The Hours: 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday
The Details: Appetizers and well drinks are $4, and you get $1 off all beers and $2 off wine by the glass. All wine bottles are $8 off.
There's an instant, come-as-you-are vibe that radiates through SideBar, with its eclectic mix of patrons streaming in on a late Friday afternoon: the middle-aged man in couch-casual talking sports, the young hipster in an infinity scarf, the career-minded businesswoman who's probably more than ready to ditch those heels. You wouldn't expect, with its contemporary, artsy-chic decor, that this is one of those places where everybody knows your name (and frequently, it's "dude").
It's so relaxed, in fact, that it's hard to feel anything but compassion when the single bartender working the entire place (on First Friday, no less) abandons you mid-sentence to serve a regular (oh well, he makes his way back). During the wait, we watched the flatscreen TVs - showing, not sports, but the kind of old movies mocked so mercilessly by the robots of Mystery Science Theater 3000. On the screen, a group of American spacemen (wearing those clingy grey flight-suits that leave little to the imagination) have just landed on a planet of hot, curvy ladies. Isn't that always the way?
See how SideBar stacked up after this rocky start after the jump.
When our turn comes round again, we order two of the four nibbles offered: Red Pepper Hummus and Warm Spinach Artichoke Dip w/ Parmesan (you can also get Warm Artichoke Jalapeño Dip or a Fudge Brownie). Both are served with big white bowls of pita chips, "served" in this case meaning that the lids are popped off of the little plastic tubs. It's not that they're not tasty, just that it feels like you're at a friend's house and she just got back from the grocery with some "appetizers." That she's going to put on the coffee table. Next to your feet.
Luckily, the White Rabbit (Frangelico, Smirnoff vodka, White Godiva liqueur, Horchata, garnished with a vanilla sugar rim) more than lives up to SideBar's reputation for cocktails. A quick look down the list shows there are many more we'd like to try, too.
The Interior: The entrance to SideBar is an oddly imposing door on the side of a little brick building that also houses - quite incongruently - a Starbucks and a Pei Wei. The parking lot seems like an oasis at first amidst the often treacherous search for street-side spots, but during crowded times it can quickly devolve into a nightmare (we waited at least ten minutes while a mini-traffic-jam sorted itself out before leaving our space).
The door opens on a black-stained wood staircase that leads up to the bar, introducing the continuing feel of entering that one tiny, neglected theater on campus where the theater kids staged their own psychedelic productions of Hamlet and You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Upstairs, it's a fairly small but welcoming space, with a lounge area, bar, and high-top tables. The exposed brick walls are decorated with colorful local art, and the super-modern barstools are more about looks than comfort (or would be, after a trip through the car wash).
The Cost: Two appetizers and two drinks came to under $25, before tip and tax - but that was our fault for not ordering from the well (a Jack and Coke came to $6.75) or the extensive, 45-beer and 40-wine lists. Not that the $9 White Rabbit cocktail wasn't worth it.
The Conclusion: It was a rough evening for SideBar, but the vibrant atmosphere and fresh air and sunshine from the open windows kept our spirits high (and the drinks helped). If you're looking for a small downtown spot to linger over an expertly crafted cocktail (if only these had a happy-hour discount!) with a few friends (and some new "dudes"), then SideBar might be just the place for you. But we came to happy hour hungry, and it's not every day you see $4 apps - or even "nibbles" - served quite this casually.
Overall Grade: B-