Denton Dram Cocktail Review: La Paloma from Dusty's Bar

When you’re out for a night on The Square looking for a place to enjoy a good cocktail, Dusty’s might not be the first place that comes to mind. Think again, Dentonites, because Jonathon Cerda is shaking things up with his hand-crafted libations that bring together the easygoing atmosphere of a dive bar with sophisticated drinks you’d find in a top-notch cocktail lounge. 

Pool tables, darts, and shot specials--Dusty’s has the prefect recipe for a low-key hangout where all are welcome. Neon bar signs illuminate the walls, a board that boasts daily drink specials is on the wall right behind Cerda who is working the Sunday night bar on his own. With a combination of charisma and attentive nature, he pours drinks and laughs with guests who are returning again and again to the jukebox situated at the end of the bar. “That’s a very cool thing about Dusty’s,” Cerda says, “There are a lot of regulars here that know the culture of this place and have watched it grow. The setting inside of Dusty’s calls for people to be close to each other, I define it as a place of personal relationships, and family.” The environment is modest yet intimate with a grouping of tables and chairs that surround the bar. It’s smartly split in two areas, the first room with the bar has the vibe of a laid-back pint or whiskey after work. The downstairs portion of Dusty’s is geared towards bar sports where you have your choice of pool or darts. There is charm in its simplicity, a good drink, good friends and entertainment—and they’ve been doing it for 15 years in the same location!

At one point in the night, a regular plays a song on the jukebox with a Latin American beat. He says to Cerda, “Do you know how to dance to this?” as they both laugh. “It’s all in the hips,” Cerda says in response. In his childhood, Cerda was a professional dancer of the Mexican style Ballet Folklorico known for its tap and festive costumes, a fact of which most of his regulars are aware. Nowadays, his Mexican heritage has seeped in to his love of crafting drinks. “Whenever I invent a drink, or make something I want to put my name on, it’s usually something that has to do with Mexican culture, with my roots,” Cerda says. The cocktail he presents is his original Paloma, a grapefruit and tequila-based drink considered to be one of the most popular in Mexico.  Every component of this beverage has been carefully selected by Cerda who gives special attention to the spirits and flavors that marry best in this Mexican classic. It consists of Espolón Reposado tequila, which Cerda says makes this cocktail “shine,” simple syrup, aged orange liqueur, fresh-squeezed lime juice and grapefruit soda which is a staple of this particular drink. At first sip, there is an immediate pop from the soda followed by a punch of citrus. The sweetness of this cocktail hides below the surface giving it just enough sugar to balance out the sour character. “Whenever I make margaritas, or anything with tequila, I like to match the orange liqueur with the age of the tequila,” Cerda says, “I didn’t put in too much, just and eighth of an ounce to make the lime and the tequila marry.” His cocktail has the familiar feel of a margarita, with the tequila and orange liqueur, but you go back for taste after taste because it is truly incomparable. This unique version of The Paloma is uplifting, smile-inducing, and creates a flavor profile that somehow seems to sparkle.

Cerda has aspirations for his future in cocktails hoping to open a place one day that would give a nod to his Abuela’s influence on him growing up. He attributes her culinary abilities to his love of creating unique flavors that blend well together. “My ultimate goal is have some sort of establishment that makes people feel like I do when I walk in to my Abuela’s dining room,” he says, “Just dining and relaxing. I want to make an experience for everybody, and that’s generally what I try to do for everyone that comes in to Dusty’s.” 

As his Abuela did on the plate, Cerda is certainly recreating that authentic Mexican experience at Dusty’s, only in a glass.

Photo by Lauren Coe
Header image design by Jason Lee