saying that I enjoy whiskeys, citrus, and nothing too sweet, Yeefoon brought out one of his newest inventions, the Shipwreck. It reminded me of long afternoons under a Caribbean sun. Each drink suited each of us, in large part because Yeefoon took the time to talk to us.
The whole idea of Smyth, Martensen says, “is to go into a place and not have to fight for a cocktail.” To that end, only 48 people are allowed in the bar at any given time, and a doorman will control traffic. Reservations are encouraged (try using Open Table). Personal attention from expert bartenders without a lengthy wait is a great idea. Even so, the drinks still take time to make and to get to you, so while we waited, we took in the scenery. There are no TVs, no windows, no distractions from the people and the drinks. The entire place is dark and cool, with twisty staircases and long, turning hallways into the bar and to the bathrooms (one sober friend nearly got lost navigating his way back to our table). There were no bar stools yet, though the curved booths were open and ready.
By the time you read this, Smyth should be serving 3,000-year-old glacial ice harvested in Alaska. Because of the way it forms—slowly and under intense pressure—glacial ice has larger crystals than normal ice, which supposedly allows it to melt more slowly, thereby cooling the drink without watering it down. Our drinks, for the record, averaged a reasonable $11 each. We had ordered without asking and had no idea how much they’d cost. One person in our group thought, given the quality of the ingredients and the attention, we’d be charged $14 or $15. I wondered how, given the lower volume, the joint will make money. Martensen says, “When the Establishment part opens up, that’s going to be our nut. That’s going to be the volume. Smyth is going to be the place where you come to relax and get lost.” While they hope the bar will make money, of course, “the No. 1 priority for Smyth is to offer an experience that Dallas doesn’t have yet.”
It’s always a pleasure to behold the work of an expert. A vase by a skilled potter who has been to your house, an artist’s sketch of your child based on her favorite things. To some, the idea of a bar using glacial ice, taking reservations, not having any signage out front, and operating without waitstaff may sound pretentious. And maybe it is. Probably it is. But it also struck me as a way for skilled bartenders to do what they’re very best at—talk to customers and make great cocktails.
For more information about Smyth, visit our online restaurant guide.