Tapas bars have been slowly appearing on the nightlife scene witness Gazuza, Sole, the new Jaleo so it was no shock when a tapas lounge arrived in Adams Morgan in the middle of July. Meze (named for the Middle Eastern small plates similar to tapas) takes the place of Mo Bay Cafe and is worth a visit, whether you're interested in the food, cocktails or just hanging out.
The first floor's bar area was full on a recent Friday night, and it was easy to see why. The music on the CD player (including Jill Scott and Macy Gray) was a refreshing contrast to the usual house music you hear at lounges, and the decor periwinkle walls, classically inspired paintings in shades of gold, pressed tin ceilings colored bronze is bright and cozy, in contrast to most of the 18th Street strip.
My friend and I studied the small cocktail menu, which offers the standard selections: Cosmos, Manhattans and the now ubiquitous apple martinis. I was squeezed up to the counter to order our drinks when Omer, the manager and owner, appeared and asked if we wanted seats. He walked to the end of the short bar, asking people if the bags on otherwise unoccupied chairs were theirs. At the very end of the counter, he beckoned us over -- "Is one seat okay?"
That helpful gesture and it isn't the only one we've witnessed in Meze's first weeks is how you build a following of customers, although Meze has probably assured itself of success with three little words: "tapas until close." If you go out in Adams Morgan, your choices are well documented and there are some nights when you don't crave pizza, empanadas, burritos or diner food. Be thankful, then, that Meze's late-night menu includes 10 of the 30 mezes on the dinner menu and that it's served from 10 to midnight Sunday through Thursday and 11 to 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
The tapas range from $4 to $8, most are classically Mediterranean. At the bar, the most popular seemed to be the cheese platter: three pieces of Mediterranean cheese, two slices of cantaloupe and a bunch of grapes. The Kofte (meatballs sprinkled with onions and parsley) is spicy and delicious, whether you order the meat (lamb and ground beef) or vegetarian (lentils and bulgur).
Not eating? There's still a good reason to visit. Upstairs is a much smaller lounge three couches, a few tables for two and a tiny bar with a few stools. It's dark, intimate and perfect for a date, as the electronic music isn't too loud to preclude conversation. Too bad it's only open on Friday and Saturday from 10 until close. That will change around September, I'm told, once everything else is running smoothly.
By that time, however, Meze will surely need the space. The bar area is small, and the patio and inside tables are held for diners until 10 p.m. (if it's possible, groups that can't fit at the bar are seated). My only complaint: Service on the fenced patio can be slow, and plenty of people seem to linger long after their plates are removed. Minor problems, to be sure, but when there aren't any tables and you're dying for a shish kebab at 2 a.m., it's annoying.
Meze has no dress code, no cover and a terrific vibe. You might want to check it out before it becomes the new Adams Morgan late-night-spot-of-choice.
-- Fritz Hahn