After a few visits to Saphire, the bar and restaurant that replaced Bethesda's Candy Apple Red in June 2002, certain aesthetic elements began to annoy me. Despite the cheerful Nantucket colors and the way the skylights bathed the room in light, my eye was drawn to the non-matching marble slabs on and behind the bar, the jumble-sale juxtaposition of brass and silver-colored fixtures, the fake ivy on the sideboards (which look like they came from my grandmother's living room and don't match the wooden bar, by the way). Over in the dining room, it gets worse: green window treatments, clubby chairs on wheels and large scenes of European cities sketched on the walls.
When my friends and I stopped snickering, though, we found a few things to like about the place. Beers average $4 outside of happy hour (fairly standard for the neighborhood) and there's a decent selection of drafts, ranging from Pilsner Urquell to Yuengling. Mixed drinks are large and well made. While bartenders are attentive, the waitstaff often seems overwhelmed, and sitting at a table invariably means waiting around with an empty glass.
Eating presents a different problem: sandwiches and burgers are only available at lunch, so anyone looking for a quick bite after work or late at night has a choice between the very limited appetizer menu, which includes chicken satay and a smallish shrimp quesadilla, or one of the large entrees, primarily steak or seafood coated with a rich and ultra-flavorful sauce. Either way, delivery from the kitchen can be numbingly slow. The one bright spot are the crab poppers, which feature creamy crab meat inside a fried coating more often used for jalapenos or onion rings. Trust me - they're good bar food.
Wisely, Saphire refinished Candy Apple Red's biggest asset: the wooden back deck. As it looks over a parking lot, there's no view to speak of, but the umbrella-shaded tables are a comfortable place to hang out and have a few drinks. At this point, Saphire's deck and happy hour specials - 20 percent off from 4-7 - aren't enough to draw me away from the plethora of bars and restaurants a few blocks away around the Woodmont Triangle. If Saphire wants to stick around longer than its predecessors in this space (which include the long-gone Tequila Sunrise and a driving school), it has to give more reasons to come.
-- Fritz Hahn (June 2002)