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The strongest drinks in town

Which DFW bar or restaurant serves the strongest drink?
Posted 4:27pm on Tuesday, Jan. 04, 2011

We've all been there before, and it's not always a pretty place. We head out for drinks with friends and order what sounds like a perfectly innocuous-seeming cocktail. Maybe it has a silly name. Maybe it has a few fruity ingredients.

We hardly think that, in just a few minutes, we're going to need to be carried out of the bar.

But we take a sip of the drink. Mmm, that's tasty. Then another. That's really tasty. It isn't until we down most of the delicious concoction that we start to feel our reflexes slow a bit. It isn't until midway through the second round that we pause and say: Damn, that beverage has some serious kick.

Strong drinks are easy to come by: Make friends with a bartender with a heavy hand, and he's sure to pour a little extra Jack into your Jack and Coke or 7 into your 7 and 7. Harder to discover, though, are those crafty cocktails that sneak up on you sideways and knock you for a loop. Those quiet, unassuming beverages tucked in the middle of the cocktail menu. The ones that can save you a few bucks -- because you'll only need two before you'll be calling for your pillow.

The judging was simple: We sent our dedicated alcoholics, er, researchers into the field to sample beverages and survey bartenders across the Metroplex. We wanted to know what are the nicest-seeming drinks that, in fact, pack a very mean punch.

We can't claim the results of our survey are entirely scientific. (If we missed something good, we hope that you'll let us know at DFW.com.) We also can't encourage you to go out and try these drinks yourself without reminding you to be responsible -- when sampling strong drinks, it's always best to do so in the company of a designated driver.

But we can say that the last month has been, well, a bit of a haze for us. Herewith, 10 drinks that made us extremely punchy. Plus a few others that we discovered along the way.

Just make sure to stock up on the Advil before attempting this yourself. Some of our hangovers were even stronger than the drinks.

Frozen sangria margarita swirl The bar: Yucatan Taco Stand

The back story: Since opening in 2007, Yucatan has emerged as an unlikely popular nightspot -- a budget-minded restaurant that also happens to contain one of the swankiest tequila bars in town.

What makes it strong: "All of the drinks at that bar should be illegal," a friend recently told us. (This after she ended up passed out on the lawn behind The Chat Room just down the street.) The strongest and most satisfying, for our money, is the frozen margarita sangria swirl. According to the barkeep, three bottles of booze go into every batch. On one recent evening, we foolishly knocked back one on an empty stomach -- and fell fast asleep by 9 p.m.

What makes it delicious: Frozen, fruity margarita drinks can sometimes be too sweet for our taste, but this one is flawless -- the flavors are so fruity and summery that you can barely taste the alcohol. In an era of double-digit cocktails, the $7 price tag is also highly appealing.

You might also get drunk on: The frozen screwdriver, which isn't as ridiculously tasty -- the vodka comes through a little strong -- but still goes down very easy.

Good to know : Yucatan's margarita sangria swirl is virtually identical to Mi Cocina's mambo taxi and mambo limousine, although you'll pay a tad more for the drink at Mi Cocina.

Long Island iced tea

The bar: Houston Street Bar & Patio

The back story: A fixture in the south part of downtown Fort Worth, this sports bar offers much more than buckets o' Bud. The drinks are stout, the staff is friendly, and you really can't find a better atmosphere to watch a game -- especially if you're lucky enough to snag a seat on the rooftop patio. You also have to love a place that allows you to order a pizza, Chinese food or anything you want, and have it delivered.

What makes it strong: This cocktail was originally served in the late 1970s in (where else?) Long Island and has a much higher alcohol concentration than most highballs because of the small amount of mixer. Any drink that combines vodka, tequila, rum and gin will eventually lead to trouble. This is especially true when you can't taste any of the liquor.

What makes it delicious: Long Island iced teas are sometimes more sugary than necessary, leaving you with syrup stuck to your teeth. Not the case here. It's an alcoholic Arnold Palmer. (And who doesn't like those?) I've only been kicked out of a handful of bars. Houston Street Bar was one of them. I blame this cocktail. They're so delicious you could easily drink three or four without flinching. Give yourself a couple of minutes after that, and you will be skipping down Houston Street singing Christmas carols. (Yes, that was me.)

You might also get drunk on: Marty's money shot. A combination of Malibu Rum and pineapple juice, this shot is shaken and strained with a dash of cream added at the end.

Vesper martini

The bar: The Usual, 1408 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth; 817-810-0114

The back story: A recent addition to the noteworthy establishments in Fort Worth's historic south side, The Usual specializes in Prohibition-era cocktails that are as beautiful and artfully crafted as the sexy, modern space the bar occupies.

What makes it strong: If someone lit a match near my cocktail, I am certain it would have started a raging inferno. Thank God The Usual is a nonsmoking bar. Even for a gin-lover like me, the cocktail was almost too strong. Almost. Named after Vesper Lynd, the lead female character in the 1953 novel Casino Royale, this potent concoction was invented by the infamous James Bond and is served up regularly -- shaken, not stirred.

