Last Calls

photo/Chris Busby

Downtown Loungin’

This past month has been just too damn hot and humid. It’s uncomfortable walking about town. The air conditioning in the bars becomes a trap. The only respite has been during thunderstorms, but then it’s pouring.

So I did most of my pouring at home this July, spending the month curled up on the couch with cocktail books, like How to Booze: Exquisite Cocktails and Unsound Advice (Harper Perennial, 2010), by Jordan Kaye and Marshall Altier, two veteran New York bartenders. This rather unorthodox guide suggests cocktail for dozens of situations, such as what to drink on a first date or for your “last drink before AA.” Whether you’re preparing for a threesome or you just realized your kid is an idiot, this clever and hilarious volume has the drink you need.

Speaking of first dates, threesomes, idiocy and alcoholism, I also spent some time at the Downtown Lounge last month. A friend of mine has gotten into the habit of having a late dinner and a couple cold drafts at the DTL. He called me one night and invited me to join him. I’d soured on the DTL after a dozen or so visits last summer. The bartenders were more interested in socializing than service. They didn’t notice the little things, like the time I pointed out a patron passed out at the bar. The bartender slid a drink in front of him and considered the problem solved.

Five years ago, owner Norm Jabar was presiding over a mini-empire. The notorious punk rocker, now in his late 40s, had three bars/restaurants on the peninsula and a hardware store for urbanites on Congress Street. These days he’s down to the DTL. Though I never saw him there last summer, circumstances have apparently given him time to refocus on the business this year.

Norm’s back behind the bar and in the kitchen on a regular basis. There have been staff changes, and the atmosphere has certainly improved. You can expect prompt service and actual crowd control. The food is consistently delicious.

Located near the corner of Congress and High streets, the DTL has a classic urban diner feel. It’s small and narrow, with a half-dozen booths and a long bar. The menu is simple: wings and nachos, a small salad selection, burgers and sandwiches. Most everything is under 10 bucks and comes with a plentiful portion of greasy fries to soak up the extra booze. Several specials are written on chalkboards above the booths. The BBQ tacos are my special of choice — warm, crisp and loaded for $8.95.

The DTL is a blue-collar place with prices to match. It mainly attracts the young and yet-to-grow-ups. You can get a Brooklyn or Allagash on tap, but this is more of a PBR and High Life crowd.

The bar keeps about 50 call liquors handy, but don’t be fooled by the martini glass in the logo or the “lounge” in the name. The DTL is not a cocktail bar.

There’s a basic cocktail list (dirty martini, margarita, Moscow Mule, Manhattan) and I’ve had a pleasant Mai Thai here. The bartenders are willing to splash soda or tonic in your booze and top it with a lime, but don’t expect art. Get a shot of bourbon and listen to the punk rock soundtrack. Eventually, just like Norm, you’ll mellow out.

— Carl Currie


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