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Larry West, the owner of the newly opened Star Bar in Capitol View, comes to the business with experience. He has provided interior design for Discovery, the all-night dance club in Riverdale. Like that former warehouse, Star Bar doesn't look like much from the outside. It's in a squat, nearly windowless brick building just west of the Third Street viaduct, next to Warehouse Liquor. The Italian Couple previously occupied the space and enjoyed a small but fervent following, but only of those who were able to get past the restaurant's cardboard ceiling tiles, bad lighting and putt-putt carpet. Dining there sometimes felt like eating at a converted cash advance business.
But no more. Gone are the drop ceiling, the carpet and any vestige of previous tenants. In their place is a modish decor that, at best, might be described as charmingly pretentious, a rigidly thematic combination of silver, gold, white and black meant to evoke all things chic and urban. At its worst, it's Ikea meets the strip club.
A gold-stained wooden wall lines the bar area that opens the club. Otherwise, black is the dominant color. The concrete floors are black. In the large adjacent lounge and most everywhere else, the walls have either been painted black or are covered by a black curtain. The ceiling is black. Most of the furniture is black leather. Tables, empty shelves, small spherical chairs and decorative idols are white. Gold lame curtains divide the bar from the lounge and serve as a backdrop for the bar. Low lighting sets the mood. In the lounge, droplights direct their intensity on vases of cut hydrangeas.
On first visit, around 9 p.m. on a Thursday, we skipped past the bar chairs to the black leather couches of the lounge. It was an off night, both in terms of crowd and service. Our foursome, at least part of the time, constituted half of the clientele, but still had to do nearly all of our ordering from the bar. Service, late night on a Friday, was markedly better, with West glad-handing and waitresses checking in often. The crowd, too, had blossomed, perhaps due in part to a DJ team in one corner of the bar, a welcome change from the night before, when the sound system seemed to be on the fritz, leaving the lounge, aside from the faint and occasional sounds of Souljah Boy coming from the bar, quiet.
But Friday we left at least mildly disappointed. Our aim, after a night of drinking and band watching, had been to gorge on gastropub specialties, the (mostly) high calorie tapas that Star Bar offers. But West told us, while the kitchen will stay open until close if business warrants, it usually stops serving around 11 p.m.
That's too bad for a late-night-food-deprived Central Arkansas, where those with the munchies in the late evening/early morning usually are forced to go to Taco Bell or Waffle House. Particularly, because the Star Bar's menu, designed by Donnie Ferneau, is perfect food for drinking.
Divided into tapas “to share” or “not to share,” the menu spans the gamut from the familiar, elevated (housemade potato chips with caramelized onions, $6; a grilled cheese panini with warm spinach and balsamic-doused tomatoes, $7) to more innovative fare (wild mushroom, goat cheese and onion flatbread, $7; sweet corn and crab wontons, $6). The “not to share” sides serve as light appetizers — tasting bites. The small, savory wontons come in fours. The tangy, also small, but heaping tomato bruschetta ($5) in threes. Other items include olive tapenade with goat cheese crostini ($6) and orrechiete (little ears) pasta with pesto cream and roasted red peppers ($5).
Items on the “to share” side, paired together, could easily serve as dinner for two or a hearty appetizer for four. The most successful item we sampled was the buttermilk fried chicken tenders. Thoroughly breaded, with a liberal amount of salt and pepper, the dense strips deserve consideration as the best in town. Nearly a dozen of them come with “creamy jalapearbecue,” a tasty, tangy and mildly spicy dipping sauce. The thick cut potato chips, topped with salt, pepper and parmesan, were also a success. For those looking for lighter fare, the ample and attractive charcuterie plate features buttery, toasted baguette pieces, prosciutto slices, chunks of salami and assorted cheeses, slivers of sweet fruit and mustard and honey for dipping.
The cocktail menu is less successful. The Upper East Side Manhattan ($8), a cherry punch-up on the original, was cloying. The Manderita ($8), a mix of Absolut Mandarin, lemon juice and sweet and sour, syrupy. In fact, nearly all of the cocktails we sampled suffered from too much sugar. The one bright spot was the Dry Rangpor ($8), a classic martini that ranks among the best we've had in Little Rock. For those less worried with taste than content, Star Bar pours stout.
1900 W. Third St.
4 p.m. to midnight Tuesday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday, 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday.
Credit cards accepted. Reservations accepted. Menu available to go. Gay-friendly, but by no means exclusive. Bumble Bee Transportation, a car service that can get you and your car home, is available for $30. No smoking.
Star Bar offers a happy hour from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. daily. We can't imagine hitting up a light-deprived black box now, when the weather's reasonably nice in the evening, but come sweltering July, the space might offer the same kind of daytime respite from the heat as the movie theater does. The bar does offer “patio” seating in the adjacent parking lot, but its appeal is probably lost on all but smokers.