What makes it delicious: Gin, of course. The Usual uses one of the finest -- Magellan Gin, inspired by the spices that the famed explorer discovered during his expeditions. An infusion of natural Irish root and flowers gives this particular brand its deep sea-blue tint. Ketel One Vodka and Kina Lillet also play key roles in this delightfully sinful drink. Pair these ingredients with a bright yellow lemon peel, and you're poised for your close-up.

You might also get drunk on: Bartender Ian recommends the Sazerac, which is touted as "the original cocktail," created at the beginning of the 19th century in New Orleans. They blend Sazerac rye whiskey, Rémy Martin cognac, Angostura bitters and Peychaud's Bitters and serve it up in an old-fashioned (short) glass. How they fit all of those things in that tiny glass, I'll never know. They also add a touch of Herbsaint, which is a brand of anise-flavored liquor, originally made in NOLA as an absinthe substitute. Be careful with this one.

Good to know: Specialty cocktails at The Usual don't come cheap, but at happy hour they take $2 off the price of cocktails and $1 off all beer, wine and mixed drinks.

Dirty Shirley

The bar: Capital Bar; 3017 Morton St., Fort Worth; 817-820-0049; www.capital-bar.com

The back story: Featuring a beautiful roof deck with a picture-postcard view of the Modern to the west and the downtown skyline to the east, Capital Bar proved a welcome addition to the nightlife scene when it opened last fall. The owners have just added a large outdoor patio and performance stage -- perhaps an attempt to capture some of the energy and crowds of downtown's 8.0.

What makes it strong: It sounds like yet another variation on the classic Shirley Temple -- and how could that possibly be strong? A bartender explained that the key to this drink's strength is that it employs two different brands of vodka, including Vodka 360's cola flavor.

What makes it delicious: Most drinks made from flavored vodka make us wince -- they taste artificial, and they look too girly. Not this one, which tastes like the best cherry Coke you've ever had and is served in a decidedly nonfrilly highball glass.

You might also get drunk on: Our barkeep recommended another Capital invention called the Stiletto, but it didn't really do it for us. Try something classic like a martini, put your feet up and enjoy the view from the rooftop.

Cucumber martini

The bar: Chill, 814 S. Main St., Grapevine; 817-310-6330; www.chillgrapevine.com

The back story: So it looks like you are pulling up to some kind of bomb shelter when you find Chill on historic Main Street in Grapevine. And you think, "Why are people dancing and partying outside of this funky metal shed?" Inside, it's more like an oil club with its rich woods and dark leathers.

What makes it strong: Vodka is infused with fresh cucumber juice and not much else.

What makes it delicious: Summer is a time to put the chocolaty rich martinis on the back burner and reach for something cool and refreshing. The cucumber martini tastes like the water they serve at spas. But having just one of Chill's will loosen you up just like Swedish massage. The vodka is very apparent, but the flavor left in your mouth is just the freshness of the cucumber. Makes you breathe a sigh and say "ahhhh."

You might also get drunk on: Sunday ... they have happy hour all day long. Plus, they sometimes do a martini or shot ice luge. This is where they take an ice sculpture and drill a hole or make a slide to pour your martini down. The ice chills it, and you catch it in your glass on the other end!

Jalapeño peach martini

The bar: Dragonfly at the Hotel ZaZa, 2332 Leonard St., Dallas; 214-468-8399; www.hotelzazadallas.com

The back story: The Hotel ZaZa has been a favorite of rock stars and celebrities for years. It's private, with its high walls. It's tropical, with its palm trees. And it's sexy, with its plush furnishings and cool blue pool where things are known to get naughty. This is supposedly the hotel where Britney left her babies in the room alone while she stepped out for some crab across the street at Truluck's.

What makes it strong: If you ordered this, be prepared to get the attention of everyone in the bar. I guess seeing someone drink out of a glass with jalapeño slices floating at the top is a little odd. This drink is powerful because no matter the cocktail here, there is always a heavy hand with the vodka. And it should be, with a $14 price tag.

What makes it delicious: The first flavor you experience is peach, just like a Jolly Rancher or peach Jello. Then you get a hint of vodka, but just for a second as it hits your throat. The jalapeño doesn't really add a flavor. Just spice, a warm feeling and pink cheeks.

You might also get drunk on: Bartender Andrew has a knack for making things strong without either the alcohol taste or burn. Sit down, get to know him and tell him what you like. If it's chocolate your after, he'll make you a martini that will have you melting in your seat like a Hershey Kiss in July. If you've got an extra Benjamin in your wallet or want to just max out the American Express, try the thirty thousand dollar millionaire martini.

