A generous stretch of bargains is available during the week at the downtown spot.
One martini is all right. Two are too many, and three are not enough.
– James Thurber
This bit of wise cocktail calculus by the most celebrated writer from Columbus, Ohio, seems like a fitting icebreaker for an article on Thurber's Bar in the Alive Bar Guide issue, doesn't it?
Located in the Westin Great Southern, Thurber's Bar is the main provider of food inside this grand old downtown hotel (which premiered in the late 1800s) now that its dining room has been relegated to breakfasts and "special occasion" (i.e. Southern Theatre show night) status.
On the plus side, Thurber's Bar does a fine job honoring its namesake wit.
Lining the smallish room's walls are framed prints of Thurber cartoons. Most prominent is a whimsical little series depicting a trio of loopy, Casper-the-Friendly-Ghost-like "nudes" frolicking freely along abstract backgrounds.
Other Thurber tributes are found in the windows, where his famous round specs are represented, and on occasions when members of the Thurber House (a verifiable local gem) show up for spirited readings or to act out skits.
Otherwise, barwise, Thurber's doesn't score so high. While the physical bar – a long, broken oval – is distinct enough, the place's ambiance might best be described as: less than happenin' hotel pub with coffee shop lighting. Fortunately, a recently implemented new menu makes Thurber's definitely worth a visit.
The best time to show up is happy hour. In fact, that generous stretch of bargains (2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday) likely would've had a 21st-century James Thurber amending his quote above to, "One martini is all right, but three CBC IPAs for $3 apiece slurped with $5 appetizers are far better."
Among Thurber's happy hour pleasures are rockin' tacos "fusionized" by fried wonton wrappers. A duck confit trio stuffed tender chunks of juicy and surprisingly herby meat into tiny, brittle shells, and used a neat "cilantro cream" as an effective garnish.
Nearly as good was a short-rib triplet. Their tender and plentiful beef strands had a mild sweetness enriched by Mexican cheese, balanced by arugula plus a self-applied squeeze of lime juice.
If starches are calling, you can't go wrong with the Mac & Cheese or housemade Potato Chips.
The soft mac is creamy and rich but also tangy and crunchy on top from a sprinkling of toasted panko breadcrumbs.
The chips – which, like the mac, came in an "easily feeds two" serving size – had a light and highly unexpected powdery coating. But biting into these thick, crispy, wavy spuds delivered an appealing vinegary zing that made the soft exterior dusting seem equally comforting and unusual.
Veering from happy hour fare, there are a few starters and composed salads, some interesting-sounding sandwiches and pizzas, plus more ambitious (and more expensive) entrees.
Among these, I enjoyed both the spinach salad ($8, with abundant crispy pancetta, pungent parmesan, a perfectly applied assertive and lemony dressing, and forgettable "baguette") and a delightfully meaty, crispy and salty - and huge - serving of thick "calamari fries" ($12, with a fig and cinnamon sauce better suited to ice cream).
Both the Short Rib Sloppy James ($9, with fontina, arugula and bright, fruity roasted tomatoes plus a side of upscale McDonald's-style fries) and expertly cooked Sea Scallops ($29, with a soft but rich risotto flaunting terrific baby pea flavor) tasted great but were served just warm, not hot.