Dining at the bar is no longer an act reserved for bachelors or people who prefer their dinners to consist mostly of cocktails. It has become a full-fledged dining experience for those flying solo, or those who want to get in and out of a place a little faster. Do it often enough and you quickly achieve regular status, just as you might at your favorite watering hole. And at many restaurants, you’re no longer relegated to just appetizers or limited entrées while the full menu taunts you from just a few feet away. Like a server, the bartender can coach you through what’s best for the day, clue you in to some off-menu items and suggest the perfect beverage to go with your meal. But you’ll get to know the bartender a little more than you would your server—it’s intimate, yet informal. As one of my dining companions put it: Eating at the bar is like eating with the staff. Plus, at the bar, your server is never too far away to flag down. Check out these three bars that don’t play second fiddle to the dining room.
No white tablecloth necessary. Just because you’re eating in the lounge at Sage doesn’t mean you’re missing out on the simple, precise cuisine that garnered chef Shawn McClain a James Beard Award. The contemporary American restaurant’s lounge menu has most of the dining room’s greatest hits, including wagyu tartare with egg yolk and the foie gras custard brulée with crispy chocolate. In fact, the bar menu differs from the main menu in only a couple of ways: If you’re just looking for a nosh to go along with your cocktails, charcuterie and cheese can be ordered via iPad (though the bar staff can walk you through with just as much knowledge), and the slow-poached farm egg, rich and decadent, is slightly cheaper than in the dining room, as the lounge version doesn’t have truffles (though you’re welcome to request them). Additionally, Sage’s signature oysters with piquillo pepper and Tabasco sorbet and tequila mignonette can be ordered by the piece rather than committing to a half or full dozen. And if you’re really lucky, you may be let in on a secret menu item, if it’s available: oxtail crostini, braised with sweet-and-sour onions. In Aria, 877-230-2742.
Mad Max. It’s no secret that one of the best things about the bar at Delmonico Steakhouse is Max Solano, Emeril Lagasse Restaurants’ mixologist and Delmonico’s beverage manager. What is a secret, however, is his menu of whiskey cocktails that is only available when he’s on duty. An aficionado of the brown-spirit world, Solano is excited to educate guests about a realm in which they may have feared to tread. And chances are there’s something in his book that he’s already got to go along with the big, bold flavors of the Louisiana-influenced cuisine. Lagasse’s signature dishes all make an appearance on the bar menu, from his authentic New Orleans gumbo and signature barbecue shrimp to fried young chicken and the hefty Delmonico burger, all of which Solano can pair expertly—according to the dish and your tastes—to the tune of whiskey. In the Venetian, 414-3737.
It’s a Man’s World. On any given night around the bar at Old Homestead, there are men. The kind of men who appreciate the classic steakhouse experience, as well as a properly crafted Manhattan. They loosen their ties as their ice-cold martini and oysters Rockefeller are placed in front of them, and know to order their massive steaks at a perfect medium-rare because anything above that is disrespectful to the prized beef. Maybe the draw for them is the view, whether it’s of the TVs behind the bar that offer sports, or the open plan that allows for watching the parade of people that passes the restaurant. Or maybe because the dark-wood bar seems like a really masculine place to hang out. Whatever it is, Old Homestead draws in a lot of gentlemen who appear to be rewarding themselves with a really good piece of meat. And this lady likes it, too. In Caesars Palace, 731-7558.