When I walk into The Bar’s Gilbert location for a media happy hour, I’m struck by how chill it is. Yes, it’s a bar – The Bar, as its no-frills name downplays – but it’s not rowdy. It’s not kitschy or themed or projecting the forced party atmosphere of a bar where grown-ups try to act like college kids. It’s not a quiet, demure little watering hole, either. It occupies a sweet spot where the music is lively, but not conversation-precluding. People are having a good time, but they’re not desperately trying to relive their youth. There are sturdy and stylish stools at the long (actual) bar, big comfy booths framing the room, lounge chairs and low tables in the middle for lingering, and tables inside and on the patio.
Everything is dark – black brick, black walls, black and gray furniture – so it feels like a cool hideaway, a respite from our incessant sunshine. But there’s enough natural light streaming in to keep it from feeling like a cave. There are a handful of TVs, but it doesn’t feel like a sports bar. It’s just a nice little bar. Casual, but still nice. I wish more places struck this pleasant chord.
Shareables, as The Bar calls apps, are $3 off during happy hour. Through January 31, guests can enjoy Power Hour (see The Details), where all food orders are 50 percent off (not a typo; not to be combined with happy hour pricing).
Manager Paige guides my pal and I through the menu, calling out customer favorites as well as her own. We go with the wings (regularly $16 for 12, $11 for six), Wisconsin fried cheese curds (regularly $8), nachos (regularly $10) and steak frites (regularly $13).
Paige advises us to order half Buffalo and half John Blaze honey hot on the wings. The flats and drums are juicy and meaty, trimmed of excess fatty bits and fried to a perfect crisp (and then grilled? I see pretty char marks) before being doused in sauce. The Buffalo is punchy, but not too vinegary, with plenty of tingle for me (a spice wimp) and my friend (a spice lover). Delicious, but after one taste of the honey hots, we only have eyes for those. The sauce is the kind that keeps you coming back for just one more bite. It has the perfect balance of sweetness (there, but not overkill) and heat (ditto). We’d buy this sauce in bulk if they bottled it. I swoop some of the slender celery and carrot sticks served alongside the wings in the honey hot sauce and in the ramekins of creamy ranch. Incredible.
The cheese curds are crunchy and full of cheesy oomph, paired with a bright, tart marinara that reminds me that The Bar is owned by the same folks who run Nook Kitchen, a terrific Italian spot in Arcadia near our office. That Italian influence carries through The Bar’s assortment of cracker-crisp flatbreads: pepperoni, Caprese, pesto, barbecue chicken and margherita ($12-$15 – not on happy hour, but still worth ordering). Ditto the Bolognese on the entrée menu ($15).
The Bar’s nachos are superior to other bars’, Paige tells us, because they’re layered. No eating the top layer only to be stuck with a pile of plain chips. Here, thin corn tortilla chips are alternated with grated cheese, queso, black beans, green onions, pico and sour cream so that even the last bite is chockfull of goodies. We enjoy the chicken iteration (add $6), but the steak ($10) is also popular.
Speaking of steak: The steak frites are the hands-down highlight of our visit, for both of us. I am not even a beef person, and I can’t stop eating the golden-brown bits of sirloin gilded with soy sauce and garlic and sided with crispy hand-cut fries. It’s a more casual, more flavor-packed twist on the French bistro classic, and I can’t get enough. I treasure the bottoms of a handful of the fries that got soaked with garlicky, soy-boosted, umami-rich meat juices from the steak. I need to try to re-create this at home. I know I’ll be craving it regularly.
Next time I’ll try the tater skins (regularly $10), beer-battered onion rings (regularly $9), quesadilla (regularly $10) and chips and queso (regularly $9), a pared-down version of those tasty nachos.
Happy hour brings $5 draft beers and well drinks, $2 off glasses of wine and $2 off house cocktails.
My friend and I are cocktail gals, so we order the house drinks. Her Slappin’ Da Basil ($11 during HH, $13 regularly) is fresh and fruity thanks to Union mezcal, Cointreau, watermelon, citrus, jalapeño and basil. It could use a little more smoky mezcal to balance the sweetness of the fruit, for our taste, but we’re both mezcal fiends. My Desert Hare ($10 during HH, $12 regularly) is a great little tiki number: Kasama pineapple rum, Aperol, passionfruit, Angostura bitters and lime juice. My friend likes mine so much that she orders it for her second round.
Next time I’ll try the Dreamcatcher ($12 during HH, $14 regularly), which sounds downright dreamy with its combination of Casamigos blanco tequila, green Chartreuse, red grapefruit, lime juice and saffron. The Arizona Amethyst ($10 during HH, $12 regularly) also sounds lovely: house-made infused cucumber gin, crème de violette, elderflower, blueberry and lemon.
For craft beer folks, The Bar has three local brews on tap: Huss Brewing Co.’s Scottsdale Blonde, Mother Road Brewing’s Tower Station IPA and Four Peaks Brewing Co.’s The Joy Bus WOW Wheat.
Power Hour extends through January 31 and runs Wednesday-Friday from 5-6 p.m. Happy hour runs Wednesday-Friday from 3-6 p.m. (all year long).
366 N. Gilbert Rd., Gilbert, 480-584-4760, thebarphx.com/gilbert2