If, while sipping one of the signature cocktails at the Observatory, you notice yourself feeling somewhat more pious than you did when you walked in, you are more than likely sitting on one of the pews the owners salvaged from a nearby church farther up Mount Tabor.
The proprietors, a pair of local couples—including two Sapphire Hotel expats—have proven to be remarkably deft at crafting a space that, while only open for a few months, still manages to exude the warmth of an establishment many years its senior. A large bar dominates the room but not at the expense of the surrounding tables and booths, which are spaced far apart enough that a rousing game of Crazy Eights or dominoes won't bother other patrons. And the Observatory is lit just right, with enough diffused illumination to actually read the menu without aid of night-vision goggles, yet dim enough to afford a small bit of intimacy.
That last bit is important, since there are plenty of items on that menu with which to put a meal together. The smoked whitefish spread ($9) has a healthy dollop of the savory stuff sitting among pickles of myriad provenance, including bread-and-butter gherkins and some lovely cauliflower spiked with turmeric. The fry bread ($4) is flecked with oregano and makes a fine vehicle for the herby crème fraîche and tomato puree that accompanies it.
The list of entrees is populated with comfort standbys, including a well-executed burger ($8) and a pile of fries good enough to earn a space of their own on the happy-hour menu. The Observatory's chicken-fried chicken ($10) is a well-seasoned boneless thigh clad in crunchy panko with Grandma-good mashed potatoes and gravy, but it's the roasted Brussels sprouts that will make you second-guess all the times you rebuked them as a child.
The list of house cocktails is extensive and has more than a few reimaginings present, including an entirely-too-easy-to-drink Bellini ($7) with pear vodka, peach puree and champagne. The Capricorn ($7) isn't an easy sell, but if you have a hankering for a very strong black peppercorn flavor with vodka and strawberry, it might just be your tonic. The sparkling elderflower punch ($7) is far less challenging but more refreshing.
Desserts ($5-$7) can be a little hit-and-miss here, with an overly dry bread pudding as one of the regulars, but if the place is offering any of its crisps on the specials board with a scoop of ice cream, leap on it. Settle in with one of those and a cup of Stumptown and marvel at how such a new space can feel like it's been your go-to for years
The Observatory, 8115 SE Stark St., 445-6284. Dinner and late-night 3 pm-midnight Tuesday-Saturday, 3-10 pm Sunday Monday. $$ Inexpensive.