The obligatory “best of” lists are rough work. They’re almost always borne out of a number (say, 10 best restaurants), and that arbitrary restriction, while necessary, also creates issues. Namely that something will be left off, and that will not sit well with people who did not create that particular list.
I say this not to excuse list makers from leaving off worthy candidates — I’ve made lists that look silly in retrospect — but only to mention that best-of lists are still the opinions of individuals or a collective of individuals.
So, Draft magazine took on the unenviable task of picking the 100 best beer bars in the country. And two from Dallas made it! One was Craft and Growler, which, no argument here. It has almost single-handedly made growlers a thing in Dallas.
Strangeways doesn’t bother with fingers to the haters. It shrugs them off. The message is that it is here, serving good beer and promising nothing else.
The other selection was Strangeways. For as many beer bars as I’ve been to in Dallas, Strangeways had eluded me. It’s not that it was too far out of the way or I had an aversion to bars situated across from La Michoacana. Strangeways just never entered my mind.
(Speaking of columns that will look silly in retrospect, this could end up No. 1 with a bullet.)
The selection struck me as a bit of a curveball, as if to say, “Hey, we did our research. This list isn’t half-assed.” With offerings like Meddlesome Moth, Common Table, Bottle Shop, even newbie Dallas Beer Kitchen, Strangeways seems the unconventional pick. Its buzz is just a smidge smaller than its contemporaries.
Thanks to that recent accolade, Strangeways is now in my mind, so I head out. As I near it, I almost miss the parking area because I’m staring at the red neon beckoning me through the fog to step inside La Michoacana and pick up fajita supplies.
The patio facing Fitzhugh is empty except for one man dragging a cigarette, and the entire block is quiet and sealed on both ends by the mist. The world is absolutely silent before I open the door.
Then I hear Ellie Goulding, and I see a lot of black clothing. I don’t own nearly enough black to be here. I’ve heard Strangeways described as a hipster bar. I can’t say if it is or not, because I have no idea what a hipster is anymore unless you live in Brooklyn and you’re not in finance, because then you probably are one.
It’s not a hangout for beer nerds, either. It’s almost a dive bar. Of course, there is a group in the back dressed like young lawyers or those dreaded finance guys. So maybe it’s just a bar. If a bar goes unlabeled in East Dallas, does anyone notice?
Well, there’s that whole buzz issue, so maybe not. But Strangeways has been around for two-and-a-half years, which still makes it older than a good third of the bars in Dallas these days.
Anyway, the beer. There are 40 taps. It’s a fun selection, and I find myself trying to figure out what I’ve had before, what I’ve been wanting to try and those that befuddle my moderate intelligence.
It’s a good list, but it could be incredibly intimidating if you’re dipping your toe into craft beer. (That would be silly. You drink it.) The 40 names are cozy on a chalkboard, offering little interpretation if you’re not already conversational.
I grab my first beer, a Ballast Fathom that leaves me gulping to finish faster. I find a small shelf off a column and look around. The space is bare brick walls with some eclectic art and an uneven cement floor, as though it’s halfway through renovation. It’s a dive-bar look, and a dive that sells 40 craft beers just might be my personal sweet spot.
I’m thinking that I could live here and buy some black boots and live off of tortillas from across the street.
But then I hear Ellie Goulding finish and transition into Empire of the Sun and then a row of glam and synth pop as I grab a Martin House Sugar and Spice at the bar. This music is wrong. It’s all wrong. This bar should be playing Willie and Waylon or, at the very least, some sort of indie folk. This simply will not do.
I realize then that this is why Strangeways has merited a spot on the top 100 list, even if I disagree with its inclusion.
Strangeways doesn’t bother with fingers to the haters. It shrugs them off. The message is that it is here, serving good beer and promising nothing else. My opinions about the kind of music that fits the setting don’t mean anything.
And that is the kind of attitude that makes it endearing enough to me. I wouldn’t put Strangeways as one of my top two beer bars, but I get it.