Drinking Diaries

New Dallas speakeasy Smyth shouldn't work, but sincerity and solid drinks hold it together

New speakeasy Smyth shouldn't work, but sincerity holds it together

Forget the menu. Smyth's barkeeps can invent a drink for you on the spot. Smyth/Facebook
No barstools, no TVs, only five tables. Smyth is dedicated to keeping things small and personal.  Smyth/Facebook
Smyth Old Fashioned
The old fashioned is a perfect blend of its ingredients, with a giant ice cube that refuses to water down the drink. Smyth/Facebook
Smyth Old Fashioned

I wanted to hate Smyth for just about everything I had heard about it. It’s an unmarked speakeasy next to the old Trece space. It doesn’t have a menu. You need a reservation just to sit at one of the tables. The décor is full of ’70s mistakes, like shag carpet, wood paneling and awful tweed patterned upholstery.

It sounded like a mishmash of pretension and nostalgia — a questionable formula.

Shag carpet? Wood paneling? Those are punch lines for a decade that doesn’t hold much societal significance except as a bridge between the cultural revolution of the ’60s and the neon-flavored consumerism of the ’80s.

 Smyth takes a refreshingly non-ironic approach to remembering the past, as if to remind the drinker that quality has never gone out of style.

But, really, if there were a decade most apt to parallel the age of Journey, we’re in it. Gone is the revolution of what the Internet could do in the aughts (or whatever we’re calling it), replaced with attempts to understand what to do with this changed world in which memes coexist with stories about revolution and economic turmoil.

The ’70s had disco and polyester suits; we have Grumpy Cat and an affinity for sarcasm. Which is all English lit 101 bullsh to say that for all the reasons I wanted to hate Smyth, I ended up loving it.

Smyth takes a refreshingly non-ironic approach to remembering the past, as if to remind the drinker that quality has never gone out of style.

The atmosphere is decidedly ’70s, but it’s not schmaltzy. It might not offer the timelessness of classic mahogany, but the wood paneling, low lights and, yes, shag carpet suggest there was style and class in the ’70s before it got perverted by 40 years of jokes about wide lapels and fondue pots.

And although the Mad Men ’60s get the lion’s share of alcoholic sentimentality, it’s not as though cocktails ever disappeared.

Sure, overly sugary drinks like Sex on the Beach dominated some dark drinking ages after the three-martini lunch fell out of favor. But it’s not as though they burned the recipe books detailing how to make a proper old fashioned.

This is a good thing for Smyth, because the bartenders make an outstanding old fashioned — which is no surprise, considering the pedigree behind the bar. Co-owner Michael Martensen, of Cedars Social, and Omar Yeefoon, former mixologist at People’s Last Stand, mix drinks from the traditional (the aforementioned old fashioned) to the unique.

In fact, because there’s no menu, many of the drinks at Smyth are one-offs, appreciated as much for their impermanence as their flavor. Give the bartender a few guidelines (tequila, a little spicy, not too margarita-esque), and he comes back with a mint julep made with tequila and jalapeños.

As one fellow drinker remarked, “I don’t want to finish this because I know I’ll never taste it again.”

At first reservations seemed like a nuisance, but it’s really about quality control. Smyth could accommodate 20 more people on the bar, but the price would be too steep; the bar works because of its intimacy. Besides, it’s not hard to get on Open Table and find it under “The Establishment,” the oyster bar Martensen intends to open next door in May.

Speaking of the location, Smyth ought to be in a harder-to-find spot. This kind of bar deserves an entrance in an alley with a secret knock and a disdain for outsiders — not an address across from Villa-O.

I wanted to hate Smyth, but that’s probably because I was waiting for the punch line to the irony of a ’70s-era speakeasy that has no menu and requires reservations. But that would have required a set-up to the joke.