Opened and crewed by service industry experts, The Way Back is a polished, accomplished bar that stands out on well-trod 38th Avenue. Given the talent behind the place — alumni of Williams & Graham, Linger and twelve, for starters — it's little wonder that it landed with feet firmly planted. The Way Back launched with Chad Michael George's bar program in April of this year, then slowly added a food menu that gently boasts of local ingredients and inventive preparations — plus a happy hour that runs Monday to Saturday, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. If it's haunting the bar or grabbing supper at the tabletop that strikes your fancy, happy hour here tries to have you covered.
I knew this space well as the Bark Bar (RIP), but walking into the Way Back made me double-check the address. What was once a homey and cluttered interior has been transformed into a dichromatic temple, with a backlit mural behind the bar shedding light and drawing focus like stained glass. The dog run out back has been newly renovated into an expansive patio strung with incandescent lights. After my trip in the Wayback Machine, I found it easier to get with what the Way Back was up to. Sticking with happy hour here means forsaking a lot of the thrilling drinks from the cocktail menu, like a tiki tipple shaken with rum, Campari, passion fruit and nutmeg (the Haitian's Hex, $10) or the house punch ($11), vodka twisted with pomegranate green tea and served in a pineapple chalice. Put a pin in that for later, and start with a $5 happy-hour cocktail like a simply served caipirinha. Fortunately or not, depending on your preference, there are no TVs with which to pair Brazilian cocktails and Olympics coverage.
Happy hour arrives on a small card tucked into the Way Back's portfolio, the better to rotate specials in and out. You're likely to find three small plates for the reasonable price of $5 to $7, ideal for drinking and snacking, but made to impress on their own. Were I a betting man, I would have put everything on the cauliflower ($5) carrying the day. It's a looker, as is everything here, spackled bright red with chile, chunks of apple to match, and green specks of parsley and toasted pepitas. The sodium factor quickly accelerates from umami to overwhelming, but the tart apples are there pumping the brakes. The overall feeling afterward is a humming, spicy buzz. Trout rillettes ($7) are thus pressed into service to provide a smooth counterpart. Missing the roe that tops the dinner version, fresh herbs and rustic butter crackers accompany this simple fish mash, pleasantly mild and rich in chunky texture.
This is why I don't bet on the doggies, folks: it so happens that shrimp ceviche ($7) would become the hero of the evening. Artfully arranged shrimp sit peacefully in their acidic soup, bulked up with XO sauce and cilantro. A shower of crispy garlic shards makes for one of the best taste experiences I've had at happy hour this year, making for a confluence of crunch and citrus that is absolute sexiness.
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A dreamy summer downpour kept us inside the Way Back long after happy hour was over, but I doubt any of its patrons would complain — if they even noticed. Sipping punch from a pineapple goblet and staring out the window feels right in this well-tuned environment. I'll be curious to see whether the Way Back ends up attracting tons of devoted foodies, local regulars or both, but this happy hour might just lure them back in again and again.
Don't Miss: "Ps are Wild" at Saturday's special happy hour, meaning pink wines, punches and proseccos are princely priced on the patio, along with food specials. It's a good excuse as any to sit outside and teach your own crash course in rosé.