At The Red Phone Booth Near Dallas, Seclusion Collides With Reality

Dallas’ love of the speakeasy-themed bars shows no signs of abating. And we get it — there’s something magical about getting into a covert bar. That said, the degree of difficulty isn’t terribly high to get into most speakeasies. In the case of spots like Midnight Rambler or The Branca Room, getting in requires little more than knowing which hallway to head down. Other spots, like Rare Books in Frisco, add a bit of intrigue, where picking up a phone and asking “the librarian” for a classic literary tome gets you access, and the rotating book title you need to ask for is readily available on social media.

After a recent dinner at Quartino’s in The Colony’s Grandscape development, we stumbled upon the entrance to the Red Phone Booth, the area’s newest speakeasy. Red Phone Booth is a chain of speakeasies that originated in Atlanta and has locations in Nashville and Miami as well as this spot in North Texas. The premise is an upscale drinking establishment and cigar lounge with an air of exclusivity. How exclusive? We were about to find out with our unplanned visit.

Entry into the Red Phone Booth starts naturally at the phone booth next to the door, and you’ll need a code to enter the club. Our first guess was that the code might be shared on social media. Wrong. In fact, the Instagram account for Red Phone Booth taunts you that you won’t find the code online; either you need to know someone with the code or become a member.

We’re naturally not members, we don’t know anyone who is a member, and on this brisk winter evening we just wanted a nightcap, not multiple levels of hoops to jump through just to get in the door. We later learned that hosts and hostesses at nearby restaurants can provide the code, as can concierges at area hotels. None of these are beneficial if you’re standing outside on a lark, searching Google for codes on your iPhone in one hand and randomly dialing numbers into an antique phone booth on the other. (Membership, you ask? It begins at $400 a year.)

Cold and frustrated, we were about to give up when two gentlemen left the club, so we asked them how to get in. “You have to know the code!” quipped one, quickly following with “but I can let you in.” He held the door open and we scurried inside.

Red Phone Booth is a large establishment but manages to feel quaint and opulent, the kind of place frequented by Rockefellers and Astors. Soft amber lighting and overstuffed couches and chairs rule the space, tucked along dark wood and exposed brick walls. And on this night, it’s largely unoccupied, save for a trio of men talking somewhat loudly at one end of the bar. We posted up to two open seats in the middle of the bar.

click to enlarge the bar at red phone booth.

Red Phone Booth channels Rockefeller lounge vibes.

Chris Wolfgang

The second item to note if you’d like to go to the Red Phone Booth: there’s a dress code. For men, that means no ball caps, cargo shorts, ripped clothing, open-toed shoes or athletic gear. All reasonable. It also means a collared shirt or sport coat is required, and on this cool winter evening when I was dressed in a nice sweater and dark jeans underneath my peacoat, I didn’t meet the requirements once my jacket came off. Our bartender politely confirmed my size and procured a house sport coat for me to wear during the visit.

For an establishment with a dress code and the promise of upscale cocktails, Red Phone Booth had several misses on our visit. The house rules listed in the drink menu preach patience (“perfection takes time”) and classy behavior (“Drunkenness is prohibited. Don’t act like an amateur.”).

However, the rules didn’t stop the trio of men to our right from talking loudly and openly hitting on a waitress half their age. The loudest of them wore a puffy North Face vest over his apparently collared shirt, which only made me resent my rental jacket. Shortly after we arrived, a group of four women appeared from another area of the bar and sat to our left. A round of shots was ordered, upon which one of them spilled her drink on my shoe. She quickly apologized, keeping it classy.

The rules also acknowledge that drinks aren’t cheap (“You can dine on Kobe beef or sirloin at the Sizzler. We are not the Sizzler.”) They’re not kidding. The bourbon list is impressively filled with rare pours that bourbon fans would love to have at home but are priced as if the bottles were procured on the black market. A bottle of Eagle Rare bourbon goes for about $40 when it’s on the local store shelves, but a 2-ounce pour is $30 at Red Phone Booth.

click to enlarge a pour of bourbon at Red Phone Booth.

The bourbon list at Red Phone Booth is impressive, but you’ll pay for the privilege of a pour.

Chris Wolfgang

A second bartender appeared to take our drink orders.He was unfamiliar with the first bourbon I asked for and disappeared to get help from his colleague. My first choice wasn’t available, nor was my second. Once again, the bartender left to ask someone else about my selection and returned to say they didn’t have it.

I settled on E.H. Taylor Small Batch for a comparatively reasonable $20 (when found at retail, this is usually more expensive than Eagle Rare. Go figure.)  My companion ordered a 4-ounce pour of Caymus cabernet for $20. The pours come from an automated wine dispenser, and in an oversized glass, the 4-ounce pour looks sadly undersized. Wine pours are available in 2-ounce increments, and the bartender happily added two more ounces to her glass for ten more dollars.

After sitting briefly at the bar we collected our drinks to escape the din around us and explore. Away from the main bar are leather armchairs and sofas arranged into conversational nooks, and in a separate room, a smaller bar (unstaffed on this visit) with a pool table and more seating.

Red Phone Booth offers a cigar lounge experience, and higher membership levels ($1,000 a year) include humidified lockers to store your cigar stash. While the Red Phone Booth has a ventilation system that purportedly scrubs the air every two minutes of cigar smoke, the smell of smoke at the main bar was still quite strong (although it didn’t seem to stick to our clothes after we left). There’s a kitchen that prepares small bites, but we had come from an earlier dinner, so we make no judgements on the offerings.

On its face, Red Phone Booth should have a lot going for it, with its Gatsby levels of opulent sophistication and an impressive selection of wine, spirits and cocktails. Perhaps we caught them on an off night, but in practice, the level of effort involved to get in and the experience inside don’t quite match up to our expectations.

Red Phone Booth, 5774 Grandscape Blvd., The Colony. Monday – Thursday, 4–11 p.m.; Friday – Saturday, 4 p.m. – 1 a.m.; Sunday, 3–11 p.m.

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