The cocktail lounge I may very well have dreamed up

So, maybe you don’t have movie-star good looks. Maybe you don’t drive a luxury car or live in a fashionable part of town. You can still feel like a VIP. All it takes is reservations at Bar Smyth in Dallas, Texas.

Don’t look for a neon sign or sidewalk seating. The entry for Bar Smyth is completely unmarked—part of its mystique. Announce yourself using the small keypad next to a nondescript door and you’ll be buzzed inside.

Old Fashioned cocktailA dim hallway leads you to a narrow, warmly-furnished space that may have you checking the calendar to be sure you haven’t stepped back to a Prohibition-era speakeasy, or a Cold War-era covert rendezvous.

Menus? This place is too cool for menus

Your bartender visits your table with some questions, then disappears to concoct a beverage to appeal to your personal flavor profile. The results are surprising and exquisite.

My visit included two excellent cocktails. The first, shown here, was an Old Fashioned, crafted for me with grapefruit bitters, and tequila instead of bourbon. The second, a perfectly balanced Sazarac. (Hats off to Robert the bartender for choosing America’s oldest-known cocktail for me. I love a good Sazarac.)

Most of the others in our party preferred slightly sweeter drinks. Our bartender called on a variety of fruits, herbs and flowers to delight each of them in turn.

Bar Smyth sounds like fiction, right? For me, it sounded like my fiction—specifically Club Clandestine, in Going Native. Here’s how it breaks down:

Real vs. fictional VIP cocktail lounges

Club Clandestine (from my novel, Going Native)Bar Smyth (located on Travis Street in Dallas, TX)
Hard-to-spot entryUnmarked entry
Bouncer asks for passwordSecure, locked entrance
Dim stairs lead down to clubDim hallway leads to club
Speakeasy/Cold War spy vibeSpeakeasy/Cold War spy vibe
Unforgettable night of covert, erotic games in the arms of a sexy heroOutstanding cocktails in intimate setting, guaranteed to make you feel special

All told, a remarkable evening. And I confess I’m glad to have friends who can assure me it really happened. Otherwise, I might wonder if, like Club Clandestine, I’d created Bar Smyth out of my own secret imaginings.

Shall I meet you there?

New year, new book release!

Book cover of the sweet, sexy erotic romance, Going Native, by Sally FeltWhen a clumsy redhead takes a walk on the wild side, expect one heck of a fall.

On January 23, my sexy romantic comedy, Going Native, hits the market. It’s an ode to long-suffering Good Girls who dream of romance and adventure. (Yes, I was one. Writing this book got me on the road to recovery.)

The blurb:

Going Native, by Sally Felt

Violet longs to break free of her good-girl persona. House sitting a Dallas penthouse loft makes a great start. From her first giddy step in her friend’s sky-high heels, she’s way out of her comfort zone, planting a tipsy kiss on a sexy neighbor. 

Eddie is in town to close a business deal—and lick his wounds after a bad breakup. But the clumsy, drawling redhead next door proves a Texas-sized distraction he can’t ignore. Violet’s demure one minute and suggesting clandestine sexcapades the next. Eddie can barely keep up. Or wait to see what Violet does next. 

But even when she learns he’s held the key to the future of her family’s business all along, Violet can’t go back to playing it safe. And what began as a champagne-fueled dare becomes a gutsy showdown her heart might not survive.

The grand finale of my 50th year (filled with 50 new things)

Given that Going Native is about a woman who tries on a risky exciting new persona, it’s only fitting this is the book I sold during my great 50-in-50 experiment.

I’m still compiling a list of all the new stuff I tried as part of my 50th birthday year, and hope to blog about it soon, but selling this book ranks high as one of the biggest new thrills. It began with a pitch in May, became a contract negotiation in July, a first peek at my cover in September, and edits, edits, edits. It culminated last week, the day after my 51st birthday, when my editor gave me a release date—January 23!

Going Native is available for preorder at Ellora’s Cave and will soon be available at your preferred book etailer.

