Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Karaoke review: 303 Bar & Grill in Dallas
Sweet potato fries, Karaoke, and OMG!
Lately it seems like I’ve been harping on three things: Karaoke you can take the kids to, Karaoke that’s early enough that I can get to work the next day, and Karaoke in the booming Bishop Arts District in North Oak Cliff. Meatloaf sang “Two out of Three Ain’t Bad,” and he’s right — the great fun at Dos Charros (Early, Kid-friendly, in Rockwall) proved that. I’m happy to report that 303 Bar & Grill delivers another two out of three — it’s on Davis Street in Bishop Arts, and kids are officially allowed. And I’d say there’s an option on the third request!
Karaoke isn’t a complete stranger to Oak Cliff, but it hasn’t been a frequent visitor. There are a couple of dive bars (including Barbara’s Pavillion, which was a hoot), but nothing among the more upscale establishments that have turned North Oak Cliff into Dallas’ most vibrant (yet laid-back) entertainment and dining district. Eno’s Pizza had a well-received special Karaoke event, and I hoped it would turn into a regular gig — but no luck. There was an abortive attempt at Karaoke by Decanter, a wine-oriented restaurant in the district, but it was doomed by the same mismanagement that led to Decanter’s eventual closing for good.
So I was ecstatic when I heard that Totally Twisted Karaoke, the folks who introduced me to Karaoke, were coming to 303 Bar & Grill on Thursday nights. 303 is located just a block off of Bishop Street, at the corner of Davis and Madison. It’s a familiar spot for us — one of our favorite spots is Inforzato’s, on the opposite corner, with homemade Italian dishes and a signature dessert counter. There were only a couple of things working against the event. The biggest problem was the start time, with Karaoke set to begin at 10 p.m. to complement 303’s Late Night Happy Hour. The other was the reviews.
The online review scene turns every neighborhood into New York or Los Angeles, with a critic on every blog (including this one) comparing the new kid on the block with whatever their ultimate dining experience might be. The popularity and newness of Bishop Arts magnifies the effect. As a result, the reviews for 303 were mixed ... well, no, that’s not true. The reviews were mediocre at best, and went downhill from there! But it seemed to me that the things they were being critiqued on were things I would consider “growing pains” — recipes still in the development stage, service that’s still learning the ropes. The funky decor, great location, and of course the Karaoke gave me hope that a visit to 303 would lead to a fun time. Spoiler alert: we had a great time!
Bibi and I headed to 303 Bar & Grill after teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) at Tyler Street UMC, arriving just after Totally Twisted’s DJ crew, Leah and Robert O. We ordered a burger and sweet potato fries, then I ran over to Inforzato’s (which closes at 9:30) for some desserts. That ability to walk from one place to another is what makes a walkable entertainment district so much fun! I didn’t get a chance to try out a Tequila Sunrise, but we did sample their all-night special: a shot of whiskey and a tall glass of Bud Light. It was good enough that we didn’t get to the rest of the after-10 Happy Hour specials, opting instead for another of the same. The food was served by a very friendly waitress, who saw our desserts and said she’d have to check out Inforzato’s for herself soon.
The burger didn’t disappoint, though it didn’t excite either. But the sweet potato fries were just divine! They were cooked to a perfect texture, and the dusting of salt brought out a delicious, fresh sweetness. I think most places don’t salt their sweet potato fries, perhaps in a misguided attempt to seem “healthy.” As if “healthy” and “delicious” can’t exist in the same dish? They played quite nicely with each other in that serving of perfectly-seasoned sweet potato fries.
Karaoke didn’t actually get started until about 10:30 — it took a while to wrangle together some extension cords. Here’s where I got another hint that this might be a lasting gig: Leah said that the bar would try to get an electric outlet installed in the Karaoke set-up spot. And they’d work to set up the TV so that they could plug into it to display lyrics next time. That tells me that the bar owner is willing to put some effort into the Karaoke experience! I’ve seen so many gigs fail, not because the DJ doesn’t keep the party going, but because the management puts roadblocks in their way. If this early impression is any indication, 303 Bar and Grill just might understand the value of serving the customer — and just as importantly, serving the ones who serve the customer.
As for the Karaoke itself... well, it almost goes without saying that Totally Twisted rocked the house as usual. I can’t remember if I was first or second up (and I didn’t even have a whiskey & beer special!), but my first song was “For the Longest Time” by Billy Joel, especially for my beloved Bibi. Several singers signed up in short order, but we were able to sing Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe” pretty soon. Then I sang “Careless Whisper” by Wham!, just as the crowd was getting a bit more rowdy. I love it — I’m such an attention hog, it doesn’t really matter if someone’s singing along while remembering their 1985 high school crush, or if they’re laughing at the cheesiness of their parents’ musical tastes. (As if it could get *any* more cheesy than “I just saw Halley’s Comet, she waved...”)
The highlight of the night, though, was a boy, probably around 10 years old, who sang the remixed version of “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”, from the movie Dirty Dancing. It’s strange to hear an old favorite remixed like that, but like Lauren Hill’s version of “Killing Me Softly,” it worked surprisingly well. And doubly so with this kid singing it! I imagine that the radio version has a lot of overdubbing and audio tricks, but the kid had only his voice and the mike. He made it sound awesome and unique, and of course drew great applause from the crowd. And he may be back — the management of the club told Totally Twisted that they do not have the no-kids policies imposed by so many booze-only joints. On top of that, the start time has already been moved up to 9:30... well before the time when the kids stop texting and go to sleep.
It was just my luck that I was the next one up — I was lucky anyone listened to me at all. But they did. For being deprived for so long, the North Oak Cliff crowd is absolutely ready for the return of Karaoke to Bishop Arts.
Bonus fight report: I’ve been struck (ha) by the “peaceful, easy feeling” at every Karaoke bar I’ve been to. 303 Bar and Grill was no exception... but even so, I got to see my first-ever bar brawl! It happened early, while the first few singers were going. It wasn’t really a brawl... more of a dispute that required the participants to be redirected elsewhere. All I saw was a knot of people and a lack of attention to the Karaoke — nobody on the floor, no movie soundtrack “thwack” sounds, and really no impact on the other patrons except a little rubbernecking. The kid who sang the Dirty Dancing remix was, of course, especially interested — just like all of would have been at that age. I hope he doesn’t expect that sort of entertainment every night! Because 303 just doesn’t seem like that kind of joint. Better to be known for awesome sweet potato fries... and Karaoke.
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