It's easy to walk by the entrance of Santé Bar and not anticipate the swanky atmosphere that awaits beyond the front door.
Once your eyes adjust to the low lighting, a narrow, dark bar lined with large, striking art emerges. Behind the classic wooden bar is an exceptionally friendly staff tending to a well-appointed selection of liquor and housemade shrubs and syrups, which feature prominently in owner Veronique Lafont's craft cocktail creations.
The crowd can range from first dates to after-work happy-hour groups, and it feels equally as suited to pre-theater cocktails as it does for an all-evening catch-up with friends. Guests can lounge at either high-top tables or cozy booths, or perch right at the bar. It's an intimate space but not cramped.
A small stage at the front of the bar gets a heavy rotation of DJs and singer-songwriters, depending on the occasion, and the sound system kicks out higher than expected quality and volume for the space. On the Thursday of my visit, a guitar-and-keyboard duo sang soulful ballads and slowed-down pop songs. The bar has also played host to queer dance parties like TheyThemHer's Prince tribute night. It's a bit of a squeeze around tables for a proper dance floor, but that's not so bad if you want to get closer to someone on the floor.
Bread-heavy hummus, cheese and meat plates (starting at $6) are there to soak up the alcohol but not overshadow Lafont's signature cocktails. Try the Swanky ($10) for a unique summer gin drink with grapefruit and rosemary notes, or discover your newest brunch-inspired obsession—the Brown ($12), a bacon-infused bourbon cocktail. The Squeeze ($11), enticing for its combo of gin, mint and cucumber syrup, lime and egg whites, becomes an unsatisfying combination of flavors once combined over rocks.
I'm a sucker for a vintage vibe and romantic lighting, so Sante makes for a welcome refuge from the hustle of the Park Blocks during Fleet Week. And if you're looking for something beyond drag bingo and Jell-O shots, it's also a refreshing shift from the standard westside LGBTQ bar experience. SYLVIA RODEMEYER.
DRINK: Santé Bar, 411 NW Park Ave., 971-404-8216. 4-9 pm Monday-Tuesday, 4-10 pm Wednesday-Thursday, 4 pm-midnight Friday-Saturday. Happy hour Monday-Friday 4:30-6:30 pm, Saturday 10:30-midnight. $1 off well drinks, house wine and starters.