Praising the Bar

Maybe it was because I was alone, carrying a book, that the bartender at this joint in the Gables inquired if I was on my way to a lecture at Books & Books. It was strangely flattering to think someone thought I looked like the type who attended such events, but no, I had to admit, although I was on Giralda Avenue, just blocks away from the bookstore, I was not headed there. She, the bartender with the Lisa Loeb glasses, went on to tell me the guy who wrote about the string theory would be speaking there soon, and I did know about the string theory, didn't I? Not wanting to further diminish whatever remnants of intellectual credibility I had left, I ventured a guess. In hindsight I should have known it had nothing to do with yo-yos, but the point is that The Bar is a local hangout where you can engage in this sort of attempt at friendly banter, not just with bartenders, but with strangers on neighboring barstools. Better yet you can do so while sipping from an eclectic selection of 22 bottles or 11 drafts of beer.

A large, rectangular mahogany bar anchors the center of the room with twenty seats; wooden booths on the left and right hold seventy more. Royal-blue walls adorned with international beer posters, televisions dangling from the ceiling at all four corners, thick wood blinds covering the windows that face the street, and low lighting, with a few red-and-yellow bulbs giving off a honky-tonk orange glow, add up to pub ambiance with pool-hall cool -- without the pool tables. There are games, though, from backgammon to Battleship, as well as free live rock and roll on Saturday nights, ladies' nights Tuesdays and Fridays, and other such barlike festivities.

It's a fun place, but they take their brews seriously, the menu detailing where they come from, their taste characteristics, and how they affect the palette. On tap are Guinness, Foster's, and many more obscure ones, like the cloudy wheat beer Tucher Hefe-Weizen, or the light American house lager Hofbrew Helles, that "starts off a little sweet and ends a little bitter." In bottles: Bud and Amstel Light, Pilsner Urquell, and Anchor Steam, and rarer finds such as OranjeBoom from Holland ("hints of vanilla and bitterness"), La Fin du Monde (a triple brew from Quebec with potent nine percent alcohol content), and Corsendonk (an ale brewed by Monks in Belgium with "malty hints of port, raisins, and black chocolate" followed by "hints of fruit, smoke, and yeast"). Pints run from $3.50 to $4.50; pitchers $12.50 to $16; bottles $3.25 to $6.50.

It's been my observation that those who do things well do all things well, and those who don't, don't. Consistently. In the context of restaurants it means that The Bar, because it's able to put out a sterling version of standard bar fare, like ten fresh Buffalo wings with blue cheese dressing and hot sauce for $4.95, would also be able to produce a formidable veal chop with truffle oil for $34.95 if so inclined; conversely those who can't competently cook a coq au vin would likewise fail at burgers. The Bar's burgers are better than most, a hand-formed, charbroiled half-pounder with fries for $5.25 (a full pounder $6.95). Grilled London broil in garlic bread with melted provolone ($6.95) also hits the spot, as does the roasted-on-premise turkey that fills a sandwich ($5.75) and club ($6.50). Fish and chips ($7.50) were excellent, two spears of tasty, cleanly fried, beer-battered cod. Then again, this was early Saturday evening, and with seven of eight appetizers getting cooked in that oil (chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, calamari, et cetera), the later rock and roll crowd might not have been treated to quite so crisp a fry. Key lime pie and chocolate cake are available as dessert; eleven single-malt scotches and twenty-one cordials are other viable postdinner options.

The Bar's owners will be opening the Purdy Lounge in South Beach next month. If my theory on competency holds, the Purdy should become the second in a string of continuing successes. I hope to be lecturing on this subject sometime in the near future.

The Bar. 172 Giralda Ave, Coral Gables; 305-442-2730. Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday, 11:30 till 2:00 a.m.; for dinner only Sunday from 5:30 p.m. till 2:00 a.m.


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