There are some adult beverages that work best within a social or geographic context. An Aperol Spritz–the semi-sweet and orange-hued classic that’s served in a long-stemmed wine glass–is to Italy what Ranch Water is to West Texas.
The simple cocktail is concocted with only three components: three parts Prosecco, two parts Aperol, and one part soda. The drink reflects in taste, the way in which I imagine Italians live: perpetually on vacation, existing on a large wooden deck off the coast of the Rivera or bodies splayed on a yacht in the sun, ensconced in flowy white linen with buttons half-done and attending nightly dinner parties in which looking half-interested is more encouraged than reprimanded.
A demeanor named by Italian writer Baldassare Castiglione as Sprezztura: a socially performative quality of nonchalance displayed by an individual’s posture, tone, and dress. This vision of the Italian life is of course a stereotyped oversimplification, yet it’s easy to understand why Italy’s most popular beverage accessorizes seamlessly with Italy’s social and geographic context.
The key to making a successful Aperol Spritz, as with most things, is balance. If there’s too much Aperol in the mix, the drink has an unwanted bitterness. Too much Prosecco overpowers its neighbors with saccharine tartness, and of course you’re not paying for a glass of water. However, if the bartender leaves out a splash or two of soda –which happens – then it tastes crowded. Effervescence is key.
Here are some of my favorite places to order a Spritz in Dallas.
Shoals Sound & Service
Shoals makes an excellent one. The space recalls a Brooklyn-style shotgun studio. With tall, airy ceilings, slouchy couches near the back, simply designed bar stools and high-backed chairs, with a well curated record collection that gets played regularly, you can enjoy a nicely balanced Spritz while listening to a Miles Davis or Chet Baker record. Make sure to say something cool to the bartender like “this track really swings” so he knows you’re a real jazz head.
Sassetta has a reputation for making a top-shelf Spritz. In fact, they’ve put their own twist on the classic by adding Rosa vermouth, which means it’s now not only refreshing and slightly bitter, slightly tart, but also slightly herbaceous. It’s good. And given that Sassetta is an Italian restaurant, the décor could be called contemporary Italian art-deco with various clean geometric patterns, emboldened vertical lines overlaid in gold, low hanging circular mirrors which play off a cool, muted colored tile pattern on the floor. The space feels energetic on particularly busy days when peoples’ voices bounce off the marble, wood and concrete tile. In short, it feels Italian.
Quickly becoming one of my personal Spritz go-to’s, the off-Davis Street cocktail lounge runs Bob Ross’ The Joy of Painting episodes on loop and features a mini shrine to the puffy haired painter. Their cocktail menu has historical and contemporary options, with a half-off happy hour for most of them. The Aperol Spritz isn’t on there, but that shouldn’t matter because it’s September, it’s still 98 degrees outside and you’re sweating through your third J. Crew oxford this week.
Ten Bells Tavern
If you’re leaving Tiny Victories and craving another Spritz, I highly suggest making your way down Davis St. to Ten Bells. The long-time Bishop Arts haunt hides one of the best in the city. The cavernous inside says “it’s okay to smoke here” more than “order me a refreshing cocktail” but that’s fine. The dimly lit bar, full of 1970s looking signage, is a very casual and a welcome reprieve in these summer/fall afternoons since their AC is set to turbo. Known for other things such as their bar food and, at least to me, their low-key DJ nights, they can now be known for their Spritz. Ask for bartender Raf Medina whose unique take pulls together tropical flavors producing a rather complex version of the Italian classic, all his own. It’s not traditional, but it works.