TWELVE GOOD SALOONS

A dozen bars worth frequenting

WHAT DO we mean by “a good saloon”? We mean empathetic atmosphere and sympathetic service. We mean magic. Sometimes it’s elegant. Sometimes down-home. Sometimes stimulating. Other times soothing. But a good saloon always beckons you back, again and again. Here are a dozen bars in Dallas with just such qualities.

The Grape. This small, artsy bistro was a pioneer 10 years ago, when it opened on old run-down Greenville Avenue. Times have changed: Greenville, far from rundown, is a cocktail vendor’s paradise. Although very small, The Grape’s bar was a nice place from the beginning and continues to improve. The tone is smooth and provokes conversation. Enjoy long, slow, comforting glasses of your choice from a gallery of wine or a delicious hot entree or cheese and fruit board. Weeknights may be the best time to venture to The Grape; success has made weekends a tight squeeze.

Joe Miller’s. Some wit – probably someone in the media – once remarked that Joe Miller’s is so dark that the white line from your wedding ring won’t show, but this really isn’t that kind of place. Happily, it is the kind of place for serious drinking of serious drinks, which have long been hailed as the strongest around. If you’re an experimental drinker, the bartenders will build to suit.

Rhapsody. This bar in the Mandalay Four Seasons may be a little out of the way for most intowners, but the vibrant elegance of this ultraclassy establishment is worth the trip. There’s generally live music, with good piped-in tunes in between; the atmosphere is airy with lots of muted colors and tall windows exposing the Mandalay Canal (the view will be especially awesome when the bulldozers are out of the way.) You’ll find great happy hours here, with so much jumbo shrimp you’re bound to spoil your dinner.

Stoneleigh P. Artists and would-be artists have few bars in Dallas with an atmosphere mysterious enough to draw them out of their studios. The Stoneleigh P is one such bar. There’s no singular factor that makes this bar great; mostly it’s the we’re-all-here-no-big-deal aura that seems to surround people as they enter. The drinks are pretty stiff, the service is about as casual as it goes and, for entertainment, there’s a great jukebox and a huge rack full of magazines.

The Mansion. Here’s an elegant, quaint uptown spot that’s good for the older, more refined set that leans more towards classics such as scotch on the rocks, straight-up martinis and maybe a glass or two of cognac. You’ll find few requests here for exotic, frilly creations that are popular with the younger up-and-comers; if they’re at the Mansion, chances are they’ve arrived.

Greenville Bar and Grill. Billed as Dallas’ oldest bar, this is also one of the city’s most-crowded watering holes. Anywhere else that might be a drawback, but here it contributes to a pleasant atmosphere of good-natured rowdiness. GB&G is one of those rare all-weather bars, equally enjoyable on warm evenings, with breezes wafting through the open doors and on cold, winter nights. The drinks are satisfactory, and the menu is small but adventurous. Hal Baker and the Gloom Chasers dish out their Dixieland funk, and the whole place works.

Café Pacific. This cozy, classy bar/restaurant is clearly a home-away-from-home for many Highland Parkers (among others) seeking quiet conversation and congenial company in a setting that is a little reminiscent of New Orleans’ Gala-toire’s or The Palm in New York. This is Dallas at its most appealing and sophisticated.

Andrew’s. This club has more nooks and crannies than an English castle. The courtyard outside is a nice place to sit and while away some time eating Andrew’s famous red beans and rice or sipping an Elephant’s Memory, a Maxwell’s Silver Hammer or some other outrageous specialty drink.

Arthur’s. There’s plenty of glass and gloss here, not to mention reliably strong drinks, a wonderful panoramic view of North Dallas, thoroughly polished waitresses and fine live entertainment. Some intricate jazz runs get lost in the happy-hour babble, but this is primarily an excellent place to mingle and talk.

Bar Tejas. The burgers and nacho plates here can properly be called humongous. A Western-adobe look lends this club an airy, spacious feel, especially on sunny days, and the jukebox spins constant surprises ranging from Billie Holliday to Dave Brubeck to Tex Ritter. The acoustics problems from a few months back seem to have vanished now, so stay on through happy hour and hear some of Dallas’ best entertainers.

Harper’s Corner. You might not know about this place if you don’t live near or associate with SMU. Located in the penthouse of the Mockingbird Hilton, Harper’s Corner is a beautiful, subtle retreat from the nearby pandemonium of Central Expressway. Everything about Harper’s Corner is plush – even the bar-stool backs. The drinks are excellent, as is the service.

The Lounge. Surely this is the only bar tucked into the lobby of a movie theater. But the theater is the lovely art deco In-wood, and the bar is a flairful blending of low-watt high-tech and the watery pastels of the theater itself. Though certainly not for moviegoers only, this is a great place to drink and pursue the unattractive hobby of discussing “film” at great length.

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