That “drink after work” thing is not really about a drink. It’s an escape from ennui, stale air, the copier just ran out of toner, we didn’t like the tone of that last email from our biggest client, and there’s a personal text message on our cell phone we’ve decided not to answer until later. Much later.
We claw our way out of the office, desperate for a breeze and a cocktail, and begin the search for an outside venue, of which there are precious few, and those include curbside seating on busy streets and tables in parking lots.
But Artisan in the Delamar Hotel in Southport opens their back doors onto an open-air bar and patio where, if you pretend a little bit, you can think you are in Europe.
The hotel itself provides privacy from traffic on three sides, and the tiny street that abuts the fourth is private. Bicycles are lined up in sturdy racks, rattan furniture and Adirondack chairs are scattered in conversational groupings, and flowers hang from trellises and bloom in pots and boxes; hence, the name: the Pergola, Patio, and Garden Bar.
Artisan’s outdoors does not stop at being a beautiful venue. At a CT Bites event for cocktail seekers and foodies on May 15, I found myself lurking around the door to the kitchen, waiting for the servers to emerge with hors d’oeuvres and following my favorites around, while trying to look like I was going somewhere else.
Little shot glasses of chilled gazpacho with crabmeat and avocado was first, followed by veal tongue crostini and pickled mustard seeds. The foie gras-chicken meatballs with a concord grape glaze were served on a platter with little individual wooden tongs. Cute. Roasted local oysters served on the shell, saffron-pickled mussels bruschetta, and codfish fritter in escabeche sauce. I had to look up “escabeche” when I got home.
But my favorite was the pigs-in-a-blanket, which were absolutely nothing like the stupid miniature hot dogs rolled up in pie dough that are sometimes passed off as food. These were bite-sized slices of chorizo sausage in little nests of toasted pastry. I ate nine.
Afraid that perhaps the kitchen had put its best foot forward for its “bar food” that night, I went back, disguised as one of the unwashed and ordered a modest chardonnay and a couple of “snacks” off the menu. However, either my disguise didn’t work, or the kitchen puts out consistently memorable food. The two random appetizers were exquisite. Tuna crudi with eggplant chutney and minted yogurt sauce and grilled calamari with green tomato chutney.
Don’t stop there. Outdoor cocktailers can order from the lunch or dinner menus, and they should. I predict a busy summer there. I’m just curious what regulars are going to call the place. The Pergola, Patio, and Garden Bar is a mouthful. The “PP&G Bar” just doesn’t sound right. I’ll be there no matter what people call it.