For good or ill, Dallas’ Uptown neighborhood has developed a stubborn reputation as the place where only the most vapid of North Texas residents — your $30,000 millionaires, aspiring reality-TV starlets or spoiled college kids, let’s say — head in search of good times.
And, in fairness, the stretch of McKinney Avenue that is home to Next Door often feels, particularly on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, like the world’s biggest campus corner, a bombastic collection of bars and nightclubs beckoning with drink specials and bad decisions to be made all the way to last call.
All of that is to say, Uptown is not necessarily considered a culinary destination, compared to with other corners of North Texas, but rather somewhere to pound shots and scarf mediocre bar food — with a few exceptions.
Next Door might, in its own small way, help change the conversation.
Certainly, when you walk up to Next Door, as my wife, Carla, and I did on a recent sweltering evening, the initial impression dovetails with the clichés: lots of wood, leather and glass, arranged just so to give off a vibe of Miami Beach or Los Angeles via the Woodall Rodgers Freeway. (Next Door is so laid-back that there was no one at the hostess stand; one server nudged another to seat us for our reserved time, which, given the handful of people seated inside, was hardly necessary.)
The interior of Next Door, owned by local restaurant and nightlife impresario Sam Sameni (Fort Worth’s Landmark Bar & Kitchen) and designed by Dallas’ Coeval Studio, evokes an impossibly hip loft, with shelves full of vinyl LPs behind the well-stocked bar (those high-end labels turned outward; must keep up appearances, after all), a leather banquette framing most of the room and cozy tables dotting the floor.
A wall covered in door knockers — a visual play on the venue’s name — frames the staircase that leads visitors up to the second level, where another bar and patio area sits.
The music level — all bass-heavy club bangers here, one into the next — remains high, even before the sun sets and the bar scene really gets going, so don’t make plans for any kind of relaxed conversation.
Once seated, my wife and I turned our attention to the extensive list of drinks Next Door offers, which ranges from contemporary revisions of classic cocktails all the way to high-dollar bottle service.
My wife started off with a glass of passionfruit white sangria ($8; only available Sundays, on the brunch menu), while I sampled the Old Glory ($12). Her sangria, made with passionfruit syrup, white wine, lime juice and fresh fruit, was pleasant, if slightly oversweet, while my Old Glory — one of Next Door’s “spirit forward” cocktails — was an engaging riff on an old-fashioned, with Bulleit rye whiskey, sweet vermouth and Luxardo cherry juice.
We also sampled one of the “bubbles concept” drinks, the Strawberry Fields ($11), a dangerously easy-to-sip cocktail that combined cherry vodka, strawberry syrup, lime juice and sparkling shiraz.
Next Door’s carefully edited menu, overseen by chef Paul Niekrasz (late of Lower Greenville’s HG Sply Co.), is its secret weapon.
Although the gastropub has helped overhaul what is expected of bar food, finding somewhere that is as pleasurable to eat as it is to drink can still be a challenge. That’s not the case here: the menu, split among “bites,” small plates and larger entrees pleasantly upends expectations at just about every turn.
The bites seem gimmicky on paper, but are anything but once they’re placed on the table. We ordered grilled cheese and tomato soup dumplings ($8), which sounded like a potential culinary trainwreck, and another starter, the tuna poke nachos ($16).
Both were enjoyable surprises: The nachos, small hunks of tuna balanced on wonton crisps with pine nuts and slivers of cucumber alongside a wasabi crema, were bright, fresh bites with a hint of heat. The dumplings, served in single-bite spoons, nestled Parmesan-filled dumplings — they bore a strong resemblance to star anise — in a thick tomato soup studded with bacon. It may not sound like much, but each mouthful was a vivid burst of flavor.
Even our entree choices — my wife went with the chimichurri filet mignon ($24), while I stuck with the pepperoni pizza ($14) — took conventional ingredients and delivered agreeable meals.
The 8-ounce filet mignon, splashed with the vibrant, verdant chimichurri sauce, shared a plate with fistfuls of sweet-potato and french fries, perfectly seasoned.
The pepperoni pizza, enough for two to split, was topped with zesty tomato sauce and gooey provolone cheese, along with slices of pepperoni. Most pizzas served in bars are rubbery, bland misfires, but Next Door’s easily clears that low bar.
Next Door doesn’t offer much in the way of dessert. On our visit, there were just two possibilities: a panna cotta or our choice, a trio of double-chocolate-chip-cookie ice-cream sandwiches, drizzled with salted caramel sauce ($6).
It was the only real disappointment — the cookies were too hard, resulting in a crumbly mess when trying to get a bite of everything at once.
The service likewise confounds what might be expected from an Uptown watering hole. The servers, nearly all of whom were female and clad in cropped, navel-baring tank tops reading “Size Matters,” could easily be mistaken for disinterested pretty faces pushing overpriced booze, but the opposite proved true.
Our server, Taylor, was thorough and attentive — refilling water glasses, making entree and drink suggestions, briskly boxing up leftovers — and thoughtful: My first pizza was burned, and she had the kitchen prepare another without hesitation.
Tucked between a nail salon and Avenu (one of McKinney Avenue’s signature nightspots, also run by Sameni), Next Door looks, from the outside, like every other stereotypical bar in Uptown. For those willing to look past surface similarities — which, in Uptown, could be asking a lot — Next Door provides a startling, satisfying alternative to subpar bar food.
Sometimes, looks really aren’t everything.
- 2908 McKinney Ave., Dallas
- Hours: 4 p.m.-midnight Tuesday and Wednesday; 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Thursday and Friday; 2 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturday and 2 p.m.-midnight Sunday.