Poets (24 W. Franklin St.), the new swank bar and restaurant on the first floor of the Hotel Indigo, may still be awaiting finishing touches (their soft opening was last Wednesday), but a recent visit found it to be a refreshing addition to the Midtown/Mount Vernon neighborhoods.
The space itself is impressive, boasting large windows, a massive white granite bar, sweeping ceilings, contemporary furnishings, and four uniquely original light fixtures/chandeliers that can only be described as Sputnik-meets-steampunk-disco. Another "chandelier" hanging above the bar and made of old whiskey decanters only added to the room's charm. The space had us lamenting that Mount Vernon doesn't have more (newer) places like it.
As for drinks—because that's what we're really interested in—manning the bar is City Paper's 2012 Best Bartender John Hartzell (who, full disclosure, is an acquaintance), whose offerings include a menu of 12 cocktails, six draft beers (all local except for the unfortunately ever-present Blue Moon), an impressive beer bottle/can list, and a wine list that includes a mix of whites, reds, and sparkling, 15 of which are available by the glass. Being big beer fans, we were impressed with their local options, which includes suds from Monument City, Union, Heavy Seas, Raven, Brewers Art, Full Tilt, Flying Dog, and Stillwater.
Cocktails max out at $13, like Poets' signature martini that includes crab-stuffed olives (!!). But most, such as the El Matador, a mix of tequila, fresh lime juice, muddled strawberries, and pilsner beer, are $9 or $10. The Ranch ($10), basically a Moscow mule with Catoctin rye instead of vodka, was an extremely refreshing variation on the classic and a nice way for us dark-booze hounds to enjoy it in a summer drink. And while the Lancaster black velvet ($9)—a mix of Lancaster Brewing's black stout with prosecco—seemed like an odd combo when reading it, we found it to be a surprisingly tasty combination of dark malts and effervescent sweetness.
The food menu, which is split up into starters, salads, flatbreads, burgers, sandwiches, and entrees, includes a mix of light and healthy options (tofu tacos, Asian lettuce wraps, a wilted kale and quinoa salad), local flavor (DEL-MAR-VA crab cakes, a crab dip burger), and more indulgent items (ale-battered onion rings, a chicken 'n' waffle sandwich, a rib-eye steak with caramelized onions and a bourbon and brown sugar butter).
We sampled the Asian lettuce wraps ($9), three large mounds of sweet and tangy chunks of chicken, peanuts (which aren't listed on the menu but really should be, given today's food allergies), a light Asian slaw, and chopped cilantro laid atop three large green lettuce leaves. They were good enough (and large enough) to share, and although the lettuce leaves were larger than most around town (a big plus in our books), they might want to double them up to limit that ever-disastrous tragedy known as breakage.
For those looking to keep things light, the couple of salads we ordered were fresh and gratifying. But some things about the presentation looked a bit inconsistent, and there were small details overlooked, such as not peeling beets before grilling them—something we obviously didn't hold against them, considering it was their first night open and the staff was more than friendly.
Hopefully Poets can smooth out some of those corners in the coming months, because we found it to be a nice new spot for the Mount Vernon area, especially in a time when everything in the dining scene seems to be happening north to Hampden or south to Harbor East. And while it may seem weird to hang out in a hotel bar, we always find the mix of locals and out-of-towners to be a refreshing change of pace from the normal bar crowd.