It's considered a crazy idea to go to a nightclub for a decent meal. Certainly, whatever's coming out of that kitchen in Boogie Nights doesn't look so good. Dorchester Social Eatery, in the heart of Market Street's nightilfe scene, is pairing a clubby atmosphere with a menu that name-checks all four corners of the globe. A trip around the world at happy hour helped me decide which part of Dorchester's name is more important: "Social," or "Eatery."
Dorchester is like a nitrous canister of Vegas cool, with flashy fixtures, intricate paneling and enough mirrors and Greco-Roman statuary to make Tony Montana blush. It's not just aspirational design; on Fridays and Saturdays the expansive dining area around the corner turns into Privé Social Club, an LED-glazed dance party. But the most notable thing about Dorchester is its rooftop patio, with a bar, plenty of seating and a view of the LoDo madness. I had hoped to lounge above it all on my sunny visit, but the roof was closed for a private event and, even worse, everyone there was clearly having the time of their lives. I sulked to the downstairs bar, hoping that happy hour specials would balm the sting.
Offered from 3 to 6 p.m. every Tuesday through Saturday, the happy hour board pairs a few light drink specials with mid-priced snacks. The restaurant's stated culinary philosophy is to make share-able plates for a whole table to sample, so a happy hour feels natural. Drafts of Budweiser and Imperial beer are three bucks, with wells for $5. Much the dinner and lunch menu appears here in miniature form — dishes from five continents arranged in the kind of pan-fusion style that is capital-H Hip these days.
An order of South American chicken lollipops ($7) didn't grab me as much as Dorchester's interior did. (Why does every Milennial-chasing restaurant boast meat 'lollipops?') But there was nothing exotic about the hearty amount of Frenched (the fancy way of describing the lollipop effect), fried chicken dunked in a brown sauce that lacked character. But more surprises were in store. Even though it's boring on paper, the wild mushroom crostini ($3) was a satisfying little snack, with a tender mushroom ragu on top of a buttery, crispy flatbread. And if there's any sausage deserving of having a moment, it's lamb merguez, which is featured on the Moroccan kefta sliders ($4 each). I'm glad the kitchen didn't get the message that sliders are, like, totally 2007. Amplified by a bit of harissa aioli and goat cheese, this bite lived up to the international theme.
Dorchester is trying to have its cake, eat it and supply it with VIP bottle service, too. Even though I was a bit befuddled by my entire experience, friendly service and some interesting flavors shone through. What Dorchester really wants to be is a question that probably gets answered much later than 6 p.m., leaving happy hour a pleasantly confusing time before the real party starts.
Perfect for: Is 4 p.m. too early to start pre-gaming for a night of clubbing? That all depends on how hard you want to go, but watching the sunset from Dorchester's roof feels like a good way to start. And in any case, the bar stocks enough Red Bull to keep the whole block going all night.
Don't miss: Adding to the confusion, one of Dorchester's specialties is pie. A slice of sweet potato ginger pie ($8), made with a non-traditional flaky pastry crust, had a pleasant, thick spiciness. However, no one has the right to charge $8 for a tiny slice of pie. The mysteries continue.