Slow down, Dallas; you move too fast. A serious imbiber can barely keep pace with the onslaught of on-point Old Fashioneds. As the quality of craft-cocktails has grown throughout the area, so too has the quantity; this year brought several new notable additions to the already thriving scene, among them Madrina in the Park Cities; TBD Kitchen in Castle Hills; The Theodore at North Park; Thompson's in Fort Worth; and in Deep Ellum, Armoury D.E. and High and Tight.
In their best forms, these spots echo - or, increasingly, are part of - great restaurants, with not only great drinks but efficient, attentive and consistent service; fresh ingredients that change with the passing seasons; an energizing and comfortable atmosphere; an ability to cater to tastes simple and complex; and (of course) a savvy and innovative staff behind the bar.
Here, in alphabetical order, were my favorite 10 spots of 2015.
ARMOURY D.E., Deep Ellum
This little stretch of Elm from Malcolm X to Good-Latimer is now a riot of craft drinking worthy of a weekend night's throwdown, with stone's-throw neighbors including High and Tight, Brick and Bones and Twenty Seven. Armoury D.E. - the letters stand for Deep Ellum - was launched by a group of longtime drink-slingers who honed their skillz largely beyond the spotlight. Its Dallas-themed house cocktails (think Lone Gunman, or Bonnie and Clyde), as with the eclectic, Hungarian-influenced cuisine, aren't shy about testing your palate; consider the Last Caress, which melds Hungarian bittersweet Zwack (Unicum) with the even more bitter Amaro Angostura, Old Overholt Rye, orgeat, lemon and egg white. Armoury's vibe is art warehouse; the staff is solid; the result is legit.
ATWATER ALLEY, Knox-Henderson
It was about a year ago that Henry's Majestic, at this oft-challenged location on McKinney in Knox-Henderson, unveiled the pearl buried deep with its oyster depths. Atwater Alley - named for the nondescript thoroughfare on which it is accessed - is a garage-band extension of Alex Fletcher's bar program at Henry's, a dimly lit speakeasy swathed in senatorial wood, with a minimal drink list that lets bartenders like Hector Zavala, Luis Sifuentes and Justin Payne run wild with classic variations. Open Thursday through Saturday, it's a place worth taking the path less traveled by.
BLACK SWAN SALOON, Deep Ellum
Black Swan is the craft-cocktail lover's dive bar, where Gabe Sanchez and his trusty sidekicks make it look easy, firing volleys of classic and original libations at the eager Deep Ellum hordes. Another of DFW's early craft-cocktail spots, the Swan's speakeasy vibe is captured in the image of Clint Eastwood above the back bar - anonymous and enigmatic, rough around the edges, coolly efficient. No drink list here; just tell Sanchez what you'd like. Chances are he already knows.
BOLSA, Oak Cliff
This Bishop Arts stalwart was among Dallas' early craft-cocktail standard bearers, and it hasn't let up under Spencer Shelton -- who took over as bar manager once Kyle Hilla left for The Theodore (owned by the same group) -- and agave-spirit fan Marcos Hernandez. With a culture of creativity and an adventurous, seasonal menu - for instance, a daiquiri variation featuring goat-milk yogurt syrup or a drink with blended nopales - it's a well-honed, late-night south-side outpost for a neighborhood clientele seeking last-stop refuge.
MIDNIGHT RAMBLER, downtown Dallas
To step into the subterranean depths of Midnight Rambler is to be transported; the escapist luxury den in the basement of Dallas' Joule Hotel, which opened in October 2014, is lavishly and strategically designed to handle the ebbs and flows of a hotel, downtown and weekend clientele. More than that, it's a model of efficiency, whose thoughtfully crafted drinks reflect co-owner Chad Solomon's behind-the-scenes mad science; witness the recently unveiled winter menu, with drinks like the alpine-woodland-scented, aquavit-accented Pinetop Perker and cranberry-festive Royal Tannenbaum reflecting not typical allspice and cinnamon but the ingredients of Christmas-y Scandinavian climates. The drinks here are pricer than most -- it's in the Joule, after all -- but the experience is worth the occasional splurge.
Eddie "Lucky" Campbell's hideaway haunt, pocketed within Uptown residential maze, has just about everything going for it - an intimate and elegantly appointed space coddling Parliament's horseshoe-shaped bar, a top-notch craft posse and Campbell's extensive (some might say excessive) and heartfelt menu that never even has to be consulted given the talent behind the stick. With clever but subtle innovations, a trickle-down culture of customer care and a drop-in atmosphere that can go from chill to party in minutes, Parliament is a world-class bar with dive-bar comfort, and that's a pretty nifty trick to pull off.
THE STANDARD POUR, Uptown
The classic atmosphere here never gets old. Brian McCullough's McKinney Avenue landmark, just up the street from Parliament, is a craft-cocktail battleship - built to weather weekend barrages of bar hoppers but equally effective quietly docked on a Tuesday eve. With lead barman Christian Armando - whose A Latino's Legacy cocktail made him a regional winner in Disaronno national competition at the helm, this place can do it all, whether it's machine-gunning Moscow Mules or tilting a dram of fine Scotch. Accented by Tania Lazarus' creative cocktail chalk art, a roomy space and the occasional party or two, TSP is, like Tate's down the street, a cocktail oasis in the midst of Miller-Lite mayhem.
TIPPLING LAIR, Design District
If you blinked, you missed it. It's a stretch to even put this on the list, given that it is no more - but for those who got to enjoy Carlo Biddle's diamond-in-the-rust speakeasy during its five-week run, it was a veritable cocktail Shangri-La. Buried deep in the bowels of the otherwise negligible Taboo Lounge, on a otherwise negligible stretch of Riverfront Avenue, it was, until Biddle's unfortunate departure in mid-December, a Soho-style showcase for this talented up-and-comer's well-rounded skills and blue-collar workmanship. It was as close as Dallas has had to anything resembling bar man Olaf Hermel's mad-scientist cocktail lab on the upper floor of San Antonio's Blue Box, another heyday that has since come and gone.
THE USUAL, Fort Worth
While the cheeky house drink menu seems to have barely changed in years, the bartenders at this seemingly never-understaffed Magnolia Avenue haven are more than handy with the palette of potions behind the bar. But more than anything, what impresses about The Usual - among Dallas-Fort Worth's pioneering craft-cocktail joints - is that in the four years I've been going there, I have never had a drink that I wouldn't order again, which is something I can't say about that many places.
VICTOR TANGOS, Knox-Henderson
Among DFW's first craft-cocktail sites, this Henderson Avenue linchpin has had its highs and lows but re-established its rhythm again this year under a veteran staff. An enervating atmosphere and quality dishes accent VT's lineup of creative, well-balanced drinks that go hand in hand with the kitchen, including the star-worthy daily specials concocted by bar manager Matt Ragan's practiced crew.
The next five: Abacus, Boulevardier, LARK at the Park, Small Brewpub, Tate's.