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Bar Johnny

Defining the “Drink Kitchen”

Tablespoon has undergone a change of identity. The sleek, minimalist dining destination has been reinvented — with a bit more edge — into what’s been dubbed a “drink kitchen.” Bar Johnny is a place to stop in for handcrafted cocktails and simple, munchable comfort food executed with flair.

John Jasso is still in charge, and Roland Robles still heads the kitchen. With Bar Johnny, they’ve created a more casual, drop-in-anytime, neighborhood spot with an eye on the details. They've also brought in Sheri Sheridan, owner of neighboring Swallowtail boutique, to design the space. She was going for a mix of “punk rock and socialite” with dark walls, soft lighting (but not too dark) and a bold street scene mural above the bar.

The space caters to small groups and couples, with side-by-side seating at high tables and bar seating, but there is a lounge area toward the back with a 70’s den atmosphere that would easily accommodate a larger group.

The drink menu offers something for everyone, with well-made classics like the sidecar ($9) — combining a quality Armagnac and fresh lemon juice. I opted to try a twist on a bar staple, an herb margarita ($9); the muddled sweet basil made the lime and tequila sing. My dining partner went for the Ipanema ($8), which didn’t work as well; the blend of cachaca, pineapple, lime and basil just didn’t come together.

We started with housemade yogurt flatbread ($9) that would put most naan to shame; it was served with three innovative dips: curried pumpkin, apple-fennel, and onion with duck prosciutto. They made me think more of thick, rich vegetable soups than dips, but no matter what you call them, they were delicious. Taking our extremely accommodating and friendly bartender’s suggestion, we also ordered the Caesar with warm croutons ($8.50). I was hoping for a bit more given his enthusiasm. The warm, still-soft croutons were delicious, but the salad itself was just ok with a nothing-to-write-home-about dressing.

For our main course we went with two comfort food classics: BBQ pork sliders ($11.50) and the cheeseburger ($11.50), both served with garlic truffle fries. We were definitely comforted. The pork was tender, juicy and messy enough to require a bit of finger licking, while our burger was perfectly cooked and full of flavor. But it was the details — housemade buns and ketchup — that illustrated how much pride the kitchen takes in everything they put out. And those garlic truffle fries, well let's just say we devoured both orders with no thoughts as to guilt.

In a city where reinvention often signals a last grasp at success, Bar Johnny shows that sometimes it just means shrewdly assessing the neighborhood's needs. If packed Mondays are any indication, Polk Street got just what it needed.