New things: Growing my own

Some of our homegrown Garrison lettuce, Celebrity tomato and cucumber mint water.
Looks yummy, doesn’t it? Let me tell you about a months-in-the-making addition to my list of 50 new things I’m trying this year as part of my 50th birthday celebration. Vegetable gardening.

I eat tons of salad, year-round, so I was happy to support my housemate’s enthusiasm for putting together a small garden in the backyard. I imagined the money I’d save growing my own organic cucumber. I thought about the varieties of lettuce I’d experiment with. And I counted the days until we’d have our own homegrown tomatoes.

(Brilliant American songwriter Guy Clark said/sang it best with a tune called “Homegrown Tomatoes” on his 1983 album, Better Days: “There’s only two things that money can’t buy, and that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.”)

Early fruits

She mixed up earthy magic using a recipe developed by Mel Bartholomew (founder of Square Foot Gardening) to get us going and pretty soon, our little patch of heaven boasted seedlings galore.

The sugar snap pea scampered up its trailing string in a mad rush to bloom and fruit. The mint, basil, sage and dill made themselves at home. When we added mums and petunias for natural insect control, our fledgling garden literally blossomed.

Thanks to the magic of Mel’s Mix (and careful watering), I even coaxed lettuce and strawberries to grow in a notoriously inauspicious strawberry pot.

Cucumber and tomatoes were slower to establish themselves. The tomato plants mostly kept getting taller and needing more support. The cuke spent its days climbing and dividing into more vines. And we had a squash plant that made showy blossoms but was stingy with the actual fruit.

The solo gardener

For all my housemate enjoyed planning and setting up the garden, and as much as she and I both loved the hide-and-seek game of looking for fledgling cucumbers, the everyday routine of gardening couldn’t hold her interest.

A single day’s harvest of plum tomatoes!

I might have given up, too, as the Texas spring got hot and we spent more time in the air-conditioned house, but dang it, I wanted my salad goodies.

So I remembered to water every day. I tapped the blooming tomato plants to help ensure pollination. I guided the greedy cucumber vine to things it could hold onto besides the tomato plants. I dead-headed the ‘mums and petunias to keep them blossoming.

And finally…


The harvest of our first cucumbers and plum tomatoes began a riotous abundance of delicious summer eating. Soon, we were refreshing ourselves with cucumber-mint water from a never-empty pitcher. Snacking on plum- and cherry-tomatoes. And when at last we began getting full-sized tomatoes, we celebrated our homegrown bounty with BLT sandwiches and tomato cucumber salad.

Dog-day reflections

It’s mid-August now. Temperatures here have been in the triple digits for weeks. The vine of plum tomatoes is still producing fruit, though at a sluggish pace appropriate to these dog days of summer. Much of the garden has withered in spite of my ongoing efforts.

Knowing what I know now, will I get caught up in another gardening frenzy around here next spring? Ask me again when temperatures drop back into the 80s. Whisper words to me of love. Like bell pepper and sweet potato and other yumminess we haven’t yet tried to grow. Remind me how drinking cucumber water made me feel wealthy beyond measure.

And promise me homegrown tomatoes.

Photos: Sally Felt

New things: dog washer

My new living situation finds me in a house with two dogs. Because I’ve had almost no history with dogs, I’m learning new things all the time. (How lucky that I made a vow on my birthday to try 50 new things this year!)

Going to the groomer makes Winifred anxious nearly to the point of seizures. So when her dirty-dog smell got distracting, my housemate proposed the do-it-yourself dog wash. Always up for a new experience, I offered to help. We gathered our quarters, grabbed a towel and put ‘Fred in her car.

Off to the Wag and Wash

This ingenious facility included a raised platform with a drain and a place to secure the dog on a short lead. Three hoses hung from the ceiling. One featured a spray nozzle that delivered shampoo, conditioner and rinse water. Another had a vacuum attachment for sucking excess water from a wet pooch. The final hose ended in a salon-like blow dryer.

‘Fred trembled and leaned against whichever of us was closer, but otherwise took it quite well. By time we had her toweled off and back in the car, she was feeling her oats. After all, she’d had an outing with her favorite person (my housemate), and didn’t have to share her with the other dog. Boosted her mood for days!

