I used to know what a bar was. It was a place like the Wicked Wolf in Manhattan, where, in the late 1970s, I would hang out almost every Friday night with friends, nursing a well-made Tom Collins at a table with a red-checked tablecloth. Actor Kelsey Grammer and a bunch of other now-famous people hung out there, too. It was a friendly place to drink, with no memorable food. But bars now offer amazing things to eat, along with experimental cocktails, interesting wines and incredible beers. In fact, it's getting harder to tell a bar from a restaurant or a restaurant from a bar.
The biggest improvement? Happy hour. At Poppy in Seattle, chef Jerry Traunfeld serves a sampling of five snacksall on one tray, Indian-thali-stylefor just $5. His Spice Crispies and warm roasted-cauliflower spread with sesame are fantastic.
Brooklyn chefs Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli are masters of the hybrid bar-restaurant. Their Prime Meats serves German food that references the 1880s, like tangy-sweet sauerbraten (wine-braised beef). But their ambitious cocktails are very now.