Gastropub or meta-gay sports bar? Uptown’s Primebar isn’t even certain
It hasn’t been around too long, but already Primebar — which opened in the Maguire’s Uptown space on the distaff side of Cedar Springs — has become that curious but frequently more common hot spot: One that boasts a mixed crowd of straight-guy beer bubbas elbow-to-elbow with faboo gay brunchers while sports play on the TVs.
It’s said that the most segregated day of the week in America is Sunday, when churches become bastions of different races worshipping in isolation. It is kinda that way at Primebar’s weekend brunch, with gays and straights establishing bulwarks across from each other but living in peaceful cohabitation.
There’s something gratifying about the mixed customer base, which on each visit has appeared an almost 50-50 split of hetero and homo couples. It might not be the same as sharing the Eucharist, but it warms my spirit nonetheless.
So, what is Primebar? Ecumenical Uptown eatery? Sports bar-cum-gastropub? Meta-gay bar with cool hetero clientele?
I haven’t figured it out yet. I doubt it has, either.
You sense that despite the word “bar” in its name (and not, notably, the ubiquitous “and grill”), Primebar wants to be more than a tavern where folks gather for a brew and a bowl of peanuts. Uptown — especially this finger of it, with The Common Table, The Stoneleigh P and Nick & Sam’s Grill all within shoutin’ distance — is a competitive neighborhood for bars that serve better-than-average pub-grub and want to be considered foodie destinations. Televisions visible from every cranny, blaring sports and news without abatement, have become de rigueur even at high-end steakhouses like Al Biernat’s and Hibiscus. Tickling the taste buds has become essential.
Primebar makes inroads into that realm with several items that take a step above the usual bar food. The loaded kettle chips ($7.99), with bacon, a melt of tart, chunky bleu cheese and sprinkled of giardiniere (pickled cauliflower, carrots and chives). On several occasions, its appeal has depended on how quickly it comes from kitchen to table. When fast, it’s fine, likable pub grub, with tangy flavors under the crisp warmth of crunchy but thin discs of potato; when slow, the chips get cold and soggy. Try ordering them anyway; you might luck out.
Much of the menu — especially the brunch menu — is better than expected, such as the calamari ($9.99). It’s a dish often overdone and under-delivered, but Primebar gets its version right: Crisp as a corporal’s dress shirt with a flavorful lemon aioli and spicy cocktail sauce for dipping. With caramelized bananas foster and a garnish of nuts, the French toast ($10.99) stands out; the bananas with syrup manage not to be sickly sweet, in part probably because the bread — thick-cut and grilled with a lovely edge — is so hearty and well-prepared.
The braised beef hash ($9.99) sounded satisfying and unique: Hash with tender cuts of meat? I’m there. But the presentation was a disappointment. It came not really hash-style but with chunky cuts of skillet potatoes that never melded with the beef. The choron sauce (a béarnaise turned red by the addition of tomato) merely overwhelmed it. On the other hand, the braised beef itself was fatty and moist, with just enough smokiness. (The carnivore’s omelet seemed to have the same base of beef as the hash — it’s a better choice if you’re a hash snob like I am.)
I know some people who insist Primebar is worth recommending for the Wednesday burger deal alone; I’m undecided. Yes, the most indulgent of the burgers, topped with a fried egg, bacon strips and gouda ($9.99), is a cardiac delight: Tall and impressively filling with flavors that fan out across your palate. But the burgers here are double-patty, something you expect more from fast-food than a restaurant trying to prove its foodie cred. The taste is fine, but the real challenge would be a thick slab of beef with that charcoal crust and rich, medium rare meat inside. At least the sliders are meant to be more bite-sized … and again, good iterations of traditional bar food. It seems to have mastered that.
What it hasn’t mastered is service, which, while friendly, has always wavered between sufficient and sloppy. At one brunch, our waitress never even glanced our way until well after our meal was over and we wanted the check, even though there were few customers; drinks have gone unrefilled for too long, and the wait between appetizers and entrees on one visit pushed the limit. (It’s definitely straight-guy resto service, where girls apologize with a flash of teeth behind a flirtatious grin, more than a sincere verbal expression of regret.)
A restaurant slash bar slash neighborhood hang slash whatever, especially in Uptown, probably doesn’t need an identity; that’ll come as the clientele self-orients what they want it to be, and the management adapts. I imagine in a few months, the Primebar I’ve been to will have evolved. I’ll be curious to see what that is. In the meantime, I bet its gay-straight alliance known as Sunday Funday will continue to attract a diverse crowd drawn to the patio where mimosas and French toast live in exquisite harmony with the rest of us.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 22, 2012.