Soundbar, the new watering hole on South Limestone, combines, modifies and elevates elements of many watering holes, from basic to beautiful, into one venue.
You want a granite bar with elegant wood paneling? You have it, but with the slight rough cut of a San Francisco saloon. Chandeliers more your style? All right, but you have to take them against the backdrop of plasma televisions, and the shimmer, shock, color and splash of the best light-and-fog show in town. Can't sit still when there's a backbeat? Fine, dance, but there are bar tables and stools lining the room if a chat with a co-worker, best friend or lover is more appealing.
The outdoor patio has similar charming contradictions. Lounging against the cement wall, slightly cracked but surprisingly comfortable, you'll notice to your left the delicate curtain of bamboo; off to the right the healthiest fuchsias in Kentucky are lushly draping over the side of a pot. This could be Provence, Hawaii or Seattle.
Not only is the environment eclectic, but so is the clientele: from 20-somethings to pushing-70s, ethnically a patchwork quilt, gay, straight and everything in between and around the edges. This is a bar for all seasons.
Of course, style and atmosphere are the obvious reasons that Soundbar (the sister spot Blu Lounge comes later, when the upstairs is ready) has zoomed so quickly to its enormous popularity — its soft opening was May 8 — but I am here to praise another, perhaps more subliminal but equally crucial, virtue: attention to detail.
Owners David Jones and Isaac Kurs, throughout their extensive travels, have made mental notes about the best bars they've seen, what they have enjoyed, places they would go back to. Soundbar brings those notes to life.
Everyone talks a good game of customer service, but here it really happens. Surfaces are cleared efficiently and unobtrusively. The restrooms are clean and tidy. Drinks are served in pretty and proper glassware. But most remarkably, somehow this gets done without stiffness, formality or compulsiveness. Yes, it is possible to have a rollicking good time against serene feng shui.
"I think people appreciate a beautiful space," Jones says. "And we try to anticipate every need. We will be happy with nothing less than 100 percent."
Of course, it's easier to keep things in order without the responsibilities of a full-scale kitchen. So Soundbar has struck an arrangement with Bombay Brazier, its neighbor across the street, to provide, on order, a select menu of bar snacks, including naan or vegetable pakoras. Nothing costs more than $10. The bar's substantial wine list — almost everything is available by the glass — harmonizes well with good food, so you can have a nice, light dinner here.
From a drinker's point of view, however, probably my favorite detail is what they dub "the art of the cocktail." Bourbon standards, including the old-fashioned and the Manhattan, are on the list. There also is a selection of martinis, including the LOL, made with Ketel One Citroen and lemon and lime; it was invented in-house.
And the revival of some wonderful and now obscure classics is particularly welcome.
Try a bracing Moscow mule, in which bitters and ginger beer spice up the taste of Ketel One, the house vodka. My personal favorite is the French 76, a variation of the gin-based French 75, with its lemon juice, simple syrup and Champagne but updated with vodka. If memory serves, the name implied a metaphoric punch akin to the World War I 75mm howitzer. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Much is being made of the street work along Limestone, scheduled to begin soon, that will go by Soundbar's doors. This is the time for Lexington to show that we can be a downtown, pedestrian-friendly, park-and-walk city. Check out the city's Web site, www.lexpark.org/find-parking.html, for parking information, or ask Jones or Kurs where the best parking is. No one should be drinking and driving anyway.
Honestly, there is no reason to let messy urban improvement or a simple two-block stroll keep you from checking out Lexington's newest cool nightspot with the most exemplary service in town.