AFTER OPENING AS a screening room in 1924, when Second Avenue was considered Seattle's film row, the Rendezvous morphed over the decades from speakeasy to porn theater to what one regular describes as a haven for "career drunks." That last incarnation came to an end on Halloween 2001 when Tia Matthies, Steve Freeborn (both former co- owners of the sadly defunct OK Hotel), Jane Kaplan, and Jerry Everard (co-owner of Neumo's) took over and rehauled the space, using salvaged materials from the Seattle Opera House and a Capital Hill mortuary. Six months later, the Rendezvous and its Jewel Box Theater were reborn with a touch of old-time class and gothic revival flair. Some were apprehensive about the changes—which involved tearing out drop ceilings, adding a large front window, and blinging up the joint with chandeliers and blood-red walls—thinking the remodel would take away the hangout's mystique. But how busted does a place have to look to be "authentic?" Three years into its latest identity, live music, film screenings, burlesque, comedy, and improv bring in a wide and lively variety of patrons seven nights a week, and very recently, something pretty remarkable has happened in what is now the dining room: Where folks were once a little afraid to put their lips on the glassware, they're now enjoying really decent food. At 8:30 p.m. on a Thursday night, the escalating buzz of activity found just one server shuttling drinks and food as my date and I sat down near a table of snacking smokers. Former Soundgarden bassist Ben Shepherd's band Hater was playing in the theater (there's an early and late show nearly every night), and crunching guitar sounds bled into jazz piped from the main bar's sound system. When I asked our server if the bar was known for any particular cocktails, he responded, "Strong ones." He's not lying: my Cape Cod ($4) arrived with the faint suggestion of cranberry juice. My companion stuck to Mac 'N' Jack ($3.50 on draft), and proclaimed our chicken chimichanga appetizer (four large tortillas stuffed with shredded chicken, pepperjack cheese, and grilled peppers and onions, then fried, for $7.50) delicious. We had ordered entrées at the same time (d'oh!) and soon received the massive, fresh "side" salads that accompany each main dish. Before we could finish, our macaroni and cheese ($7.50) and fish and chips ($9) also arrived, crowding the small table and making us look like total pigs. The macaroni's thick, creamy sauce and onion straw topping made it as good as the Crocodile's version, which serves as a decent standard for music-venue noshing. As for the fish and chips, my date favors the flat, crispy ones at Pacific Inn, but the beer-battered halibut filets here were like the ones at a British pub I once served in—exactly what I'd been searching for in Seattle. An hour later, our server could have used help satisfying the increasing crowd. So when we asked for water and got an entire jug and two glasses with nary a backward glance, my date said, "That's punk rock." We unbuttoned our jeans and closed the tab before the late show with Gust Burns and Reptet. Food coma was setting in. MY NEXT VISIT was on a considerably more relaxed Monday evening. Three or four tables of eaters munched away while inside the theater, band members tuned their instruments. As the affable doorman lit torches along the patio fence, I sipped the most crudely but wonderfully rendered vodka lemonade ($5) ever, made simply by smashing big slices of lemon in the liquor. A friend who spent a few years in London has been dissatisfied with American hummus since, but she praised our hummus and pita appetizer ($7). Lemony and with the right amount of tahini, it was quickly scooped up on pita triangles with the accompanying feta cubes, cucumber, and Kalamata olives. The kitchen was out of mushrooms, so my friend's portobello and provolone burger ($7.50) cost a dollar less, but the caramelized onions kept it tasty. My bacon cheeseburger ($7.50) with house-made yam fries (the best treat of the night) had great flavor and again, the portions were enormous. With an assortment of grilled sandwiches and soup-and-salad combos on the menu, not to mention spinach lasagna and red beans and rice, it's safe to declare the fare at the Rendezvous a cut above regular old bar food. On our last visit, as we chilled out with our server and more regulars who told tales of the old dive, the take-home boxes in our laps were a perfect indication of how far the place has come. firstname.lastname@example.org 2322 Second Ave., 206-441-5823. BELLTOWN 5–10 p.m. Mon.–Thurs. 5–11 p.m. Fri.–Sat.