The Barmuda Triangle is long overdue for an injection of fresh blood.
Aside from the Alhambra Theatre ceding to retro barcade Quarterworld, the bar scene in the 4000 blocks of Hawthorne has existed in a state of relative stasis for years. The Cavern (4601 SE Hawthorne Blvd.) is just the shot to the arm the area needed—an old rocker bar that's dignified, cozy and a just a wee bit punk.
The brainchild of Jason Rocksmore, a member of noise-punk outfit Stumblebum and a veteran bartender with stints at Virginia Cafe and Kelly's Olympian, the Cavern aims to be a classy neighborhood hang minus the bright lights and bullshit. It is a dimly lit corridor with deep red walls and a menagerie of macabre paintings above the booths. With a soundtrack of Misfits and Bikini Kill played at levels that linger tastefully below conversation level, it's an unpretentious locale ideal for a Dante's or Lovecraft regular to enjoy some peace without the quiet.
Rocksmore hits the mark with a whiskey selection that's divided neatly between region. There are rare Japanese offerings like a Yamazaki 12-year ($20) and a Hibiki Harmony ($17) balanced by domestic go-tos like Buffalo Trace ($8) and Four Roses Yellow Label ($8). The food is unfussy fare courtesy of Shig Matthews, a former Harlow chef whose adeptness with animal protein went underutilized during his time at the popular vegetarian spot. The albacore, avocado, fried capers and lemon crostini ($8) celebrates his light touch with a brightly flavored dish, but the real heart of the menu are the steak bites with red wine butter beans, as savory as they are simple.
Paired with a smoky and sweet Cavern Manhattan ($12), flickering candles and a soundtrack of heavy music from a bygone era, the Cavern offers a much-needed respite from the put-on charms of newer bars and the grizzled attitude of the old.