When Ten Bells Tavern first opened in Oak Cliff, I’d pop by for a drink at least once a weekend. I liked the laid-back vibe, the friendly bartenders, the strong pours. I’d discovered a hidden gem.
Then other people discovered it, too. The weekend crowds grew. New bartenders didn’t know me by name. Finally, after I had to fight for a table during a midweek ladies’ night out, my fickle heart fell out of love with Ten Bells.
So it was with cautious optimism that I proceeded to Ten Bells’ new sister site, Eight Bells Alehouse, on Exposition Avenue, in the old Amsterdam Bar spot. It was Friday night, and I’d brought along two friends for moral support. We grabbed a table halfway between the bar and the back door.
The space hasn’t changed too much since it was Amsterdam. It’s dark, with exposed-brick walls, scuffed wood floors, and subtle Southern gothic touches: a gilded mirror, an enormous antique cabinet, a smattering of battery-operated candles. My foodie friend was entranced by the menu’s selection of Spanish fish dishes (think octopus in olive oil). The chef, drinking at the table to our left, informed us that strange fish platters are popular in British taverns.
I was more concerned with the cocktail menu, which, as bar manager Khurk informed me, did not yet exist. The consolation prize: he’d make my favorite Ten Bells cocktails, including the Daily Ration (a rum and ginger beer concoction) and the Hanover (an Absolut Hibiskus and St. Germain mix). But his ultimate recommendation was one of Eight Bells’ new signature drinks, the Rosemary’s Baby.
We agreed to try it. While we waited, my friends discussed how creepy the movie Rosemary’s Baby is. I scoped out the bar’s clientele. There was a group of beer-drinking twentysomethings to my right. Two dudes in fedoras headed out to the spacious, fairy-lit patio. In a corner, country singer Mo Robson crooned a Steve Earle song.
The Rosemary’s Baby tasted like a delicious smoked Manhattan served on the rocks. Khurk returned after a minute. He’d forgotten to mention the Czech Mule.
“It’s made with Becherovka,” he explained. We exchanged puzzled glances, so he disappeared behind the bar and emerged brandishing a green-and-yellow bottle of Czech liqueur. It was an intriguing 76 proof.
“I was in the Czech Republic in 1997,” Khurk said. “This kept me warm.”
He poured us each a small sample. Becherovka tasted like cinnamon and cloves,
and went down warm (without burning off my esophagus lining).
As my foodie friend discussed the finer points of Czech architecture and my bearded friend lip-synched to the live music, I went over to the bar. When two patrons noticed my awkward loitering, I asked them what brought them to Eight Bells.
“Deep Ellum was gritty, but now microbreweries like BrainDead Brewing have moved in, and it’s”—a pause—“much less gritty. People are ready to move past it.” The guy, Stan, looked down at his attire. “Yes, I’m talking about ‘gritty’ while wearing a sweater.”
Points for self-awareness. Soon he and his pretty friend Claire launched into a discussion about which bars they hate. Both had particular venom for Adair’s.
“There are so many bars I want to demolish,” Stan said. “But this isn’t one of them.”
“Yet,” I joked.
As I lingered, I thought about it: Eight Bells isn’t a replica of Ten Bells. But, like Ten Bells when it first opened, Eight Bells is cool and casual, the kind of place where you can make friends with everyone. It, too, has that “hidden gem” feeling—the joy of a laid-back place yet undiscovered by the masses.
I am happy to enjoy it while the feeling lasts.