A redheaded hostess leads me through a dark parking lot. My friend and I were at The Charles, a swanky Italian-inspired eatery in the Design District, listening to the guy next to us eat octopus and talk about how he got LASIK right before his sister’s debutante ball, when we heard mention of a new club around the corner. We quickly set off with the hostess in search of it. She explains that the owners of The Charles bought the back portion of the locksmith next door and opened Bar Charles there in December.
And it’s lovely. The space picks up the Italian Renaissance flavor of the restaurant but keeps the place approachable. A 16th-century-style mural, framed in neon, adorns the ceiling. A bust of a woman, perhaps a Roman goddess, sits amid liquor bottles at the bar.
We grab spots near a copper tub where several Champagne bottles are chilling, then ask the bartenders which drink is most popular. One mentions the Italian Old Fashioned; another smiles and tells us “vodka soda.”
A nearby room of wine, visible behind sleek glass doors, indicates that vino is a good choice here, too. I ask a bartender what the room is called, expecting fancy terminology.
“Wine closet?” He shrugs. “Or wine cabinet works. It does have a lot of shelves.”
At the far end of the bar, a woman in a hat orders chicharrones and caviar. Three twentysomethings, all in jeans, chat loudly nearby. A dressed-up older couple takes the seats next to ours, and behind us, a group sips cocktails from colorfully patterned couches.
Bar Charles has caviar on its snack menu and James Patterson novels in its book nook. It has an entire room full of fancy wines, but no fancy word for it. In short: Bar Charles is a beautifully designed balance between class and comfort.
When the smiling blond bartender hands us our drinks, we settle in.