With the acrylic barely dry from its 2015 opening, the Art Hotel has a bit of swagger in 2016, managing to offer the kind of moneyed, cosmopolitan experience that you'd expect from a hotel in one of America's urban centers. It's a kind of feeling rarely attempted and a potential rarely fulfilled in this town — but it works here, from the top-to-bottom excellent hospitality to the presentation and (mostly) execution of the offerings at FIRE's Lounge. That doesn't mean that this happy hour (from 3 to 6 p.m. daily) is for everyone, but it should be a destination for those seeking mid-afternoon culture and class.
FIRE is on the fourth floor of the hotel, and the lounge will be the third thing to catch your attention after you step off the elevator, after Ed Ruscha's "Industrial Strength Sleep" and one of Deborah Butterfield's "wooden" horses. If those names mean something to you, welcome home. The collection goes far beyond mere decoration to become a feature in itself, as with Larry Bell's "Light Knots" that glisten above the bar. This being a hotel hangout, when the sun goes down the bar area gets pretty packed with lonely guests and curious conventioneers, but you can plop yourself down in a plushy chair in the opposite lounge.
Many of the fanciful drinks on Fire's slate of libations are named for artists or well-known masterpieces, but the "Social Hour" menu pares it down to four beverages: $5 house wines, $3 drafts of Austrian Trumer Pilsner, an Old Fashioned and a Cosmopolitan ($7 each). The Old Fashioned is nothing if not new again; this one's been barrel-aged and topped with a handsome garnish of orange peel and cherry, giving a boost with a taste of citrus zest to complement the generous portion of rye.
Fire's edible selections represent a broader palette, though, with happy-hour standards like hummus (made with black-eyed peas and seasonal veggies, $10) and wings (with Korean chili sauce, $14), but at prices that would be outrageous just about anywhere else in the city. Turns out most of these are the same dishes, at the same prices, as the small plates on the dinner menu. Fire is defying the very concept of happy hour, putting the fabric of reality itself into question (and I need to lie down for a minute).
Well, one exception to this troubling development is Fire's selection of sliders, available for just a few bucks each and exclusive to lunch and happy hour. You've got falafel ($3), local lamb ($4), and crab cake ($5), and they're all simply prepared — more Robert Ryman than Jackson Pollock. Even if the kitchen's aspirations go far beyond mini burgers, the blonde and bland falafel was a sorry mush and the lamb slider — with its pickled onions and mediocre tzatziki on an indifferent bun — didn't do the good meat justice.
There is one edible arrangement that made the experience entirely worth it, and that's the duck rillettes ($12). The juxtaposition of the opulent surroundings and the rustic plate with its jagged hunks of grilled bread grounded this meal. Stuffed into a jam jar, the duck itself was chunky and low on fat, a challenge to spread but with a meaty reward, vibrant flavor and excellent texture, especially when mixed with the small salad of microgreens. And the pearlescent cherry mostarda is straight fire, with masterful tartness and pungency that reveals a talented hand in the kitchen.
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When you don't have to pay $300-plus for a room, the few spots of dry canvas peeking from Fire's facade are easier to overlook. Plus, the Golden Triangle is sorely lacking upscale destinations, reason enough to raise your dining game above street level. So if you're suffering from flyover-state blues, L.Anger or Manhattan Complex, come and play tourist on home turf. Representatives from the ART Hotel are standing by to make you a reservation for an evening guaranteed to alleviate worries that you're missing out on the decadent big-city lifestyle you deserve.
Perfect for: Architecture and design nerds with a gourmet bent. The exterior of the Art Hotel is controversial, but during quieter hours, ask someone on staff for a tour. They'll tell you a bit about what went into making the space and point out a few of the less conspicuous artworks.
Don't Miss: Dessert at Fire continues the theme of slightly tweaking diners' expectations. The spectacle of the melting chocolate sphere ($10) is not in the ceremonial pouring of caramel and the gradual dissolving of the chocolate sphere. It's in what it reveals: dense mousse with a subtle orange undertone playing off molten caramel. And there's the notable innovation of Nutella dust, hiding hazelnuts scattered about like treasures in the sand.