When D named this year’s best bartender in Dallas, we didn’t judge based on who could mix up a drink the fastest or who amazed us with Tom Cruise in Cocktail style tricks. We said Danny Versfelt was the best in town because he’s the kind of guy who will get to know you, beyond just what you’re drinking. Since Danny V. gets to know so many of you, we thought you ought to know some things about him, beyond just how well he prepares your drink.
Where you’ll find him
Al Biernat’s on Oak Lawn. He’ll be behind the bar every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night starting at 4 p.m. and Wednesday during the day. Picture what you think a friendly Irish Catholic guy with some 25 years of Dallas bartending experience would look like and that’s him. Or just look at his photo.
His bartending mantra is…
That the bartender is the host of the party. Someone told it to him in his second year of bartending and it’s stuck in his head ever since. As the host, he’s got to make sure everyone feels welcome and satisfied. He circulates, making conversation and filling glasses, not for patrons, but for guests.
He’s got more to say.
What he’s going to say to you
He’ll talk a lot about his family—wife and two kids. If you’re looking for advice, his tends to be common sense with a sarcastic bite. When he said he likes to grill every Sunday with his family, I asked if he had any tips. He said, “Have a full tank of gas.” If you asked the best bartender in Dallas what every bartender needs, he’d probably tell you alcohol would be a good thing to start with. His sister (he’s the youngest of six) is a social worker, and they joke that they’re in the same business. Overall, he’s more of a listener. Like any good host, he believes in connecting different people at the party with group conversation.
Is there a song that’ll make him dance on the bar?
No. Maybe 10 years ago, but not now. He does enjoy “Workin’ for a Livin’” by Huey Lewis & the News, but he’s taking whatever the bar is giving.
What’s in his glass
Danny’s a family man, so he gets a tad uncomfortable with answering this question, but he classifies himself as a Jameson and Miller man. Sometimes when he’s grilling steak with his family, he’ll have a casual margarita (on the rocks, not frozen). If he’s out to dinner it’s a nice single malt to impress his wife.
Is there anything he can’t make?
Technically, no. (What kind of bartender would he be if he wasn’t serving what you wanted?) But for one regular, he “can’t” make a Brandy Alexander because he just doesn’t do it right. This is fine with Danny, who doesn’t love having to go back to the kitchen and grab the vanilla ice cream. Like many bartenders, he also doesn’t love making frozen drinks because it’s hard to get the consistency just right. He’ll make it for you anyway of course.
How he spends his spare time
He likes to ride his Harley-Davidson. This year Santa brought him and his son a CR450 and CR70 for dirt bike riding, which they do up around Kaufman. A customer loaned Danny his PR50 (a small dirt bike) for about six months so Danny’s son could try it out, which goes to show the kind of relationship he has with patrons.
How he got his start
About a quarter of a century ago Danny started bartending at the Prohibitioner, which he’s told used to be a true speak easy. Apparently when they knocked down a wall in the West End’s Stark Club, they found the place. He was there while it was like a New York style disco with big bands playing every night. He can’t hear very well because of that. Danny’s worked at a lot of places around town and likes the Loon, a cold, dark bar that serves an honest drink. But his first go around as a bartender came from his family’s annual Christmas Eve parties, where at 13 years old or so he was serving up vodka sonics for the neighbors.
What he thinks of being named Best Bartender
He’s flattered. And humble. And realizes that now the regulars that have been coming to him for years know his last name. Now what can he get you to drink?