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Photo by Cody Neathery

A gagged damsel in distress lies tied against railroad tracks surrounded by barren land. A whistle announces the impending doom of a distant locomotive as the masculine hero and villain are at fisticuffs. When the protagonist prevails, he saves the damsel right in the nick o’ time from sheer death, a scene played out in Western films for decades. What we never saw were the heroines or female outlaws of the era known as the Wild West. Cowgirls like Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane were often left out of the onscreen action, although their tough-as-nails demeanors and bawdy reputations could ride in tandem with Buffalo Bill Cody and Doc Holliday.

Sidesaddle Saloon, 122 E Exchange Av, Ste 240, FW. 817-862-7952. Noon-10pm Sun, 3pm-late Tue-Fri, noon-late Sat. All major credit cards accepted.

Much like those women of tenacity, restaurateur Sarah Castillo deserves as much — if not more — recognition as her male counterparts. She embodies the entrepreneurial and pioneering spirit of the West. In the early years, her Taco Heads food truck was among the first in North Texas with a semi-permanent location, behind Poag Mahone’s, feeding the sober and not-so-sober alike. I generally fell into the latter category but the quality I experienced wasn’t lost in my inebriated state.

Led by a cowgirl of sorts herself, Sidesaddle Saloon is a welcome retreat amid a sea of beer joints.
Cody Neathery

She later opened a brick-and-motor location on Montgomery Street ahead of the construction boom and another location on trendy Henderson Avenue in Dallas (since closed). In early 2020, her Tinie’s Mexican Cuisine, upscale and rooted in authenticity, opened in the South Main neighborhood. Years in the making, the opening was brief after being thwarted by COVID. The restaurant has since fully reopened, and the area is again thriving. Her ambition and foresight to lock down leases in up-and-coming neighborhoods is uncanny, which led to her latest venture, this one in Mule Alley.

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Off the main walkway of the trendy locale, the neon silhouette of a cowgirl hovers above the entrance to Sidesaddle Saloon mere steps from Marine Creek. The barroom’s finish out is a duality of Western chic and Art Deco, with soaring ceilings that tend to amplify a small crowd into sounding large and raucous. Neil Young and Dolly Parton share the airwaves, and departed animals and vintage photos share walls accentuated with scalloped gold fixtures.

Photo by Cody Neathery

The bar offers the best seats in the house and why not. It is a saloon. The cocktail list reads as a curtsy to the females of Western lore, and a giant mural of cowgirls in the dining area captures that motif perfectly. And after tasting several selections off the cocktail list, I noticed another characteristic. Not all beverages retained the bold personality of their namesakes, many of whom are honored at the National Cowgirl Museum & Hall of Fame, across the street from Taco Heads, incidentally.

Gunslingers Belle Star and Pearl Star are near identical drinks made with Fort Worth’s Silver Star vodka and strawberry aloe syrup separated by citrus (lemon and lime), bitters, and mint. Perhaps a miscue by the bartenders, both beverages were served with mint, prompting an overpowering flavor that left the strawberry syrup and bitters nearly undetectable with corrections not remedied.

Hall of Famer Wilma Mankiller, who was inducted in 1994, was a Native-American Cherokee activist who was the first woman to be elected as chief of the Cherokee Nation, a position she would hold for a decade. A drink of the same name starts with vodka, followed by dry curacao, a hibiscus syrup, and lime. The taste was light and floral as expected, though it felt as if it were holding back on being audacious. The opposite of Mankiller’s legacy.

Photo by Cody Neathery

Prairie Rose Henderson, another Hall of Famer, is known as the first female professional bronc rider and champion to boot. Also the recipient of a drink named after her here. Either intentionally made to be light-bodied or an accidental easy pour of the hooch, the bourbon Texas tea with raspberry and rose water offered only a faint hint of bourbon in what we were hoping to have more hitch in the giddy-up.

Still, if effervescent flavors in time for the triple digits are what you’re shooting for, the above drinks will suffice. If you’re longing for something to put hair on your chest, Sidesaddle can still oblige.

Using rye from locally owned Blackland Distillery, the Laura Bullion (nefarious member of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch gang) rounds up a nuttiness using pecan orgeat, black walnut bitters, lemon, and the satisfying frothiness of egg whites. The Madam Mustache (named after the infamous prostitute) follows suit with egg whites swapping rye for vodka and coffee liqueur, cold brew, and chocolate, a drink made for morning migas and refried beans. A cowboy’s, nay, a cowgirl’s breakfast.

Being in Texas, more specifically the Stockyards, calls for a spicy margarita, and the Ali Dee is one of the best around. With a delightful mix of tequila and Licor 43, the Ancho Reyes verde and pineapple agave syrup along with jalapeno are as electrifying as a cattle prod.

Sidesaddle Saloon’s presence is a welcomed reprieve from the whiskey and Coke-ladened bars that dot the surrounding terrain, especially after the closure of beloved cocktail bar Niles City Saloon. Castillo continues to blaze new trails for female entrepreneurs while contributing to the local hospitality industry. And that’s something we can tip our hats to.

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