JUST OFF SE 82ND AVENUE, with its used car lots and “adult entertainment” venues, the Observatory sits like a hidden jewel in the center of Montavilla. Thanks to a growing Stark Street renaissance that began with the Academy Theater’s 2006 face-lift, followed by the opening of the now-hallowed Southern eatery Country Cat Dinnerhouse & Bar, this neighborhood lounge is beginning to lure the type of urbanite you’d expect to find at any N Mississippi Avenue hot spot. With its baroque interior—gilded mirrors, church pew seating, ornate chandeliers—the celestial-themed bar offers an oasis for a sophisticated afternoon happy hour or a late-night indulgence.
If you’re after more than atmosphere, order up the Tom Kah cocktail. But be warned: a blend of house-infused Thai bird chili vodka, cilantro-lemongrass simple syrup, fresh lime, and crème of coconut endows this spicy cocktail with all the fire of an asteroid. If you choose to forgo the Pepto-worthy burn, opt for a crisp Sparkling Elderflower Punch on the rocks instead, made with Lambrusco wine, St. Germain liqueur, citrus, and soda—it’s a tart, fruity refresher that entertains the tongue like a feather tickler.
With a rotating selection of domestic beer on hand for a dollar and bites like oregano fry bread with basil crème fraiche for $2, happy hour here is a worthy venture. Heartier dishes, like the chicken-fried chicken with sweet potato hash, will stir up memories of Nana’s home cooking. To be sure, the Observatory rewards exploring a new frontier.