Review: The Dark Room
When the sun goes down in Midtown, a steady crowd fills the neighborhood’s popular wine bar. And once a jazz trio is in full swing on The Dark Room’s small stage, an empty seat is a rare find. Here’s a quick look inside this eclectic Grand Center hot spot.
The Space The space is essentially a modern, minimalist art gallery with a well-stocked bar attached. Flat metal sheets line the walls of the main seating area, covered with still photography prints pinned down by magnets. The industrial chairs and tables filling out the Spartan interior, indelicately lit by hanging track lights, serve as a blank canvas. Freeform and casual, the installations are in keeping with the feel of the place, and they continually revolve to feature new artistic talent. A handful of high-tops by the bar afford a great view of Grand Avenue.
The Drinks The good news is that there was a wide variety of bottles, including some decent Scotch, brandy and liqueurs. The bad news is, after several visits, the classic and signature cocktail menu failed to deliver anything worth ordering twice. The Da Vinci Mode whiskey cocktail was bland rather than tart as advertised, and seemingly nonalcoholic. Worse was the gin-based Everything Nice, an $8 glass of muddled sugar water. You’re safe ordering a Gin and Tonic, but it is a wine bar, after all – and a good one.
By-the-glass options were well chosen (a nice spattering of French, Argentine, Spanish, Italian and Californian vineyards) and helpfully broken down by flavor profile in an informative little menu guide for non-connoisseurs. The masterful collection of drinkable reds, whites and sparkling wines, ranging from $7 to $18, is due in part to Denise Mueller, The Dark Room’s certified sommelier who opts for artisanal wines and lesser-known industry favorites.
A heavily local beer selection (ubiquitous these days, but nonetheless appreciated) featured hits like Perennial Artisan Ales and 4 Hands Brewing Co. for $5 to $6.
The Food The Dark Room’s menu had its share of hits and misses. Simple options like the chicken-bacon-Swiss cheese flatbread and the Artisan Mix Board, which coupled Volpi charcuterie with some scrumptious cheeses, were just the right savory shared snacks to enjoy with a few friends and few glasses of wine. While it was nice to see main entrees included casual and shareable options, a few of them might need to be reexamined. The chicken Florentine meatballs were notably bland, and it’s pretty hard to screw up a simple caprese, but with hard, pale tomatoes and a barely existent basil sauce garnish, the salad failed to deliver much in terms of flavor. Stick with wine bar standards like cheese and charcuterie.
The Atmosphere Live music and DJs blow the doors off The Dark Room five nights a week – all for the price of a drink, since there’s never a cover charge. The stage up front hosts real-deal original tunes by up-and-coming artists as well as tried-and-true sounds from a variety of serious, professional collaborators. On my visits, sessions were frequented by an upbeat, dressy-casual crowd of older professionals and middle-aged urban dwellers who hovered around the bar chatting and laughing with friends while taking in the music. Rotating bands hit the chords until midnight on weekends, making The Dark Room a popular spot for the after-show crowd from neighboring Powell Hall and The Fabulous Fox Theatre. Many pop in early for a quick drink before hitting their evening show, too. While it may not be as expansive and well known as its neighbors, this edgy and intimate little jazz and wine spot holds its own.
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