You go to the Brown Palace's Churchill Bar, where you can experience many of the amenities available next door, at a slightly more reasonable price. The menu offers a solid sampling of burgers, upscale sandwiches and salads with a few haute touches, and the service is excellent. What I like best about the place, though, is the atmosphere. Yes, it's clubby, even stodgy, and something of a tree fort for old men in expensive suits drinking single-malts and puffing pre-embargo cigars. But I figure there's no reason these fellas should have all the fun.
So I stopped in last week for lunch with friends. None of us were wearing Armani; none of us were even wearing ties. And while Thurston Howell III might have given us a bit of the stink-eye when we strolled in and settled into the leather wingbacks, who cares? I appreciate a joint that's too fancy for me yet happy for my business. Besides, this is one of the last places left in the city where you can have a cigarette indoors.
Before the cigarette, I went through a tureen of pleasing seafood chowder, its top laced with decent sherry by the congenial bartender-slash-waiter working the floor, its quality just as high as that of the grub served formally next door. The lobster BLT -- open-faced, with yellow tomatoes, very fresh lobster meat and a restrained mayonnaise binder -- was good, and the pressed panini sandwich served with a small bowl of cool tomato soup passable. The biggest disappointment was the shot glass full of crème-brûlée cheesecake -- both because it had spent a bit too much time in the cooler, giving it a flat and slightly sour flavor, and because I believe that anything with "crème brûlée" in its name ought to come with a torched-sugar crust. But the surroundings more than made up for any culinary shortfalls. Where else can a kid like me smoke a cigarette and sip at a glass of super-premium bourbon on my lunch hour while the fates of millionaires are being decided all around? Fun like this is priceless.