Friday, August 5, 2011

The Bar within a Bar

I went out for drinks last Friday at a place called Last Exit.  It's a speakeasy style joint and it is literally a bar within a bar.  It's nestled inside Tonic: Mt Pleasant with a sign that was unlit when I walked by.  That may have been the point.  A hipper friend picked the place (because it's about 2 block from her apartment), and I expected a nondescript door, but honestly had to call her once my girlfriend and I arrived because I saw no doors, no signs, no placards, nada.

After figuring out where it was, I immediately liked the basement party darkness the bar emanated.  If you've been to Tonic, either Tonic, you know it's a pretty straightforward sports bar atmosphere.  The contrast in styles just by crossing the threshold was a bit jarring (I'm predisposed to like sports bars), but I dug it.  This, combined with some great, comfy lounge furniture and I was sold.  There were a few high top tables as well, if you wanted the over the table intimacy that comes from being in a dark bar.  But for me, heaven was the old, comfy chair I decamped to for the evening.  Seriously, I didn't leave that spot for several hours and if not for the call of nature I wouldn't have moved all night.

The drink menu is an interesting mix of cocktails and beers.  Given the vibe of the place and the comfort of the chair, I opted to start with a cocktail and tried out the Sazerac Willie.  It was a great mix of whiskey and bitters.  I had been concerned the absinthe might take the drink over, but it sat in the background adding a different dimension to the bitters.  And so I drank that in 5 minutes because it had been that kind of Friday and followed up with a Violetta.  It is essentially a mint julep, and is supposed to come with chocolate chips.  I passed on the chocolate.  Violetta is part of the Infusion section of the drink menu, which is what I think Last Exit wants to be the drinks you come back for.  There were some great combinations on the menu, but at $10 a drink my tab was running up and it'd only been 20 minutes.  I drink quickly.

I shifted to beer to help out my wallet and my liver.  You can't go wrong with $5 sixteen ounce draft Natty Bos.  Natty Bo being the hipster beer of the moment (sorry PBR), and the lowest ticket option it made sense for my overall plan.  However, there were a number of great beers available and an option for any discerning beer drinker (which I am not).

They also serve a number of small plates and I have to admit I was not excited.  Tonic for brunch in solid, but my last few dinner at Tonic: Mt Pleasant have been...well, bad.  Still, my compatriots craved sustenance and I kept my apprehension to myself.  I didn't have all the dishes they ordered but it doesn't matter because I know what the best dish is, the pate.  Seriously, ridiculously, magically delicious pate.  I've made pate before, it's not hard to make, but it's hard to get right and they got it right.  I spent five minutes wondering what was in their pate that wasn't in my pate that made theirs head and shoulder ahead of mine.  I never figured it out, but I did finally grab another slice of bread and slather it up.
Remnants of the pate

By around 11:30, I was two cocktails and three 16oz Natty Bos deep.  The cool temperature in the place, combined with the imminently comfy chair was conspiring to put me to sleep/pass out.  I nearly did, but we closed out and I left drunk and noticeably lighter in the wallet.  That said, I plan to go back.  The cocktails were great, the service was excellent, the pate was a moment, and the atmosphere straddled the line between upscale and pretentious.

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