Sunday, January 1, 2012

Great Beer, Good Food, the Occasional Nude Woman Make Varga Bar a Spot Worth Visiting

When the wife and I decided to go to Center City's Varga Bar this weekend when we were in town to go to The Nutcracker, I got very excited. This is because I had heard that the establishment's walls were decked with posters and photographs of nude women. However, in retrospect, I am thinking that I should have been more jacked up for the place's classy, carefully selected beer list and better-than-expected food options.

Being that our visit took place on New Year's Eve afternoon, there were not a ton of customers crowding the bar. This allowed us to get two seats at the counter, which was great because our bartender - we did not get his name, but he was a stocky fellow with shaved head and healthy beard - was a joy to deal with. He was friendly, attentive, and full of suggestions, if asked. The first drink I had was called Beast of Burden. It was a beer cocktail consisting of Voodoo Pilzilla, vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice. It was tremendously enjoyable with the ingredients mixing almost flawlessly. The ginger beer was probably the dominant element and the vodka was not incredibly noticeable until the final swill. This is a good thing for me as I am not a major fan of hard liquor. Extra points go out to the idea of serving the libation in a mason jar. There was something extremely manly about drinking a beer out of a container that might usually be used to hold strawberry preserves or something. The wife went with a beer that I was quite excited to see on the menu: Stone 11.11.11 Vertical Epic Ale. However, I must report that she was not a major fan and when I partook in a sip, I could see why. It was advertised as a Belgian Strong Ale, and yet it was quite light on heft. No way would I have thought Stone would strike out on this beer, but it simply was not up to their usual standards.

While the wife escaped into the realm of the fancy cocktail with her next beverage - Stoli Chocolate Raspberry with club soda - I continued down the path of delicious beer. Or not so delicious in the case of Sly Fox Christmas Ale (2011). This was a disappointment. While traces of cinnamon and nutmeg were evident, the spicing of this beer was somewhat weak. I made up for this letdown with a true winner from the folks at Troegs. Their Dream Weaver Hefeweizen was packed with interesting notes of citrus and banana. With an ABV of below six percent, it is one that I could see myself wiling away a full afternoon with in the future. It should also be said that our wonderful bartender allowed us a quick pull of Dogfish Head's Fort, a raspberry ale with an astounding 18 percent ABV. Now, I am not a fan of fruity beers. Plus, I don't think I could judge it appropriately from the two or so ounces that I consumed. But I thought it was pretty decent. Definitely one you would want to have a designated driver for if you choose to order the whole pint.

While the naked women on the walls and the beer were certainly the co-main attractions for me, I defeinitely walked away impressed with the bar's culinary options. While only the brunch menu was available - I certainly would like to get back there on a day when all food items were in play - we still were able to find meals that pleased us. For myself, it was an applewood smoked bacon and cheddar omelette, which was served with carmelized shallots and roasted potatoes. While I often find myself more drawn to the kind of omelette you get in a diner - eggs browned up, cheese a little more gooey and ample - I felt that the Varga version was prepared perfectly, especially when bolstered with some of the establishment's spicy ketchup and hot sauce. The true revelation though was the kobe burger, which was served with cheddar, bacon, tomato, carmelized shallots, organic greens, and some of the best skinny fries I have had in a long time. The wife ordered it medium-rare and the chef nailed it, providing an entree that was not too bulky, but still gave you some weight to help soak up some of the booze.

When you combine the sophisticated beer list, the tasty food, a tremendous atmosphere, and a bartender that makes the hours spent drinking even more satisfactory, Varga Bar is definitely a spot worth checking out if you can make it into the city for a couple hours

Varga Bar
941 Spruce St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Varga Bar on Urbanspoon

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