I was wandering the Highland neighborhood, hunting for that most rare of beasts: a happy hour that runs until 7 p.m. Once the clock hits six, it's time for most restaurants to put away the small menus, top off that happy hour sangria and roll out the red carpet for the folks who actually spend, you know, real money. Then I stumbled on Central Bistro & Bar's all-day Tuesday happy hour: seven hours of small plates, cheap cocktails and good times. I was there for at least two of them, just enjoying the food and the view.
Chef Lance Barto launched Central's kitchen back in 2012, then Matt Selby took over the next year. The menu changed, but Central still wants to be a casual spot rather than a hipster-fied foodie joint. The board rockets from mac-n-cheese comfort food to pan-seared duck breast in a single bound, hoping to please all comers.
At happy hour -- 4 to 6 p.m. during the week, 2 to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and all day Tuesday -- the menu is small but still substantial, as if Central's regular offerings had been hit by some supervillain's shrink ray. But at any size, the bar team at Central kills it. Their creative side isn't as visible in the drink specials, but I was wowed by a simple champagne tipple with bramble cordial ($5) and an Irish coffee made with the house's own Irish cream ($11, not a happy hour special).
I sampled two dishes from opposite ends of the Central spectrum: a highfalutin cheese plate ($12) and some middle-brow confit chicken wings tossed in hot sauce ($6). I felt like a real rube using my hands to gnaw on drumsticks and snap up almonds, especially when everyone sitting on the patio looks like realtors poking out of a real estate catalog. But care has evidently gone into these simple dishes. I saw Pecorino Romano in a whole new light when paired with house-made lavash flatbread and two other funky cheeses. And the confit treatment the chicken received was a fig leaf of respectability for this sports bar standard, making the wings crisp but not thick with breading.
Having spent almost two hours in a haze of food and drink, I rose from the table to find almost no one around me had budged, so engrossed in conversation, alcohol and the view of the skyline. At least on a Tuesday evening, Central was an oasis in the city -- guess it was just what I was looking for.
Perfect for: Families with kids -- I was surprised to see so many high chairs around, and Central offers a pretty good kid's menu, especially for brunch.
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Don't Miss: Any craft cocktail your server says is on special; the bar's creativity really should be experienced. And though it's not cheap, the Irish coffee ranks as one of the best in town.