Food & Drink » Food & Wine

The Red Bar: lounge-y to the max.

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"Big or small?" is normally the question used to shame tourists into buying larger sizes of beer on Beale, but at the Red Bar it's just the standard follow-up question when someone orders a martini. Although I'm used to varying sizes of martinis depending on where I am, I never get different options within the same establishment. Enter the Red Bar, the lounge counterpart to Side Street Grill in Overton Square, where size variety is the spice of life.

The Red Bar is lounge-y to the max. It's dark and smoky with mostly red lights (so it's not just a clever name), a small, intimate bar of only eight seats, and a raucous, close-knit group of regulars. The night we arrived, Tyler, the bartender, told us it was close to getting very busy because of the Saints-Cowboys game that evening. "Are you a Saints bar or a Cowboys bar?" I asked, since nearly every Overton Square bar has a designation. "Neither," Tyler said. "Hell, we're just going to get rowdy at this place anyway, even if no one has a dog in the fight." Sure enough, the lounge fills up, with the most motley of the crews taking over the community table near the TVs.

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Why so rowdy? Having not visited the Red Bar in a couple years, I forgot about their legendary drink menu that lends itself to rowdiness. The drink menu is full of various shooters, all of which can be made into either a small or jumbo-sized martini. The Red Bar doesn't slack in the shooter department; it contains mixtures that have never before been seen, concoctions immediately forgotten about after leaving college or the Florida panhandle, and abominations normally consumed after losing a bet. Factor in the possibility of any of these drinks being served in a three-ounce martini glass and it stands to reason why, suddenly, the Saints-Cowboys game on the TV is the most important life event ever. I took note of the "Hennything is Possible," a mixed drink made from Hennessy. If we can fabricate a mixed drink out of Hennessy, then colonizing Mars can't be far behind.

Tyler, the man at the helm of the bar most nights per week, is the kind of guy everyone wants at their neighborhood watering hole. He greets each person by name as they walk in and immediately pours their drink, handing it to them as they walk past the bar. There's a gentleman nearby drinking a well whiskey and Fireball on the rocks and Tyler is even making this without judgment. (Then again, after a few Cooter Shooters, martini-style, I wouldn't be opposed to trying it for kicks.) Everyone should be so lucky to encounter such an able and affable bartender, a man who knows those kinds of secrets about you.

The Red Bar doesn't just corner the market on shooters; they provide a plethora of delightful daily specials. On Martini Mondays, enjoy their martinis at a discounted price of $5 for small and $10 for a large. Tuesday is Draft and Pasta Night, a carb-laden indulgence of $2.50 pints and $22 pasta dinner for two that includes an appetizer. On Wednesdays, it's Steak Night. For $34, you'll get an appetizer and two steaks plus sides and salads. On Thursdays, all import beers are $2.50. There is a two-drink minimum to take advantage of those food specials, but bear in mind they have a reputation as a bar to uphold.

The night we blew into the Red Bar, Tyler already had a small crowd of regulars seated in front of him. We weren't there for two minutes before we got to know them and fell into the kind of spirited discussion that's normally reserved for close friends. That speaks to the feel of the place, though; it's an amiable crew of close friends that will still welcome visitors into their circle. No one is afraid to have the sort of conversation that turns a stranger into a friend, and in Overton Square, a district slowly becoming a little too sterile in some places for some longtime residents, that's just the feel that I'm seeking.

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