Review: Herbie's Vintage 72 in St. Louis

A new linen tablecloth has been brought out for a trio of girls who slide into a plush maroon booth, turning several male heads in the process. In the back the cooks are searing filet mignon; the aroma wafts through the air. A hapless boyfriend stands at the crowded bar with annoyed lady in tow, frantically waving his credit card for the bartender’s attention. On a bustling Friday night, Herbie’s Vintage 72 moves at the kind of breakneck pace that made its predecessor, Cafe Balaban, famous as an after-hours playground for the upwardly mobile.

After spending a year in mothballs, the space at 405 N. Euclid Ave. recently reopened under the watchful eyes of Jeff Orbin and Aaron Teitelbaum, co-owners of Maplewood’s Monarch Restaurant. Not wanting to stray too far from the original concept (and the original fan base), the pair chose to honor the former owner by naming the new spot after him and the year of his original opening.

Old-school Balaban’s enthusiasts will be well-pleased with the space’s latest incarnation, a seamless blend of vintage 1972 and contemporary touches. The walls, bar and windows sport luxe new treatments, but the famous French posters, vintage light fixtures and marble-topped tables remain. Everything has been polished and refinished. On either side of the bar, patrons sit back in the aforementioned red booths to sip on first-rate wines and munch on Beef Wellington and chocolate fritters.
In line at the bar, empty martini glass in hand (the cocktails are damn fine, by the way), I noticed a strange but pleasingly eclectic cast of characters milling about: high-maintenance debutantes wrapped in Burberry, one of them sporting a fedora; middle-aged couples smoking Marlboros and talking politics; even a yutz in a backward ball cap (why are these not illegal yet indoors?) in the corner sipping on a pint. The yutz notwithstanding, Herbie’s is a gorgeous playpen for gorgeous people. As much as anyone, I always assumed St. Louis exported its pretty faces to New York and Chicago. Turns out I’ve just been going to the wrong bars. This one has some serious talent.
At once a watering hole and a see-and-be-seen spot, Herbie’s has encapsulated the proper ingredients for a great night out. The dimly lit, sexy atmosphere is punctuated by a well-selected soundtrack of oft-forgotten tunes from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Smoking is allowed, even encouraged, at the bar – even more so in the exclusive, members-only cigar lounge in a back room.

As for the booze, take your pick. Herbie’s offers 18 wines by the glass, an impressive little collection of single-malt scotches, and more than a half-dozen drafts, including a number of Schlaflys. There’s a solid selection of bottled beer, about 15 foreign and locals, and plenty of top-shelf liquor. Sazeracs are popular right now, but I’d advise asking the bartender for a suggestion; these guys know their booze. 

Service is admirable, especially considering the packed house. The bar staff is there to work, and it shows: Stiff drinks are served up quick.

I’m a sucker for old-school style and classic drinks; Herbie’s Vintage 72 is teeming with both. There’s a definite buzz in the air, something very rare in most of the bars I visit, a genuine feeling that this is the place to be. Who knows whether or not this will be the case in a few months, but for now, Herbie’s is the hot spot for swanky, late-night kicks in the West End.

Check it: First-class atmosphere, first-class drinks.
Hipster or Hoosier: Pretty people, working professionals (not that kind), gold diggers, Balaban’s expats, first-date couples.
Suds or ’Tinis: Keep it old-school: martinis and high balls.
Where: Herbie's Vintage 72, 405 N. Euclid Ave., St. Louis, 314.769.9595
When: Mon. to Fri. – 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., Sat. – 5 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., Sun. – 10:30 a.m. to midnight

Tags : Places, Reviews, Bars