Review: Tavern of Fine Arts in St. Louis

Two reasons to like the Tavern of Fine Arts: first, the location. Tucked into a nondescript side street of the DeBaliviere Place neighborhood, Tavern emerged this August as the new kid at school, too cool to care where everyone else was hanging out. Second, the dynamic (and gutsy) concept: Proprietors Matt Daniels and Aaron Johnson, both musicians, are using the venue to showcase the rich cultural outcroppings from our own backyard.

More importantly, you have to love the booze, specifically the French Quarter cocktail: a wicked combo of Bourbon, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, bitters and a hit of absinthe. Served in a smart little stemmed glass, it’s a throwback to those strong, slap-in-the-face drinks I wish more bartenders still knew how to sling. Though primarily a wine bar, this tavern packs some talent in its nominal selection of four or five classic cocktails (i.e. martinis, manhattans, Negronis). Likewise, much attention and intelligence have been poured into the wine menu, which clearly has been lined with genuine, personal choices rather than tired, ubiquitous or wholesale selections. Standouts included generous pours of the Koyle Carmenere 2009, a rich Chilean red; and a bold and fruity Torremoron Tinto 2008. Another half-dozen or so by-the-glass options go for between $5 and $10. Sadly, this is one “tavern” that has no tap, but it’s obvious that the limited bottle choices – Schlafly Hefeweizen and Ale, Crown Valley Porter and Old School Pilsner – were made with local interests in mind. Hopefully this, as well as the cocktail menu, will evolve with time. Also available are a number of extras: light appetizers, coffee, tea, espresso, apértifs and a bottle or two of quite decent single malt Scotches. (Nice call on the Oban, guys.)
At a glance, the décor appears to be an unimaginative facsimile of what a Soho gallery should be – minimalist-chic to the extreme. But the focus here is where it should be: on the local artists. The white walls in the barroom serve as a blank canvas for a steady stream of colorful abstracts, post-expressionist pieces and other styles, all of which are sold and rotated on a quarterly basis. A dozen or so pieces are showcased for patrons who sip on smart cocktails at a collection of tables and leather club chairs, which rest on a black-and-white checkered main floor. Toward the back, a half-dozen high stools line a slick wooden bar (ably manned, though woefully understocked). The adjacent salon is similarly decked out, with the exception of a grand piano perched near the window of a hardwood floor section. From here, Tavern hosts regular processions of musical, literary and visual fine arts performers who take the stage with acoustical numbers, piano trios, one-act plays, poetry readings and more.

In the absence of a live performance (the main reason to stop by), the vibe is markedly soothing and happily unpretentious. Above all, Tavern is a neighborhood bar – inhabited on a regular basis by casually dressed working professionals with a taste for a nice Pinot and maybe a slice of pesto-slathered flatbread. It’s also easy to peg as an ideal spot for an intimate drink. With an abundance of wine bars around town, Tavern certainly faces tough competition from nearby Central West End. But the street credit is unmistakably building in this venue – a place where the booze, like the atmosphere, is pure art.

Tavern of Fine Arts

French Quarter
The cocktail list is dominated by fresh twists on beloved classics including the French Quarter, a wicked combo of Bourbon, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, bitters and a hit of absinthe.

The Koyle Carmenere 2009 This rich Chilean red is a standout on the wine list, which has clearly been given the intelligence and attention it deserves.

Tavern of Fine Arts
313 Belt Ave., St. Louis, 314.367.7549

Why go?
Live performances, local art and strong cocktails

Tags : Cocktails, Places, Reviews, Wine, Beer, Bars