Last Call: Wednesday, January 14, 2009
In The Zone

My buddy Len says nobody needs to venture east of I-35. For any reason. Len’s like Amon Carter, who was rumored to have toted a sack lunch on his rare trips to Dallas because he hated that city so much that he didn’t even want to buy food there. But last month I was invited for drinks just up I-35 in the Far East and accidentally landed in the most pretentious spot in probably one of the Top-10 most pretentious cities in the world.
The bar/restaurant called N9NE originated in Vegas, baby, and that’s pretty much all you need to know. The Dallas version features $40 valet parking, a $16 martini, and a pointy-edged lounge decked out in chrome and screaming, pulsing neon. Even if I wanted to converse with any member of the “I’m from Highland Park, f*#$-you-very-much” crowd, I wouldn’t have been heard above the unholy combo of techno and mid-’80s rock. Snobby bartenders, a haughty hostess with a “you’re not on The List” attitude, and waiters dressed in white jackets with black pants (eeewww) completed the garish tableau. Definitely out of my comfort zone in so many ways, I had one overpriced drink and bolted before the neon could give me a tan.
There are plenty of trendy, upscale venues in the Fort where you can pay far less for your poisons of choice. Exhibit A: V Lounge (below the Vault Restaurant, 525 Taylor St., in The Tower): warm and cozy, no hard edges, and not a strip of neon in sight. The leather couches are soft and lurk discreetly behind curtains, the bartenders are courteous, the ambience is subtle, and a multi-page wine list more than makes up for the fact that there’s no happy hour (or that you’re not in Big D).
When I called Len and complained about my night in the 214, he simply said, “I told you so” and sent me far, far west, to a place where city gals like me are totally out of our comfort zone — but in the good way. Keefers Bar in Mineral Wells is the polar opposite of anything Dallas. The only neon was on the beer signs that did double-duty as, um, mood lighting. It’s not much to look at from the outside, but once you clear the doors, you get an eyeful: All of the key staff members, including the door gal, the bartenders, and owner Donna Polston, are Wonder-Women-ish Amazons (but a little less scandalously dressed and minus the lassos). Polston says there’s method to her madness: The mainly male clientele seems extra-cordial to lady employees. That keeps the bar more fun, less aggro.
Perhaps the best thing about Keefers: Donna can’t charge Dallas — or even Fort Worth — prices for drinks. The place is in Mineral Wells — ‘nuff said. A killer vodka martini runs you a mere $3.50, and that’s not happy hour pricing. Domestic longnecks are $2.50, parking’s free, Southern-fried rock is played, either live or through speakers, and Polston even says she’ll drive you home if you get too bombed.
I spent part of the night in a spiritual conversation with an angelic-looking guy sporting Old Testament Hebrew tats up his arm. Come to think of it, Beau, with his long brown hair and kind eyes, did resemble Jesus — if the Rabbi of Nazareth went around ordering funky beaker shots of “Liquid Marijuana” (Keefers’ secret knock-you-on-your-ass combo of coconut rum, Blue Curacau, sweet and sour, and pineapple juice).
As in any small-town bar, you run into some characters. There are some of the clichéd Southern stereotypes chewing tobacco and carrying on. But there are also sweet guys, like Beau and his buddy Rody. Bouncing from the effects of one too many blue “pot shots,” I ogled his brown beverage. Turns out, it was whiskey and Coke. And turns out, after I sneaked a sip, I discovered that I like whiskey and Coke. Far out of my comfort zone, I stole a drink from the friendly, slightly bemused guy. If I’d done that in the big city, I likely would have been met with a “gimme back my drink, bitch.” Then again, there are no strangers in Donna’s bar, just folks you haven’t shared a drink with yet. — Laurie Barker James

Lola’s Open
Last Friday, Clubland impresario Brian Forella quietly opened his newest, third venture, Lola’s Stockyards. You have to descend a small flight of concrete stairs to gain access. Once inside, you’re greeted by a vibe somewhere between that of a speakeasy and a fall-out shelter. The rustic wood walls are offset by red velvety curtains and lined with tall red booths with mirrors reaching to the ceiling. Imagine a Wild Wild West burlesque club — but much cleaner. The stage there is in a corner and is low, keeping fans at a comfortable eye-level with the musicians.
In a word, Lola’s is ultra-cozy. Though the place has an effortless charm, a lot of effort went into it. The brown leather couches, the new bar stools, the old-timey-looking light fixtures, the room that Forella has designated specifically for bands’ gear — it all points to a meticulous and well-thought-out plan. And if you go to see a band, just know that every seat is good. The design is so audience-friendly that people standing in front of the stage won’t block any views.
The crowd last Friday was small, maybe 30 people at its highest point. But everyone there seemed to know — and like — one another. Forella was the man of the hour, accepting mucho congrats and many a shot. (He’d make a great cult leader, BTW.) The only bartender on duty, Kevin, represents a departure of sorts in that he’s not part of the Wreck Room/Lola’s inner circle. Nice guy.
The grand opening won’t be for a couple of weeks. Consider last Friday and the days leading up to it as the official dress rehearsals. — Eric Griffey

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