Savvy bar owners know that one route to success is to make sure you're appealing to women customers, and the other gender will follow. So snaps to the team at XOXO Dining Room, a lounge and restaurant now open at 3121 Ross Ave., whose whimsical combination of cupcakes and cute hooks has proven to be an effective lure.
Between the pink color scheme and the vivid graphics begging for Instagram action, the bar has them showing up in groups, socially distanced of course, often decked out in pink themselves, ready to selfie in front of a wall of XOXOs or share a round of iced cupcakes, served in a mini spinning Ferris wheel.
Chandeliers twinkle over blue velvet chairs and circular banquettes, upholstered in pink, with a backdrop of potted fake palms and trees whose "blossoms" are made of white flower-shaped lights. Few can resist pushing the doorbell-like "Press For Champagne" button, mounted to the wall at each booth and surrounded by an ornate gold frame.
When managing partner Maria Lagios conceived of the place, she took her cues from Sketch London, a tea room and lounge noted for its pink dining room.
Her previous experience was primarily in Uptown, primarily in glitzy clubs, and primarily with colorful characters of their time: Dos Jefes, the bar opened in 2016 by Nick & Sam's co-owner Joe Palladino; Winstons Supperclub, co-owned by Wade Smith of the Houston Texans; and Republic on Hall Street, which saw many a Dallas Cowboy come and go.
"In the nightclub business, you have to learn to deal with so many different types of people," she says. "But I've grown up around the industry, it's been in my blood."
XOXO is her first solo shot, and it's been in the works for a while, even before COVID-19 came along to postpone the opening.
"But also, I am a perfectionist and I wanted to make sure all the details were 100 percent before we launched," Lagios says. "I like to do stuff that is different, that will get people's attention. In Dallas, things tend to get repeated."
It's easy to get caught up in the stylistic elements, but she wanted the food to be good, and drafted chef Zach Warner, a Culinary Institute of America graduate who most recently was at Up On Knox in Dallas. His menu includes "Impossible" meatballs, 44 Farms Filet Mignon, rack of lamb, and ricotta gnocchi with English peas, oyster mushrooms, and black truffle.
The location has had its ups and downs, but Lagios has faith in the neighborhood.
"McKinney Avenue has fallen off the radar," she says. "With all the regulations that have changed over there, bars and restaurants are going away. I feel like this location has so much going on. It's close to Uptown and downtown, and we have great places like Alice Dallas nearby."
She's also a believer in girl power.
"Two of my managers are females, and they're amazing," she says. "It's such a male-driven industry and I think it's important to open those doors."