Drinkers looking for a cool West Texas vibe in East Dallas can find welcome respite at Lounge Here, Eater’s 2017 bar of the year. And it’s no wonder — the bar dreamt up by Julie Doyle, co-founder of the band the Polyphonic Spree and Good Records, which she co-owns with furniture designer and musician Tony Barsotti, is as peppy as her band’s sunny psychedelic rock tunes.
The bar came to fruition, though, under heavier circumstances — when Doyle was looking for a place to rest after long days caring for her brother who was hospitalized with a coma. “I was so isolated in the hospital world… I would come home in the evenings down Garland Road, tired and my social life was out the door, and I would just go home because there was no place to grab a drink that was small and intimate,” Doyle remembers. “I thought, ‘This is ridiculous. There are incredible neighborhoods all around here, and other people must feel like I do.’”
Out of necessity, Doyle built the bar that she wanted to go to. She says the decision was “not a smart business move,” but she persisted. Those daily treks home lit the spark that would evolve into Lounge Here, but she needed to get an investor on board. Barsotti, Doyle’s longtime friend and formerly the drummer for the popular 90s punk band Hagfish, signed on once she navigated the obstacles that lay ahead, including rezoning the former bike shop, demolishing the building down to the frame, busting up the foundation to install new plumbing and a grease trap, and acquiring more parking. The least of her problems was convincing the landlord her dream was achievable.
“Initially, he didn’t want to lease to me, there was so much that needed to be done to the property,” says Doyle. “But once I got the parking, I was able to get him on board.” Even though nothing about the location was conducive to a bar and restaurant (and Doyle says she wouldn’t fight an uphill battle like that again), she said the location couldn’t be passed up. “Once I saw it, I knew I had to do it here, and I’d figure out the rest. It was that important to me.”
Following her heart paid off, as legions of fans have come out night after night to commune in the intimate space. The glowy, earth-toned interior transports diners back to the last century, where all the cool panache of 1960s Palm Springs meets the quiet swagger of a West Texas ranch.
The room is decked out in low-slung midcentury-modern furniture including plush leather booths and velour-covered chairs. Presiding over the space is a Marfa desert vista photographed by Doyle’s friend, actress Ranier Judd, the daughter of uber-famous minimalist artist Donald Judd. “This is just an extension of our aesthetic,” Doyle says of the interior she conceived with Barsotti and its vibe. “We are Texan to the core.”
The atmosphere that Doyle and Barsotti created might be what brought people through the front door, but its menu keeps them coming back. Nearly 20 cocktails dreamt up by Brad Bowden, formerly of Remedy and Midnight Rambler, and Omar Yeefoon of Shoals Sound & Service, lead the lengthy beer, wine, and spirits offerings, which sing under the bar’s yellow-hued lights.
As great as the cocktails are, Doyle insists that the food menu is equally compelling. It’s continually revamped by Chef Megan Foley, whose pedigree includes stints with Meddlesome Moth, Smoke, HG Sply Co, and Stephen Pyles. “Our kitchen has turned out to be the rockstar of the place,” Doyle says. “I’m so appreciative of our chef and kitchen staff. Our kitchen is tiny and so unassuming, and people were saying we weren’t going to be able to do this or that, but we are. They turn out the goods.”
That includes Foley’s rotating specials inspired by her travels around the globe. Her recent trip to Hawaii produced a watermelon salad with grilled octopus, and a coconut-wasabi poke dish accented by pineapple slaw. Plus, there are the perennial favorites like the grilled chicken breast in a coconut curry sauce with quinoa and broccolini, or Doyle’s personal favorites: the unassuming Beyond Burger and mac ‘n’ cheese with a potato chip crust.
“It’s amazing what they can do with a four burner,” Doyle says. “I love stepping back; when you empower people and give them freedom, it’s mind-blowing what they can do. They’re just killing it.”
This is the fourth in a series of features on Eater’s 2017 Eater Awards winners. Stay tuned for the final installment.