Frozen lemonade

The bar: The Lemon Bar, 3699 McKinney Ave., Dallas; 214-443-6043

The back story: Situated in Dallas' West Village, this joint is a mix of a sports bar and a Parisian sidewalk cafe. The restaurant has doors that open it up to the patio, where little bistro tables are the perfect setting for an intimate date or a chat with a good friend. Most nights there is live music that is never overpowering and always relaxing.

What makes it strong: This frozen libation is a blend of Seagram's Sweet Tea Vodka and the classic summertime beverage, lemonade. It's swirled around, frozen and dispensed by a margarita machine, so it's ready for you faster than you can pucker your lips!

What it tastes like: Sure, it tastes like the nonalcoholic cocktail known as the Arnold Palmer, but don't be fooled; you won't be hitting any straight golf balls after a couple of these. Think of the consistency of a slushy with the tart and sweet flavor of a lemon, anchored by a Southern fave, homemade sweet tea brewed in the sun.

You might also get drunk on: The food. The fries are delicately seasoned, not heavily salted. Nachos are topped with the tenderest of meats and almost too big to pick up. The ahi tuna is flaky on the outside and a fresh pink on the inside.

The sassy Sara

The bar: Tillman's Roadhouse, 2933 Crockett St., Fort Worth, 817-850-9255. www.tillmansroadhouse.com.

The back story: Numerous new eateries have sprung up around the West 7th development, but Tillman's still is one of our favorites. Saunter into the cozy, quirky and eternally chic bar and have a seat on either the turquoise velvet banquette or at the log-covered bar top, and prepare yourself for an adventure in innovative and avant-garde cocktails.

What makes it strong: The resident drink slingers at Tillman's carefully combine pineapple rum, Smirnoff vanilla vodka, lemon/lime juice, simple syrup and two slices of fresh jalapeños to create a potion so powerful that one will be more than enough. But don't let us be the voice of reason; go for two anyway.

What makes it delicious: At first glance, one might think the jalapeño is a red flag for spice. But you quickly realize that it's a sweet and fresh combination free from any mouth-burning zip.

You might also get drunk on: Ask our favorite dreadlocked bartender Chris to mix you up one of his famous raspberry-mint margaritas. You won't be sorry.

Good to know: While the drinks at Tillman's don't come cheap, the top quality ingredients make for an excellent indulgence. So do the decadent deserts, including the s'mores, German chocolate drumstick ice cream cones and Lucky Charms ice cream push pops.

Mai tai

The bar: Japanese Palace, 8445 Camp Bowie Blvd.West. Fort Worth, 817-244-0144. www.japanesepalace.net.

The back story: Serving up traditional Japanese dishes for the past 35 years, the Japanese Palace also boasts a 1970s-style lounge complete with photos of pinups inlaid in the bartop. But it's what's behind the bar that is the true attention-grabber. The mai tai (the most popular drink here) became synonymous with Tiki culture after its creation in the 1940s, and it shows no signs slowing down.

What makes it strong: The simple combination of pineapple juice, orange juice and rum might not sound too dangerous, but these babies go down so easily that before long, you'll be wondering why they don't call it a Molotov cocktail.

What makes it delicious: It's so fruity and smooth that you'll swear you're on the beach somewhere in the South Pacific. Can you hear the waves rippling?

You might also get drunk on: The "Neko," which is Japanese Palace's traditional mai tai plus crème de banana. Or the piña colada, which is a personal favorite. The delightful blend of coconut milk, pineapple juice and rum will offer the perfect antidote to the sweltering Texas heat.

Good to know: For an additional $7 (all aforementioned cocktails run $8), you can have your drink of choice served in an adorable, and oh so kitschy, ceramic panda. We dare you not to sigh when you gaze longingly into his eyes, begging for another dose of tiki!

The voodoo The bar: Malone's Pub, 1303 Calhoun St., Fort Worth. 817-332-5330. www.malonespub.com

The back story: This bar is a dive of a dive, but it has a loyal following. Established 10 years ago by Ed Noyes, Malone's has been a Fort Worth favorite ever since. Unlike the digital boxes in most pubs, the jukebox at Malone's offers local music. And its drinks are distinctly old school. As in strong.

What makes it strong: After being ribbed for the 1,000th time by the same customer, Bartender V had enough. Inspired by a recent visit to New Orleans, he created a cocktail so strong it could make voodoo queen Marie Laveau roll over in her grave. He combined Bacardi 151, vodka and Southern Comfort, among other ingredients. His customer came back and asked, "What the hell did you give me?" "The voodoo," V replied. "Makes sense .. it felt like I had a hundred footlong pins stuck in my head the next day," the customer replied.

What makes it delicious: I didn't have the guts to try it. Maybe you will? Ask for V, he'll fix you up.

You might also get drunk on: Just about anything, if you rib the bartender enough. He (or she) may add a few extra shots just to shut you up.

Christopher Kelly, Sonya Cisneros, Jennifer Kyle, Rachel S. Peters and Velton Hayworth contributed to this report.

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