Look, I’m just gonna say it right now: It’s tough to beat a bar with a secret door. Classic cocktails made with house-made ingredients are great ’n’ all, but, seriously, y’all. Secret door! That’s pretty badass.
Thompson’s Bookstore, a new drinking establishment by Will Wells and Glen Keely, who co-own West 7th corridor staple Poag Mahone’s, has both of those things, and as such, I’m going on record to say that it’s my new favorite bar (at least until next week, when I get hammered and have a blast at some crap-hole in Everman or wherever). Based on some excellent cocktails and an atmosphere that practically smolders classily like the end of a delicious Cuban cigar, Thompson’s is the rare bar that made me think, “Damn, I wish I’d thought of this.”
Located downtown in the corner building formerly occupied by Bar 9, Thompson’s aims to revive the elegance of the speakeasy experience. I guess you’d have to ask a great-grandparent, but as far as I’m concerned, it might as well be right out of Miller’s Crossing. The windows are tastefully opaque, and the furniture is leather. There’s a fireplace, and the back bar wall is exposed brick behind rows of shelves heavy with brown liquors. There also are bookshelves everywhere, chock-full of actual reading material.
Books are a central theme here. Thompson’s takes its name from the actual bookstore that occupied the building for 20 years until it closed in 1993 (and where, as a kid, Wells frequently picked up comic books and Stephen King novels). While books add to the ambience of a comfortable, sophisticated spot to sip on a cocktail, they’re also the inspiration for the cocktail menu. The Cinnamon Gunpowder (Bulleit bourbon mixed with house-made cinnamon syrup and soda water) cribs its name from an Eli Brown novel about a chef on a pirate ship. The rum-and-blood-orange-juice concoction Islands in the Stream gets its name from the first posthumously published Hemingway novel, though I guess if you had a date who wasn’t much of a reader, you could say it was a nod to the Dolly Parton/Kenny Rogers duet.
I drank one of the former while my date ordered a Killing Pablo, a sweet and spicy blend of Tequila Cabeza, maraschino liqueur, fresh lime juice, and house-made jalapeño simple syrup. The back-end kick from the pepper-infused syrup was a pretty cool flavor surprise, though I can only imagine the fiery hangover if you had several in succession.
Did I mention the secret door? I guess it’s not really a secret when the bartender tells you where it is, but you push one of the bookshelves open to reveal a stairway leading to Thompson’s basement bar. After walking through that passage, I half-expected to see some oil paintings on the wall with the eyes turned into Scooby Doo-type haunted-house peepholes. As near as I could tell, nobody was spying on me. However, the fact that the downstairs portion was a little livelier and louder than the casual noise of the street-level section made me think its entrance was hidden behind a wall of books for a reason. That’s not to say that upstairs was dull. Perhaps because of the construction time required to craft these kinds of drinks, the upstairs bar was crowded most of the time, but the rest of the room was full of people keeping it chill. This is not to say that Thompson’s is a place to wander in like you got lost on the way to Margaritaville. While I saw no dress code posted, you’ll probably enjoy Thompson’s more if you get a little dressed up. It’s a great spot for a date, preferably the kind of date in which you have to iron a shirt because you want to eat an expensive steak.
Is a classic cocktail lounge with speakeasy elements an original concept? Not really, and as any Dallasite will tell you, Fort Worth’s high-end libation game is a little behind the times. Better late than never, I say. Even if the only thing you read is the label on a whiskey bottle, put on a collared shirt and browse the titles at Thompson’s. –– Steve Steward
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900 Houston St, FW. 817-882-8003.