When She’s Not Creating Tennis-Flavored Drinks, Betty Cocktail Is Striving To Empower Other Women To Run Strong And Successfully, Just Like A Business.
Chris Henley is a bit of a hedonist. She thinks, acts and creates something that feels good for whatever the moment demands. Perhaps that moment demands a shoulder to lean on after a bad day, or maybe that moment calls for guidance in creating a brand new cocktail menu for a high profile stadium club bar.
Whatever it calls for, Henley, aka Betty Cocktail, is ready for it. Whether it’s coming up with an entire cocktail menu inspired by burgers or simply handing over a vodka soda to a guest, no task is done without taking the other person’s needs and tastes into account while also adding a necessary feminine touch.
How does a one inspire other women to thrive in a male-dominated industry? We caught up with the very woman responsible for showing Dallas what innovative cocktails and girl power is all about.
Hi, thanks for doing this. Real quick, just who exactly do you think you are?
I’m Betty Cocktail — a therapist, concoctionist, humanitarian, perpetual optimist, dog lover and cocktail enthusiast. I’m a bit of a Jane-of-all-trades with an affinity for creativity in the bar and kitchen and a fascination with understanding people. I once made a girl a drink “that tastes like tennis.”
But I’m also Chris Henley, a little country mouse who is lucky enough to be living in a big city.
You are known in the Dallas industry community as a wearer of many hats, but most importantly as “Betty Cocktail”, a cocktail consultant. What is that exactly?
Essentially, Betty Cocktail provides cocktail consultation and the idea of “if you can dream it (with alcohol), we can do it!” And that is everything — from ice to garnish.
Consulting means stepping back and taking a look at the bigger picture to help a business owner become more successful, whatever that definition is to them. I like building a relationship [with my clients] which involves looking at the bar, business, restaurant and staff as a whole and deciding how to improve it. Sometimes it’s just a cocktail menu and sometimes it’s an entire revamp.
What constitutes an entire revamp for a restaurant?
Starting from nothing. It can range from fixing someone else’s mistakes or adding a tweak here or there, to training a few bartenders that lack experience. Or, in some cases, it’s helping source a staff with experience. Although taste-testing drinks is what I’m best at. Just kidding. Kind of.
Betty Cocktail has a signature touch: female empowerment. What sprung that?
I was tired of working hard for other people by running bar programs and making other people money. On top of that, I didn’t really think I was very good at managing people. It’s tricky. Second, I wanted to start something that let people know women could do things too!
The “things” didn’t have to be sexy, bitchy or some other cliche. They could be empowering, interesting, wholesome and respectable. Don’t get me wrong: Being sexy is completely empowering but when it is the only expectation from the business, then we have a problem.
When we walk into a room, a class, training, work, often we are the one woman for every ten men. I was being put in these leadership roles but I didn’t know how to act. Former regulars hired me to run their bar but all of the sudden my jokes weren’t as funny, my boundaries weren’t as respected and I didn’t know how to communicate with these guys. I wanted to help and inspire other women get their bearings too.
What are some known spots you’ve consulted with?
Most notably the The Balcones Speakeasy at the new Rangers ballpark, Ka Thai and HD Liquid. In the past, I worked with Pub McKinney, District 30, Eastwood’s, Maplewood, a lot of corporate events and private bars.
I’m also very proud to have to created aromatics for Dahlia on Ross: “Dissent by Betty Cocktail.” It filled a need they had for spicy bitters on the menu.
You mentioned you once made a girl a drink that tastes like tennis. Did they specifically request a tennis-tasting drink? What’s the story behind that?
[I was working] at Bowen House before they had a menu and you had to know all classic cocktails by memory, including their weekly rotating cocktails. I had a set of questions I would ask [the guest]. It went like this: ‘What is your spirit animal? (tequila, gin, etc). Do you prefer your cocktail spirit-forward or something a little more mixed? What flavors do you like? Sweet, tart, spicy, fruity, herbaceous, effervescent?’
Finally, and usually the most important: ‘Is there anything you don’t like or can’t have?’
Occasionally you get the person that wants you to ‘just do whatever or surprise me’ and this particular woman’s request was ‘make me a drink that tastes like tennis.’
What could possibly make something taste like tennis?
I grabbed the Yellow Chartreuse, some gin, citrus, bubbles and poured it into a coupe glass. The girl’s mother arrived a few minutes later, and much to my amusement, she told me that this was exactly what tennis tasted like. I’m shaking my head just thinking about the whole thing. But what do I know? The tennis I’m familiar with tastes like sweat, bugs and the sun in your eyes.
For National Burger Day in 2019, you famously created an entire menu inspired by burgers. What prompted that?
I have a crazy rare medical problem where I can’t digest food properly. I’m hungry AF all the time. I wanted a burger, so I decided to turn the condiments into cocktails.
In one of the drinks, there’s a cocktail that has mezcal and dijon mustard. How did you even come up with that?It’s spicy and smokey. It’s just made sense.
Actual dijon mustard in a cocktail?
Yes ma’am. Every single one had an actual condiment. Don’t knock the mayo if you’ve ever enjoyed a Ramos gin fizz!
Speaking of condiments, do you think Shiner tastes like soy sauce?
[laughs] That’s a hard no. I might be hungry but I don’t have a distorted palate.
Photo by Clark Cabus Photography.