It takes a big man to admit he's made a mistake. Because I am not a big man (figuratively at least), I will only say this: I understand why some people were upset with my best cocktail bars list.
I’m not saying my list was wrong. But when commenters started saying my selections were less than legitimate because a certain bar was missing, I suspected they may be right. And then when friends — who rarely bother to drink at fine establishments, let alone read what I write — joined in the chorus of discontent, I was staring down a particularly boozy barrel.
So, to everyone who found fault with my omission of Black Swan Saloon, please accept my apology. Y’all might have had a point.
Black Swan's absence from my list of best cocktail bars was not by design. It was an “aw, shit” moment.
Its absence from the best cocktails list was not by design. Rather, it was more like that bad dream where you show up for class and realize that it’s an exam day. It was an “aw, shit” moment in which I knew I had stumbled on the most basic of hurdles: simple absentmindedness.
To make it up to Black Swan Saloon, I owe it at least a few hundred words.
For those who may be unaware, the Black Swan Saloon is a cocktail bar on Elm Street in Deep Ellum. It’s half a block from Anvil Pub and Twilite Lounge, lacking any kind of signage save for a bouncer out front and a couple of stickers that say how good the bar is.
Inside you’ll find, well, the bar, and that’s about it. It’s not a small space, but it definitely maximizes its real estate with the important things — namely allowing owner and bartender Gabe Sanchez ample opportunity to create.
You could order one of 100 drinks at the Black Swan Saloon, all with their own names, and Sanchez would make the best version of it you’ve tasted. But much like Uptown’s Smyth, the Black Swan Saloon is at its best when you surrender your trust.
It’s perhaps strange for a bartender to initiate the conversation. I don’t just mean a “how’s it going?” but an actual conversation. “Where you from?” “What’d you do before coming here?” “How was that?” “Oh, yeah that place is awesome.”
And all that came after Sanchez shook my hand (again, his call) and asked my name. The little things, you know?
Anyway, surrendering trust. It’s a game, really, allowing a bartender to create something that you’re going to pay for, without having a concrete idea of what’s coming your way. Not everybody can get away with it. Hell, almost nobody can, which is why when I ordered a bourbon drink, I almost didn’t surrender. I almost ordered an old fashioned, which, in hindsight, would’ve been really stupid.
As Sanchez quickly began creating my cocktail — so quickly that I missed what else he put in — he asked if I liked peaches or pecans. “Peaches,” I said, unsure of where the answer would lead.
Taking a sliver of peach, he rolled it in sugar and then melted the sugar with a hand torch. After allowing the shell to harden for a few seconds, he placed the slice on the glass and handed it to me.
“Drop the slice in when you’re ready, take a few sips, until it gets to about here,” he said, pointing about a quarter of the way down the highball. “Then pull the peach out and bite into it.”
I can’t adequately explain the drink, except to say that it was nostalgia for a place I’ve never known. The bourbon and cinnamon and peach and sugar combined for a low-golden summer evening with peach cobbler on a river’s edge.
I suspect that I was sipping one of his many fruit-infused liquors, but I didn't want to know. I wanted to hold onto the mystery. It created memories that had no roots in reality. It was a first love that never existed. It didn’t even have a name.
So, to the Black Swan Saloon: I’m sorry. I goofed. You are certainly worthy of all accolades that come your way — including this one.