922 Penn Ave., Downtown
Familiars of Friendship's companionable Sharp Edge Beer Emporium might feel slightly outswanked by the brand-new Downtown outpost, which owner Jeff Walewski has labeled a "bistro."
With its big plate-glass windows looking out on Penn, and exposed-brick chic inside -- with its upholstered lounge area -- it won't be mistaken for the lived-in, den-like Emporium. The ceilings are high, and the widely spaced trees of taps adorning the long bar help the place feel almost disorientingly airy.
On the Bistro's second Thursday in business, even the clientele who had filled the barstools by 5:15 p.m. seemed a younger, more business-attired crowd.
But don't fear, Emporium regulars: The beer list will set you at ease.
It's faithful to the Sharp Edge's predilection for those sweet, spicy and altogether extreme Belgian brews, the kind with 9.5 percent alcohol by volume and as much flavor and body as good curry. Like the hearty brown Bornem Double Abbey Ale that joined me in awaiting a companion.
The Bistro's beer menu in fact seems identical to that at the flagship Emporium (one of four Sharp Edge outlets predating the latest incarnation). Alongside some 20 Belgians on tap are available five dozen in bottles, plus bottled beer from seemingly every other nation that brews it.
Even accounting for its connoisseur's beer menu, it's understood the Sharp Edge isn't the cheapest place in the world to drink. But that issue is addressed and then some on weeknights, during the 4:30-6:30 p.m. happy hour, featuring half-price Belgians (typically $4-5). And judging from the panoply of logo-bearing, brewery-specific glasses sitting before them, Belgians were just what most of the people at the bar had come for.
Were they hungry, however, they'd also have been in luck. Befitting Downtown tastes, the Bistro supplements its "buffalo bites" and salads with gourmet pizzas (like duck confit & fig), and even such small-plate fare as a quiche du jour.
Much of the lunch and dinner menus involves beer, too. My tomato-leek mussels came in a big mussel-pot, the chewy bivalves steeped in an earthy, garlicky sauce incorporating a Belgian blonde ale.
That went down well with an order of frites ... and a Maredsous Double Abbey Ale. And while the bistro offers fancy treats like a Belgian chocolate pudding, I made my dessert a Gulden Draak dark triple ale. It seemed only apt.