Happy hour, with something missing
By Fritz Hahn
Friday, May 11, 2012
How important are great deals and hospitable service if a place is deserted?
That's what I wondered a few weeks ago, when friends and I went to Eventide's revamped first-floor bar after work and saw only four people at the long bar and three more in the dining room. Meanwhile, down the block in Clarendon, Liberty Tavern was packed, and a few streets away, Lyon Hall was buzzing. With $3 Dogfish Head drafts and $5 glasses of wine and appetizers on offer, everything should be clicking at Eventide's new Odd Bar. I'd been ready to say it had one of the neighborhood's best happy hours - but why didn't anyone else agree with me?
Odd Bar replaced Eventide's street-level bar in February with the goal of broadening its audience. The lounge's crowd was frequently dominated by older diners who were waiting to go to the two-year-old restaurant upstairs, and the inventive bar food and cocktails weren't pulling in regular customers.
"I think we limited ourselves a bit," said Nick Freshman, one of Eventide's owners. "We had customers coming in and asking for things we didn't have, with draft beer being the glaring example."
Hence Odd Bar, named for the building's original 1925 use as a lodge for the International Order of Odd Fellows. Now there are four taps pouring Blue Moon, Dogfish Head, Oskar Blues and Fat Tire ($6, or $3 during happy hour), bigger flat-screen TVs and a crowd-pleasing menu of boneless buffalo chicken wings, house-baked pretzel sticks, charcuterie and Carolina barbecue sliders.
Bar manager Tim Irwin also added '20s and '30s cocktails - the Vieux Carre, the 20th Century Cocktail - and new creations in the same vein. The Malaysian Jubilee combines sweet amaretto, Frangelico and Kirschwasser spiced with house-made ginger beer. There's a retro cocktail offered every day at happy hour for $5.50; May's deal is the Hemingway Daiquiri.
The bar's redesign was intended to invite a more casual crowd, too. Huge booths made way for high-top tables and brown leather chairs to facilitate moving around and socializing. The walls got a coat of blue paint and large paintings depicting Arlington landmarks, such as the big "OK" Bob Peck used-car sign that sat on Wilson Boulevard. On Saturday nights, a DJ supplies up-tempo pop and electronic grooves.
On paper, this is all good, especially at happy hour, but it never seems as busy as I'd expect. When I met friends there for drinks late on a Saturday night, it was easy for the three of us to get bar stools. Meanwhile, there's a long line outside Spider Kelly's next door.
One place where I suspect won't have any trouble drawing crowds: Eventide's expanded rooftop bar. The first Sunday of each month features a themed party with chefs working the barbecue grill while bar manager Irwin leads booze tastings and bartenders shake up Prohibition-era cocktails or served canned craft beers. Can't wait until next month? The rooftop is open Tuesday through Saturday for drinks, beginning at 4 p.m.