Think about the classic barroom, where every detail seems geared toward short-term hospitality: The precarious stools, the pickled eggs, the closed-end mirth of happy hour its Miller Time, but the clock is ticking. That kind of efficiency comes in handy when you need to meet briefly with someone in order to, say, dump and/or fire them. (Thanks for coming. Whats your poison? Its not you, its me. Corporates making us downsize. I wish you the best, but I gotta run, because Im starving and this seat is killing my ass.) But suppose you're not so sure you want to booze and bolt. Maybe you've got a first date with some potential. Or you suspect maybe a cocktail or two could transform your officemates from a gaggle of cubicle-dwelling dullards into a group of people you'd actually eat a meal with. You want a bar that can rise to the occasion. A place where you can make the transition from just-drinking friends to something more serious — like dining companions. Next time you need a place that can seamlessly morph from watering hole to feed bag, try one of these versatile establishments.
With spring weather approaching, start your night with creative equatorial cocktails on the patio beneath a metal palm tree and a perpetually full moon. Oh, wait that's the neon Starbucks sign next door, but Rumba's roster of innovative muddlings (think mojitos, caipirihnas and margaritas) will transport you from West End to the West Indies with a zesty array of ginger, mint, peppers and citrus. When you ante up for another round, check out the menu of Latin, Asian and Caribbean inspirations, such as grouper tacos, seafood curry and coconut shrimp. 3009 West End Ave.
One of the prettiest dining rooms in town, the restaurant in the cool Hutton Hotel has a stealthy, sultry lounge behind the bar, with low lighting and comfortable sofas, where the subtle palette of pale blues and greens screams out for a Bombay Sapphire martini with extra olives. If the mood strikes, you can repair to the dining room for the full (and pricey) board, or canoodle in the back with a seared tuna taco or $10 burger that rivals any in town. 1808 West End Ave.
Saddle up next to the long wooden bar, or tuck away in the clubby brick-lined rooms upstairs to peruse the wine-and-cocktail list for a $10 glass of bubbly or a $180 bottle of Cakebread. When you succumb to the rosy glow of the room, accented by the grill flames in the open kitchen, take a culinary world tour via chef-owner Jason McConnell's menu of pork chop with sorghum, salmon ceviche tacos, and exotic mushrooms with chili cream over grit cakes. Or for a change of scenery between drinks and dinner, cross the road to one of McConnell's other Main Street hotspots, Sol or 55 South. 408 Main St., Franklin.
While the buzz about this midtown speakeasy circles around the cocktails, don't write off the Patterson House as a booze-only situation. Remember, to make a bacon old fashioned, you need bacon, and The Patterson House puts the leftover rashers of hickory-smoked Benton's pork to good use on the Elvis panini with peanut butter and parsley. Shrimp corndogs, fig-and-prosciutto flatbreads and housemade donuts make solid sop for the roster of inventive artisanal cocktails, so once you get a coveted seat in the inner sanctum, you may as well hang onto it for dinner. 1711 Division St.
The name says it all about this gatehouse to the Gulch, which serves equal parts cocktails and cuisine. Cozy booths, a long bar, tall tables and a patio provide plenty of room for sipping, sitting and circulating. When youve had your fill of socializing, tuck your napkin under your chin for a hearty blend of gourmet and grub. The roster of yam fries with sea salt and brown sugar; fried green tomatoes with apple butter, boursin and country ham tapenade; and Guinness-battered fish and chips is better than youd expect from pub fare but nothing less than youd expect from the team behind Lime, Virago and the soon-to-come Kayne Prime steak house on the Gulchs emerging M Street dining district. 118 12th Ave. S.
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