Happy Hour at Sazerac: Generous Helpings, Southern-style

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The Place: Sazerac, 1101 4th Ave., 624-7755

The Digs: Sazerac is a swanky, loosely Southern-themed restaurant and bar adjacent to the Hotel Monaco. Its decor is warm and classic: lots of brick, a wood stove, light fixtures that look like ruffled skirts and mood lighting that's comfortable and flattering, but not so dim you can't see your food. Because of this, the crowd tends to include plenty of hotel patrons, but it also draws a healthy clientele of professionals seeking solace from the grind of an eight (or nine, or 12) -hour work day. The most coveted real estate is next to the brick bar on the east side of the building, where there are low-lying tables and squat, wide chairs.

The Hours: Monday-Saturday, 4 to 8 p.m.

The Deal: Discounted "small" plates, a few discounted cocktails, cheap bottled beer and wine for $3/glass and up. Except that "small" isn't really small here. In true Southern fashion, the portions here are generous. $3 gets you a sizable cup of sweet potato fries or a giant dish of mixed olives. Nor do the spendier items on the menu disappoint, either in terms of portion size or quality: the warm artichoke dip comes topped by a generous crust of cheese that covers the molten, savory goodness below, and it comes with enough foccacia -- this is crucial -- to allow you to heap a generous portion of goo onto each bite.

The cheese board, on the other hand, comes with grilled multigrain bread, which seems like an iffy call until you consider the fruit compote that accompanies the whole shebang. It is tart, smacks slightly of coriander and ties the whole cheese-plus-bread experience together. If you're looking to splurge, the oysters are excellent, though at $2 per oyster, the price hardly seems discounted -- there are cheaper oyster deals to be found downtown -- but you're paying extra for the dipping sauces, which are delicious and obviously homemade. And while you might pass it up for more exciting options, the lemon spinach, served simply with sliced garlic and lemon zest, proved to be one of the best, most understated items on the seasonal menu.

As for drinks, this clearly isn't the place to get hammered, and not just because the elderly tourists sitting next to you will give you a nasty stink eye if you start acting boorish. You can go to other, less-upscale bars and get any drink you like for $5 a pop (or less), which is what a discounted happy hour cocktail will run you here. No, this is a place for eating and sipping, not guzzling, your beverage. Of the four non-well cocktails on offer for $6, all but the margarita are worth ordering twice. Unfortunately, the best cocktail we tried, the Rosemary Collins (a refreshing, pale pink libation that actually doesn't taste very much like its namesake herb), isn't on happy hour special. The good news is that, because this is such a swanky spot, you can't go wrong with a $5 well drink, since the well liquor here is decent and does not taste of rubbing alcohol. If that doesn't suit you, a bottle of Kilt Lifter costs a mere $3.

The Verdict: Sazerac is not the kind of spot most of us could ever hope to visit often (well, unless you're one of those aforementioned young, upwardly-mobile professionals who work downtown); then again, it's completely possible to make a meal out of two of the not-so-small plates and one well-crafted libation. But what's special about Sazerac is the ambiance. The place exudes as much warmth as class, and that -- coupled with the great food -- makes it worth revisiting.

 
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