Me, I can now say I’ve vacuumed a dog and lived to tell the tail tale.

Photo credit: dno1967b

New things: Produce locker as tornado shelter

The season of warm-weather drama launched today in north Texas with tornado sightings by the handful.

When the warning sirens went off, I was in the grocery store. Well-trained employees herded me and the other customers into a storage room between the produce and the seafood departments.

Taking time to chill

We stood on the concrete floor amidst towering industrial shelves, loaded with boxes of celery, mangoes and other lovely edibles from all over the planet, shivering in the refrigerated air. (40°F. Brr!)

Right away, folks pulled out their cell phones, checking in with loved ones. But once immediate personal concerns had been handled, we started noticing one another. Conversations sprang up, sharing of what little we knew of the storms. Someone had a sophisticated weather app on his device and he provided periodic updates as he tracked what was happening in real time. We were in this together.

Still, it didn’t take long before we were all wanting to sit down. Or better yet, get on about our day. More tornadoes had been sighted, though, and we weren’t going anywhere.

Well-timed caffeine boosts our morale

Store employees rounded up bottles of water for us. They organized a cart loaded with hot coffee and cookies from the bakery department. A steaming cup of joe went a long way to taking off the chill of that refrigerated room. We went back to swapping stories until it was safe for us to leave.

In my time, tornadoes have caught me in office buildings and private homes. I’ve hunkered in stairwells, closets, bathrooms and basements. But until today, I’ve never spent an hour literally rubbing elbows with grocery-seeking strangers in a room stacked with exotic produce. Truly a fresh experience.

[I’m celebrating my 50th birthday year by trying 50 new things. This post contributes to my chronicle of some of those new things. Why not subscribe to my feed and follow the entire adventure?]

Photo credit: supa_pedro

New things: Barber

“I’d like to ask a favor and you are free to say no,” my housemate said. She was fresh from the shower and we both lounged on the back patio in the warm spring breeze. “I’d like you to cut my hair.”

She pantomimed leaning forward in her chair, bowing her head and brushing her wet hair off her neck, up over her crown, and trimming it at what would be bangs-length in front. She’d do it herself, she explained, but she had a tendency to cut her fingers when holding her hair.

To shear or not to shear? To shear!

I know her well enough to realize she wasn’t asking for the latest fashion or even any style at all, so I said sure. We put her on a folding chair in the middle of the backyard.

She brushed her hair forward and I went to work with the decidedly dull pair of scissors we use for various things around the house. Locks of her silvery hair fell to the lawn for birds and other critters to carry away.

While I’ve no ambitions of hanging out my shingle as a barber, she’s declared delight with the results, and I’ve got a “new thing” to add to my birthday list. Simple. Reciprocal. Awesome.

[Awhile back, I announced my intention to celebrate my 50th birthday year by trying 50 new things. This post contributes to my chronicle of some of those new things.]

Photo credit: katrinket

New things: Oyster nachos

Do you hold a grudge? For decades, I’ve nursed one against bivalves. You know–clams, oysters, mussels and such. At some point, I tasted a rubbery specimen and declared their whole classification icky.

But this year, I’m trying 50 new things. It’s a perfect time to put old prejudices up for review. Bivalves are getting a second chance. It began on my birthday, when two foodie friends presented me with brined, butter-seared scallops as part of a to-die-for five-course dinner.

And now, oyster nachos from Fish City Grill. A friend’s description had me drooling, so we shared a plate.

A burst of taste and texture

My friend had not exaggerated. For while the menu gives us only 9 descriptive words–“Fried oysters, chipotle tartar sauce, fresh pico de gallo”–I hereby declare them Divinity on a plate!

My apologies to bivalves everywhere. It’s not you, it’s the cook.

Turns out it’s fun, questioning old assumptions. It feels good to admit to an old injustice and let it go, thus lightening the load. And what easier (or yummier) place to practice than with what’s on our dinner plates?

I recommend the oyster nachos.

Photo credit: denn