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Bar Associations

First impressions of two new downtown watering holes



Popkin Tavern

I'm looking around this bar at people I'm sure I've never seen before and never will again. This sort of thing always seems to happen at new places, the appearance of an Assortment Pack of Bar Folk.

There are all kinds of people here: haughty women in black dresses, quiet older couples dwarfed by two walls of glass, big fellows in forgettable shirts playing pool. I get the impression that none of them existed before this bar came into being. These people are probably part of a delegation sent by more of their own to establish whether Popkin Tavern, a beauty born of a furniture store, will become their latest church, the newest staple of the night.

It's really kind of amazing that a place this pretty could appear with so little fanfare, right there on the strip of West Broad Street that includes galleries and restaurants like Comfort, Twenty-Seven and the other new kid, Tarrant's. For as big a place as it is — long bar, dead center, orbited by booths, a big open space for pool tables, an upstairs lounge surrounding the works — it looks fast. It's all the art deco, the big square chandeliers, the gleaming metalwork. Also the rushing wait staff — about 13,000 strong, judging by how many people served a table — all grins and gins.

The tavern has the feel of refinement, not just as in fancy-fancy, but as in tinker-tinker: judging, weighing quantities, trying to settle into a pattern that will please any and/or all of those delegations. One drink went light on the whiskey, the next real heavy. Great fries, quesadillas a little limp. But Popkin Tavern, for having a hole-in-the-wall of a name, is more a cathedral of spirits. Until it figures out exactly what its religion is, it's enough to play a little pool with people who exist for just this sort of thing. — B.R.

Tarrant's Drug

In its few weeks of operation, the new Tarrant's bar and restaurant at Broad and Foushee might not be the City's Coolest Bar, but it probably has City's Coolest Bar Owner all sewn up.

We overran Tarrant's on rainy election night. Disappointed there was no television for watching voter returns, the owner, Ted Santarella, quickly plugged in the small set he grabbed from his nearby apartment, then paternally reminded the bartender to count to six when pouring shots.

The guy was cool and mysterious and had an easy rapport with the clients and staff. He was the understated star of the show. He's like your high school friend's dad who knows you kids just tumbled into the house wasted, and who coolly asks questions about how calculus is going, leaving you to wonder just how much he knows.

Like the owner, the mood at Tarrant's is mellow and a little mysterious. A marble bar up front gives way to a row of wooden booths down the length of the restaurant. Management has made the somewhat controversial decision to be a smoke-free establishment. It will be interesting to see how that call affects business.

Guests coming in for dinner ranged from students to senior citizens. Both seemed to belong, sort of. Maybe it's just too soon to tell, but it's hard to get a real fix on what the place is going for. The dark wood, somber curtains and streamlined setup make it feel almost nautical. And the food — ranging from sandwiches to seafood — is good and very reasonably priced, but not fancy enough to be formal. Still, there is a reserve in the air that keeps it from kicking back into a casual neighborhood joint. There are standards in place. It's just not quite clear what they are.

Maybe that's a good thing. When we came in, Enya and George Winston were on the stereo, but by the end of the night, the CD book was out on the bar, open to suggestions on music. We're not sure whether that's versatile or unfocused, but one thing is clear: Tarrant's is a place where they let you share the remote.

— A.B.

Popkin Tavern ($)
123 W. Broad St.

Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.;

Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m.; Saturday, 4:30 p.m.-2 a.m.

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  • Smoking only at the bar.

    Tarrant's Drug ($)

    1 W. Broad St.


    Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m.;

    Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m.-midnight.

    No smoking.

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