In early February, I whiled away a sunny afternoon quaffing liquor-infused coffee drinks on the patio of Ampersand, a coffee shop at the edge of the West 7th development. If the barista found it odd that a lady was sitting alone chugging boozy coffee in the middle of the day, she had the good grace not to remark on it. Even I found it strange that my editor had commissioned a bar column on a place with kitschy coffee cocktails but had not remarked on it, either.
Had I done a little research, I would’ve realized that the real scene unfolds after hours. At 10pm, the white letters of the Ampersand sign turn red, and a club — of the dim lights, loud music, bottle service variety — opens up in a previously unseen (by me) backroom. Ampersand brings a “business in the front, party in the back” concept to Crockett Row – a jarring idea that works surprisingly well.
Toan Luong, 28, and five others own Ampersand under the umbrella of the AMPM Hospitality Group. Some of the owners are affiliated with similar spots like Cuppa Espresso in Irving and Citizen in Dallas. Ampersand opened a year ago, and Luong said the owners wanted to cater to Fort Worth’s younger population.
“We wanted something organic to what we are ourselves,” he said.
From 7am to 9pm, the tiny space on Bledsoe Street functions as a precious, highly Instagramable coffee shop serving up specialty espresso drinks to a crowd of college students and young professionals.
When I first visited, still unaware of the large club scene contained within, a few students were working, laptops out, coffee at their sides. A young lady posed her patient boyfriend for an impromptu photo shoot.
The Weekend – an $8 cocktail with Patron XO Cafe, orange liqueur, and cold brew, topped with either milk or half and half – was sweet. Phenomenally, even alarmingly so.
The Frangelico-laced Espresso’self, the coffee bar’s most popular drink, according to the barista, was fine, though this assessment has less to do with Ampersand and more to do with me. I’m more of a black coffee kind of gal and would prefer, say, a shot of vodka alongside a strong cup of joe.
But caffeine and liquor always make for a nice chemical counterbalance. There’s something special about feeling relaxed and amped at the same time. Ampersand’s sprawling patio, even if it does currently overlook a construction site, is a lovely place to pass the time.
Once I realized Ampersand had an actual bar scene, I scheduled a second trip. The club operates in a separate room behind the coffee shop, a small, wide space with a bar lining one side, tables lining another, and a dance floor in the middle.
Full disclosure — I get annoyed when bars have the music too loud. When I go out, I prefer to try a new beer, relax, and maybe read. I don’t dance. I’m not a club person, but I liked Ampersand.
Yes, when I walked in and the lights were low and the enthusiastic DJ was blasting mixes into the mostly empty room, I wanted to walk back out. But instead, I sat with my gin and soda and scanned the room. People were having a good time. No one looked twice at me, a single, underdressed gal with her phone out. College students and young professionals drifted in and out, some dressed for a night out, others in a variation of T-shirt and jeans.
A couple of people took to the dance floor. Some shots were had. It felt good, even cozy – if a club can be cozy. A guy who identified himself as a “regular” told me he used to frequent other clubs but started coming here because it’s smaller, people are friendly and know him, and no one worries about what you’re wearing.
The bathroom attendant might have put it best.
“It’s like church,” he said. “You know, come as you are.”
3009 Bledsoe St, FW. 682-707-9626.