Google “Midnight Rambler,” and the first song that pops up is the Rolling Stones hit from 1969. Dallas cocktail bar Midnight Rambler is not named after the song, but music does play a prominent role at the Texas cocktail destination. “The important thing for us about the music at the bar is that it is subtle, like a sonic envelope,” says co-owner Chad Solomon. “Cocktails are what people should be interacting with, but we put just as much thought into the music—it’s still there, just more like wallpaper.”
Both Solomon and partner Christy Pope came up through the bartending ranks of New York City, but they also both have a background in music—Pope worked for Capitol Records and a smaller indie label in New York in addition to working as a professional DJ in the ’90s; Solomon toured with an indie band during college in Austin. That combined experience has helped inform the musical character of Midnight Rambler, part of which is a tribute to Dallas itself. “This is such an important music city, and the most important in Texas outside of Houston,” Solomon says, referencing artists with ties to the city like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Robert Johnson, Jim Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughn and more. “All of those artists are hugely influential in the music we like, and it’s a history that Dallas doesn’t always own. At one time it was a music stronghold. It’s not today, but it’s an interesting DNA of the city.”
In addition to tapping into those Dallas connections, Pope and Solomon cast a wide net that catches rock n’ roll and soul music plus many divergent offshoots of those genres. “The majority of our songs and artists are from about 1955-1985, covering early R&B, wild and wooley rock ‘n roll, some rockabilly and hillbilly music, some scorching soul stuff, psych, proto-punk, post-punk,” Solomon says. “We’re working off the thesis that rock n’ roll is this very big umbrella. It’s a big collection of what seems like disparate styles, but sonically the DNA of the music all fits together, so the way we’ve packaged [the playlists] clearly illustrates the idea.”
Solomon says they polished the setlists by focusing on quality. “The recording fidelity is important because we’re plucking from this wide swath of history, so the quality of the recordings [fluctuates]. We’re cool with the lo-fi stuff, but how do you package that and make everything go together?”
They teamed up with a sound design company called Gray V, who has also managed the background music for bars like Bellemore in Chicago. “We work with them to keep [the playlists] fresh, constantly updating all the material we have, and then figuring out the flow of the night. A lot of it is tinkering with the algorithm to make sure the dynamics don’t fall apart.”
As a result, vintage mono-recordings tend to kickstart a gentle mood for early evenings, followed by more upbeat modern tracks and peppered with older songs (but only ones with the same recording quality so there’s no fidelity drop) as the energy builds throughout the evening. DJs do rotating guest shifts on the weekends, and sometimes tables are moved off the dance floor to make room for the fun. All together, it’s the right match of musical harmony, says Solomon. “We knew we’d be doing these precious cocktails so we wanted to upend that typical experience and make it more lively and energetic. More kinetic, like a place where there’s a rocking party in the basement,” he says of the overall vibe. “The name [Midnight Rambler] references the music side of things but also that revelry. The goal is for people to say that this is a bar that feels great to be in. And we hear people say that a lot.”
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