My wife and I love to eat at the bar…any bar. Some of our most interesting meals have been at restaurants that have excellent bars, where the bartenders are more than happy to serve a meal, as well as a drink. And from a service perspective? I’ll take a good bartender as my waiter any day. I have received enough indifferent table service at supposedly good restaurants to realize that good service is a rare thing indeed. And most bartenders like to talk to people; why else would they be bartenders? Service is mostly about talking to your customers to find out what they want anyway. And the food will be the same as at a table in the restaurant, unless they have a special bar menu, which, in and of itself, is a good thing.
There is a certain intimacy when sitting side by side that lends itself to bar dining. Oh, if the bar is packed and you have to fight for elbow room, it isn’t as much fun, and definitely not as intimate, but the people-watching in a crowded bar is certainly great. And sitting side by side, sharing some interesting dish while drinking ice-cold martinis and watching (and listening to) the guy next to you try to pick up the bartender is always amusing. Knowing in advance that his chances are about as good as winning the lottery adds a certain sangue-froid to one’s appreciation of the carnage. But the food-sharing may be the best part of the experience. I love perusing the menu with my wife, discussing the interesting appetizers and negotiating which main course we will split. And speaking of the bartenders; my guess is that since food adds to the total bill, they are going to be interested in making the typical bar-diner happy. We’ve gotten interesting drink recommendations and countless tastes of wines when we weren’t sure what to order.
We have had great times at the bar at upscale restaurants such as Bar Americain (order the fries and the onion soup) and Otto in Manhattan and Aqua (the salmon steak is incredible) in San Francisco. But we also have enjoyed ourselves at neighborhood places such as Porter House (get the burger) in Montvale and Sabor (avocado mash and a mojito–perfect!) in Hawthorne, both in New Jersey!
So what’s the downside? Well, if you are part of a party of more than 2 or 3 people, it is impossible to have a pleasant communal conversation, so limit your party to 3, or ideally 2, and you will be very happy.