Clubs ’round here typically don’t open with much fanfare. Restaurants, sometimes. Hang-outs, uh-uh.

The only club in recent memory that’s generated any hype is Embargo, a downtown lounge co-owned by Brian Forella (The Torch, The Wreck Room) and Andrew de la Torre. And for good reason. Based on a soft opening last week, I verily declare that if hype were an unruly, spoiled, snot-nosed child, Embargo has grabbed him by the britches, put him over bended knee, and spanked his little bee-hind. The place is even better than the hype machine (um, that would be us) could have suggested. The dark, warm, mostly wooden interior is roomy yet intimate. A combination of booths and tables, plus variations in floor levels, offset the high ceiling and also make the space dynamic.

There’s a lot of attention to detail, too. In keeping with the theme of Cuba (circa 1950), the bar counter has been inlaid with vintage cigar-box lids, the narrow copper panel overhead was painstakingly distressed by hand (and hammer), and the murals of simple communist life in Little Florida by Fernando Palomo lighten everything up. Above the entrance outside hangs the actual entire driver’s side, from bumper to bumper, of an aqua ’57 Chevy.


Even though there’s nothing like Embargo in Fort Worth, the joint isn’t cool just because it’s different. Frankly, I’m a little tired of everyone hither and yon equating “cool” with “not like Fort Worth.” Seriously. I’m sure that at some point over the past few months, you’ve heard something like, “Yeah, that new club on the Southside is the bomb, dude – it’s, like, totally L.A.,” or “Yeah, that new club below my apartment is awesome – it’s like a Tijuana brothel.” I’m not pollyannaish enough to think that someday soon Cowtown will dethrone New York City as the cultural capital of the universe. But merely out of a sense of civic pride I’d like to see the day when Fort Worth is only two or three years behind the curve, not an entire decade. I bet that if we all start demanding clean, safe, cosmopolitan drinking institutions like Embargo from local club owners and investors – by patronizing them instead of going where the cheap beer is – Clubland will be as hip and happenin’ as, hopefully, Austin and (forgive me, but …) Dallas.

But I’ll gladly, joyously settle for jet-setting Havana – for now.

Embargo is not yet open to the public but will be soon.

Shama Lama Ding-Dong

Even though Duce can sometimes seem – how you say? – fake as hell, owner and celebrity chef Tim Love’s Westside restaurant/lounge is getting better, hipper, and cooler every day.

The place is probably always going to have a combustible mix of sublime décor, staffers who treat every customer like royalty, and a regular crowd of society folks who through money or sheer arrogance are accustomed to being treated like kings and queens. Which means there’s always going to be some sort of friction, either unspoken or shouted from the rooftops, between troglodytes like moi and the beautiful people. I mean, I like gawking at nicely dressed guys and dolls as much as the next barfly, but part of the fun of people-watching ’round here (or in Dallas or Havana) is knowing that at any moment a conversation between you and a heavenly creature may happen, even if it is just “Get away from me, you gross loser, or I’ll Mace you until your face falls off.” Not so for the pretty things who’ve been crowding Duce – I think I’d probably have a better chance with a non-English-speaking supermodel on the other side of the globe.

But maybe not so much anymore. For some reason last week, my significant other and I decided to give Duce another try. On entering, we were greeted by the spirit of John Belushi in the form of a thirtysomething man who nonchalantly waved a smoke around in one hand and a tinkled a glass of booze in the other. Brian Gratch definitely ain’t no pretty boy, and his presence alone might be part of the reason why during our visit we noticed quite a few regular joes and janes hanging out. Gratch came onboard about a month ago. Having worked for both Love’s other place, Lonesome Dove, and Del Frisco’s Double-Eagle Steakhouse, Bluto’s doppelganger is a known commodity in the fine-dining industry. I wouldn’t expect a toga party anytime soon, but simply knowing that, though still a troglodyte, you may not always be the most offensive person in the room makes Duce a can’t-miss stop. Ain’t nothing hipper or cooler than real people, right?

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