By Meda Kessler
Photos by Ralph Lauer
Welcome to The Basement Lounge, where craft cocktails and conversation get equal billing
The entryway is on a side street. Signage is minimal. You have to walk down a flight of stairs to get there. Maximum capacity is 30 people. But all of that is part of the appeal of The Basement Lounge.
The craft cocktail bar tucked into a Ridglea shopping center celebrates 6 years this November, and we caught up with co-owner Jesse Meráz to talk about how the artist shifted gears into the art of making drinks.
A native of Mexico, Meráz makes his home in east Fort Worth’s Meadowbrook neighborhood. He lived briefly in the Midwest before ending up in Fort Worth with his family. “I consider this my hometown,” he says.
An artist who has exhibited regionally and nationally — you’ll see his work at TBL — Meráz has settled into his full-time role as TBL owner (a business partner lives in Dallas) and bartender.
We met at the lounge in the morning, but when you’re located in a basement, time of day is irrelevant. That’s not to say The Basement Lounge is a dark, gloomy space. On the contrary, the cozy entryway sets the tone, as it’s dressed up with modern accessories. The concrete stairs are illuminated with turquoise lighting (the rich color is predominant throughout the lounge). Once inside the small space, the vibe is cool but welcoming.
The concept started as a what-if proposition. “I was having brunch at Oscar’s Pub with friends, and we started talking about opening a lounge/dance club and what it would be if we did find a space.”
Robbie Turman, the owner of Oscar’s, was at the pub that day and showed the group a basement once used as a sports bar offshoot to Oscar’s.
“The space was small, but I could envision what it could become, although we did have to shift gears a bit and scratch the dance club concept,” says Meráz. Six years ago, The Usual on Magnolia Avenue was the only craft cocktail bar in Fort Worth. Meráz knew there was a market for more. “Whenever I travel, I always look for interesting and unique spots with good cocktails. That’s what I wanted to create here.”
Meráz had never worked in the service industry before but learned to bartend from those who had. “In college, I was strictly a vodka cranberry kind of guy so there was a lot to learn. He checks out other local bars and trends and has become friends with others in the industry.
Experimenting with ingredients is all part of the job. A trayful of bitters sits on the bar, some with handwritten labels. “I buy some from a friend who works at The Republic Street Bar who makes her own,” says Meráz. Along with a seasonal menu of craft cocktails, TBL offers a small wine selection and local beers.
With limited space, the lounge had to be free of clutter. There’s bar seating plus a few cocktail tables; banquette seating anchors one end of the lounge. Upholstered chairs offer cozy seating in front of the gas fireplace. There’s also the Rainbow Room, named for its colorful lighting.
It’s a popular place for date-night couples or those looking for quiet conversation.
Mounted on the walls are Meráz’s striking glitter artwork.
“I want people to be able to talk to each other without shouting over the music,” says Meráz, who also opted not to have a TV. Instead, the flat-screen above the bar features artsy images that complement the audio tracks.
“We’re a popular place for those celebrating anniversaries, promotions and other special occasions.” Meráz has played matchmaker and hosts regular LGBTQ social mixers. But he doesn’t typecast The Basement Lounge. “We’re not a gay bar; we’re a people place. Everyone is welcome here.”