The greatness of dinner at the bar has nothing to do with chicken wings at your neighborhood video poker joint. We’re not talking about the time you forgot to make a reservation for your anniversary, and bar stools were the only seats left. Intentionally enjoying a fantastic meal at the bar drains the stuffy formality from fine dining, creating a warmer experience without suffering losses in service or cuisine.
My favorite Vegas dinner at the bar was at the former Rosemary’s, a bustling lounge where you’d likely run into a friend while munching refined yet homey food, carefully paired with wine or beer. We’ll have to wait a few years to see if Rosemary’s second coming includes similar atmospherics. Sage (Aria, 877-230-2742) is kinda the CityCenter version of Rosemary’s, with amplified scenery. Once you sample a craft beer or creative cocktail in its intimate, deeply purple lounge, you’ll be too happy and hungry to need a table. Snack on a poached egg with smoked potato and bacon, then move on to stellar entrees like braised veal cheeks with purple yam.
A great steakhouse is an obvious place for bar-top dining, and Craftsteak (MGM Grand, 891-7318) is still among the best anywhere. There’s a killer bourbon list, and that feels like the right drink in this dark, masculine bar, flecked with amber light from the dining room. Seemingly on the other side of the world is the Charcoal Room (Santa Fe Station, 515-4385). When I lived out here in Centennial Hills, it didn’t take me long to realize this was the best restaurant in the neighborhood. The beef and sides are consistently great, and I miss chilling at the square, red leather-accented bar and watching basketball over an icy martini.
Vintner Grill (10100 W. Charleston Blvd., 214-5590) is often overlooked as one of the best neighborhood restaurants in Las Vegas. Its stylish, wide-open space has a San Francisco vibe, and if you’re feeling it, get the bouillabase, fresh seafood in a delicious saffron broth. Don’t leave without partaking in the incredible cheese program, a natural fit at the long marble bar, where you can taste away with matching wines.
Some restaurants offer distinct ambiance in their bar spaces. Comme Ça (Cosmopolitan, 698-7910) is a somewhat casual French brasserie, but its lounge is totally laid-back and its skilled barmen mix spectacular classic cocktails. Combine those elements with comfort foods like steamed mussels or slow-cooked veal with polenta and you’ve found the total package.
Back on the west side, Nittaya’s Secret Kitchen (2110 N. Rampart Blvd., 360-8885) is tiny, so its charming wine bar is the best place for a cozy date of shared Thai small plates. The food is highly creative and the service very friendly. Every neighborhood should have a place like this.