Happy hour at Caffe Bello draws all types, from the two gay men on my left last week who were in search of a good cigar bar to the older, well-dressed couple who were quizzing the bartender about where he'd worked in the past over a bottle of white.
"You look so familiar," the woman said. "Where did you work before this?"
"South Beach, PJs, Montrose Mining Company," he rattled off. There were plenty more, but you get the drift. I'm not sure if the older couple did, but they seemed pleased with his extensive resume.
"What's your favorite been so far?" the woman asked.
"This place, of course!" the bartender answered with a cheeky grin.
He worked and prowled the bar like the seasoned pro his resume would suggest that he is, shaking up a second round of grapefruit martinis for me as he chatted up the patrons. Yes, grapefruit martinis.
In this week's cafe review, I mentioned how the bartender and I had a moment of equal confusion when I ordered a martini during happy hour -- the "mini"-tinis are $3.95 every day from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. and I imagined them to be smaller versions of a regular gin martini -- and he instead asked me what flavor I wanted.
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After moving through the initial confusion of being faced with an array of flavored vodkas (I know, I know; let's not deliberate on that for too long, lest the fun of the mini-tinis be lost), he decided to surprise me with his own concoction made with honey-mango-something-or-other Rain organic vodka and grapefruit juice. Despite the fact that it was made with vodka and didn't contain an olive, I loved it.
And, really, when a happy hour is focused on making miniature things like the pizzettas (which normally run from $6 to $11 on the menu) and martinis in tiny glasses, you lose any veneer of seriousness. It's playful here, fun. Not what you'd expect from a Tony Vallone joint, in other words.
Despite the playfulness of the bartenders and the menu, where pappardelle al telefono is described as "Italian junk food," there's one thing that Caffe Bello does take seriously: its food. Happy hour is the best time to enjoy the $4 pizzettas and marvel at the thin, airy crust and the ingredients -- bresaola with taleggio cheese and pear, drizzled with honey, for example -- and how expertly they mingle with one another.
But before you get too serious, the bartender will be back around with another miniature shaker for your mini martini glass, and happy hour will indeed remain happy.