For years, Downtown bar crawls have been a staple in my nightlife repertoire, but they always tend to play out the same way: a cocktail to start at DCR (because they prefer their patrons on the sober side of sloshed), a few rounds at the Griffin (where we bump into somebody we know), then games at Insert Coin(s) or songs at Don’t Tell Mama, before pancakes at Dupar’s and, eventually, my pillow.
Lately I’ve been hankering for something new. So this past weekend, a few friends and I took our crawl in a totally different direction.
In the last month, two new bars have opened in the Arts District—the swank Mingo Kitchen & Lounge at Art Square and gritty-sweet Velveteen Rabbit. With Mingo, Artifice and Bar + Bistro in a tidy little row, the Arts District bars just beg to be hopped.
We start at Bar + Bistro, the neighborhood restaurant and watering hole at the Arts Factory. An open-mic night fills the patio with a mix of artists, musicians and poets, while inside we polish off Sam Adams Summer Ales and make some ground rules: One drink per bar; keep the party moving; no one leaves early. Then we’re off.
The patio chairs are already stacked when we wander into Mingo—a dark, glam lounge from Mundo-owner Mingo Collaso—but with a word from the bartender we’re welcomed inside. A cascade of glass hangs from the ceiling, and the blue-lit bar beckons with an ample beer list and cutely named cocktails that come with their own hashtags. For $10, my Saints & Ginners (#goodgonebad) is made with St. George Gin, cucumber, cilantro, lime and Tabasco. It’s a potent concoction, spicy and deliciously fresh. A friend takes advantage of the barside phone-charging stations (#brilliant), while Mingo tells us the food menu will be expanding soon, with a grand-opening celebration slated for June 20.
Two doors down at Artifice, the show is between sets when we take up spots at the wide bar. As soon as local trio Party Talk takes the stage the tables clear and the dancefloor fills. Under a disco ball, the hip crowd grooves along to the band’s songs, and we swap stories of much-pursued love in Saturday night shout-speak. Party Talk is just heating up as our glasses empty, but this is a bar crawl, and rules are rules.
It’s a pleasant stroll down Main Street to Velveteen Rabbit, the final stop on tonight’s Arts District stomp. After dark, the new bar from sisters Christina and Pam Dylag is slightly isolated among its furniture-store neighbors, but there’s a good crowd here, lounging on high-backed velvet chairs, dancing in front of a video projection and sipping original cocktails around the warmly lit bar. A tempting beer list is written on a chalkboard above taps topped with gold mannequin hands, but I opt for the seasonal surprise punch. Tonight’s rendition is a refreshing tequila and cucumber blend served in a lovely punch glass, and it strikes me that the drink is much like the bar itself—precious, but not overly sweet. For all the whimsical details here, there’s a touch of grit that makes the place feel worn, comfortable and unpretentious. Friends gather around a low table, conversation flows and the night begins to slip away. Before I know it, I’ve broken the first rule of bar crawling: I’ve ordered a second drink.