When you go to a restaurant with a bar, don’t waste time waiting to be seated in the restaurant. Do what my mother taught me at an early age: Go directly to the bar. Here’s why, and here’s a list of my absolute favorite bars you should make a point of visiting:
- No babies or kids making their sticky, aesthetically disturbing way through a child-friendly meal. No sullen teenagers, no overly enthused pre-teen commentary.
- In most of the United States and Canada, no smoking in restaurants includes no smoking in the bar.
- No waiting in a lobby full of passive people.
- The same menu in the restaurant is often served in the bar.
- Happy hour with bar snacks.
- No expectations that you’ll be buying a full meal.
- Less clatter. More clinking.
- No impetus to move along after you’ve eaten.
- A nice environment if you’ve just gotten off the water and are cold, a little salty, and you’re not very tidy. Or you’re just grumpy.
My seven favorite bar/lounge experiences:
The Willard Hotel, Washington, DC is grand and historic, 160 years of DC glory, with glittering dining rooms with grand pianos and chandeliers, and will set you back a chunk to dine there. Off the grand lobby is a lovely (and famous) little lounge, the Round Robin and Scotch Bar, with a famous round bar and tiny tables at the windows. My lounge-wise friend Marcia and I wedged ourselves into this place one winter evening after slogging through the snow to see the National Christmas Tree / Menorah / Yule log and wanted something to eat. We had drinks and some food. It was a memorable location.
Years later, I dragged my family there after my dad’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. Flying for the Air Force, Dad knew every good bar in every city in the world, so he’d no doubt been there himself. We pulled a reverse of the bar directive; since my under-age nephew was with us. We sat in the lobby seating, ordered from the bar which was already completely packed with congressmen and tourists hoping to see congressmen, and had ourselves some nice drinks and hors d’oeuvres. We nearly choked to death trying to both eat and stare at the magnificent lobby ceilings.
Bengal Lounge in the Empress Hotel in Victoria, BC. Four of us climbed out of a Zodiac after bashing across Haro Strait from San Juan Island, took off our orange Mustang suits, took our change of clothes to the Empress lobby restrooms and become presentable, then went into the Bengal lounge for brandy. One of our party wanted High Tea but the tea room was dressy and crowded, and we were comfy in our leather sofas, so we had tea brought to us in the lounge. So nice.
Denny’s. I like Denny’s a lot of the time. I admire the brisk efficiency of the servers. The restaurants are often full of families with children in reach of syrup, so head straight for the bar the minute you’re in the door. You can thank me later.
Poquito’s on Seattle’s Capital Hill seems to be mostly bar. The first section is booths, the second section is a darker bar with big screen tvs, and the farthest section is a lighter bar with huge windows, heated booth seating and big screen tvs. Guess where I sit. By the way, my business partner and I just discovered this place by accident and it’s got the freshest, most beautiful food I’ve ever eaten. Are fish tacos one of those perverse Seattle inventions? They do them right here. Also the brisket tacos. Homemade guacamole. Margaritas that are imaginative without being gimmicky.
The Hotel Monaco’s Sazarac in Seattle I’m hesitant to mention because my friend Clark and I sort of feel like we own the kitchen counter scene there and would prefer that everyone just sit in the restaurant so there’s always space for us. I don’t want to see this become popular, but often during lunch, we’ll sit at the counter where the cooking is going on, and order a thing or two for lunch. We put ourselves in the hands of the this guy, who brings single items of this and that, which show up on a white cloth napkin and a red glass slab, or a granite bowl, or something else unexpected, which might be new things he’s trying that aren’t on the menu. Every single thing is fantastic and beautiful. We love being Jason’s guinea pigs.
Bar, New Haven was recommended by a cab driver who recommended the mashed potato pizza. Starch atop of starch sounded good in February. My buddy John and I were planning a trip to famed pizza restaurants Pepe’s Apizza and Modern but we were really in the mood for cocktails and something to eat. We ordered the pizza, sat at the bar at Bar, made new friends by sharing said pizza, and had a lovely time. The bar, in fact, is nicer than the seating area. The ceilings are high and the place is a little drafty; the bar feels rather cosy.
My favorite bar-hopping friend Marcia and I typically set a rule for the evening and try to hit as many places as we can. You know. For science. We did a Cosmo Comparison Tour. We focused on places with the best Free Bar Snacks. There was the Best View Tour. Then there was the Bar Stools Only Tour where we avoided seating areas, and had a very different experience at the Hotel Vancouver’s 900 West than we did previously. As usual the place was a crush of humanity, and even so we got the bartender inventing drinks and trotting out his favorites and challenging him to show us his most difficult creations. It was a blast. We actually did intend to get food there, a crab cocktail which was extraordinary. We could have occupied the lounge seating but this proved my point:
Sitting at the bar is so much more fun.