Best Bar Makeover

FOOD & DRINK

It used to be the neighborhood joint you'd head to for some stiff booze and the chance to hear Howard Bulson accompany somebody's sodden song request. Ever since April 20 of this year, it's been the neighborhood joint you head to for some stiff booze and the chance to hear Howard Bulson accompany somebody's sodden song request. That was an easy transition, wasn't it? Maybe not all that easy: Jeff Steichen says that to turn lower Queen Anne's iconic dive bar Sorry Charlie's into the MIRABEAU ROOM took a longer- than-expected eight months and an overhaul "pretty much from top to bottom." Steichen and co-owner David Meinert both knew, however, that no matter how much things changed, the spirit of the place had to remain, and the link to that spirit was undoubtedly venerable piano man Bulson.

"Keeping Howard was the first thing we really worked on," says Steichen. "So if you do walk in there on a Tuesday at 5 o'clock, you'll see just about all the regulars lined up having a fine time because they feel pretty comfortable in the place. Also, designwise, rather than going and making it ultramodern, we tried to keep as much of the old stuff as possible—at great expense, incidentally—so it still had the feeling of the old place."

So Bulson is around on Sunday and for happy hour five nights a week—at last check, he was meditating on the Beatles' "Something" beneath a smoky purple spotlight—and the joint wisely didn't go hog wild reinventing itself. But the Mirabeau (which is, to our delight, pronounced "Mira-boo") has undeniably improved in the bargain. The lounge half of the venue is now downright airy and so, well, clean that it isn't a joke anymore to consider ordering food (not a joke at all: the pomme frites, which come with aïoli, sriracha chili sauce, and malt vinegar for dipping, are the kind of crisp, thin-cut French fries that will have your table fighting over who gets the last one). The still-generous drinks have gone up in quality, too: A Pimms Original is a light mint-and-ginger-ale concoction that makes for perfect summer boozing. Evenings now also feature a good mix of DJ–based theme nights (Bollywood, hip-hop, et al.), and even a weekly appearance by burlesque troupe the Atomic Bombshells.

The main draw of the place, though, may be its laudable attempt to balance the old with the new, to respect the evolving identity of its surrounding area without rejecting what has always stayed the same. Meinert says it's that challenge that drew him and Steichen, who both live nearby, to the project in the first place. "There's this real influx of young people coming in, really interested in art and music," he notes of the neighborhood. "But there's still the older people that have lived on lower Queen Anne for years that were going to Sorry Charlie's and the Mecca. [Jeff and I] both wanted to kind of capture that."

So far, so good. 529 Queen Anne Ave. N., 206-217-2800.

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