Once just a place to pull up a stool and call for a round, bars have become dining destinations in their own right. Chefs are putting as much thought into bar snacks as they are entrees, so you have no excuse to drink on an empty stomach. Here are five bar snacks that will keep you bellied up until last call.
Pub Cheese at Alder, New York City ($11)
The port wine cheese ball, that relic of '70s era dinner-party buffets, serves as the inspiration for the pub cheese at Wylie Dufresne's modern American-style pub. Executive Chef Jon Bignelli blends cheddar cheese, cream cheese and red wine—four magnums worth, reduced to about a pint, giving it a bold, tannic flavor—plus miso paste and mustard. Chunks of pistachio brittle add texture, while Martin's potato bread is run through a pasta press and baked into a thin, crunchy vehicle.
Crispy Rum Ribs at Cane & Table, New Orleans ($17)
The tropical cocktails at this tiki bar call for similarly colorful snacks. Enter the crispy rum ribs. Chef Jason Klutts first grills St. Louis-style ribs for a charred flavor, then braises them overnight in a mix of onion, poblano, jalapeño, ginger, garlic and rum. The next day, he dresses them in buttermilk, tapioca and potato and rice flours before they take a trip to the fryer. The ribs are crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, and sambal oelek and papaya chutney give the whole thing some extra heat and sweet.
Clockwise: Pub cheese at Alder | Canned seafood at Lush Wine & Spirits | Escargots at Péché
Escargot at Péché, Austin, TX ($14)
Absinthe is a featured player in many of Péché's Prohibition-era-inspired cocktails. Translation: Keep the food coming to avoid falling off your stool. Chef John Lichtenberger's substantive bar menu features dishes like escargot prepared in classic Burgundian fashion, though Lichtenberger adds absinthe to the butter, along with shallots, garlic and herbs. He douses the mollusks with the butter and stock, covers them with breadcrumbs, and bakes, serving the finished product with house-made bread.
Spanish Tuna, Octopus or Sardines at Lush Wine & Spirits, Chicago ($12)
Tinned seafood might seem an unlikely accompaniment to wine, but this wine retail shop with a small adjacent bar proves they make an ideal match. Using Spanish tuna, sardines and octopus (which are soaked in olive oil rather than water), each individual tin of seafood is mixed with shallots, lemon, capers, black pepper, parsley and olive oil and cleverly served in its original metal container and presented with crackers or bread, so it's ready for an Instagram close-up.
Pad Thai Popcorn at The Gin Joint, Charleston, SC ($6)
To make their Pad Thai Popcorn, owners Joe and MariElena Raya cook together traditional pad thai ingredients—palm sugar, fish sauce, Thai chili and lime juice—then toss it over popcorn with caramelized peanuts. Because the South Carolina humidity causes the popcorn and peanuts to stick together, they keep it all crisp—and separated—by giving it a little time in an industrial dehydrator. The result: A light, salty-sweet, crunchy snack that you can keep tossing back round after round.