Earlier this month, Argyll Whisky Beer completed a few seamless upgrades to its dining room and bar, opening up the walls all around the bar to improve flow from the dining room and atrium, adding more bar tables and lowering the pass-through to the kitchen to improve lighting in the evening. "We wanted more flexible spaces in the dining area and bar," says owner Robert Thompson. And along with more seating flexibility, the menu under chef John Broening has become more flexible, too (and somewhat smaller), in what Thompson says is a move to provide the neighborhood with a dining experience more aligned with customer needs.
The menu still focuses on the British Isles and gastropub fare, with upscale versions of English, Irish and Scottish dishes as well as a couple of International bites that point to the culinary influence of former colonies on British cuisine. But gone are many of the monolithic plates of the previous menu, replaced with a "mix and match" section of meats, sides and salads that will allow guests to customize their meals and share a wider variety of dishes more easily.
With only five sandwiches, five pub plates — with returning favorites like the green curry, the "spot of tea" ramen bowl and the mac and cheese (enhanced with pulled pork) — and three a la carte meat entrees, the menu definitely focuses on simplicity. On the smaller side of things, Argyll's charcuterie comprises several housemade sausages, pates and mousses. Thankfully, the rabbit rillettes have also returned, as has the Scotch egg on the pub snacks list.
Thompson explains that the new layout and menu are intended to shift the focus more toward the bar and the social aspects of dining that the neighborhood is interested in. "We were over capacity at the bar on most nights," he adds and points out that the new menu will allow customers to spend what they want — creating a traditional meal from the mix-and-match section, opting for mid-range pub fare (sandwiches and pub plates range from $9.50 to $16), or nibbling on smaller plates and flatbreads.
The whisky program is also getting an overhaul that will trim the list from the current 235-bottle selection to a more manageable but still substantial list of 100. Thompson says to be on the lookout for a rotating weekly "hot sheet" of ten high-end whiskies at reduced prices until the inventory has been trimmed down. He says there's just not enough room in the restaurant house for so many bottles, and that the smaller list will ensure shorter waits for drinks while still providing plenty of breadth.
Also at the bar: a new spring cocktail list of lighter, lower-alcohol drinks to round out the current whisky-heavy roster. Examples include the Day Walker made with campari, lemon juice and barrel-aged pear cider, and the Citrus & Sage, featuring grapefruit, lime, sage and an acai spirit. Beverage director Patrick Williams is also experimenting with ice cubes tinged with cider, herbs and other flavors to create subtle taste enhancers for pours of spirits that will fall somewhere between traditional cocktails and on-the-rocks pours.
Outside, the back patio has been decked out with new bar-height seating, improved lighting and three free dartboards. Overall, Argyll is now a little more adapted to a younger neighborhood, longer hours and a focus on drinking. New quotations stenciled above the kitchen pass-through sum up the ambience well. From Edgar Allan Poe: "What care I how time advances? I am drinking ale today," and from that other bard of brews, Homer Simpson: "I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer."