It was going on 14 minutes since we had ordered drinks. Well, the wife, she was going on her second since I had spun the block looking for parking, and there was nothing but an empty coaster in front of me. It's not supposed to be this way at American Social, where one goal is to get a drink into your hands quickly.
Becky — we'll call the waitress that so she doesn't get fired for this — tried to breeze by. But we called out to her before she could pass the table next to us. "Oh, he's still making it," she said, when asked about my Manhattan ($13). She jutted a thumb over her shoulder toward the bartender. "It has exotic ingredients, and they're still learning how it's done."
A gaggle of bartenders appeared to be struggling with the computer system, not mixing drinks. That's understandable, considering this new Las Olas joint has been open just a week, but hey — those exotic ingredients were really nothing more than sugar, bitters, orange, and bourbon.
Four minutes later, Becky was on her way with a martini glass of liquid the color of red grapefruit. Then, just steps away, poor Becky's elbow caught the corner of the booth next to ours. Half of the Manhattan spilled to the floor and washed into the floorboards. Becky looked as dejected as a forgotten prom date. She was about to take the half-full drink away, but we convinced her to leave it.
And then somehow, just minutes later, she arrived with a second. From there, it all seemed to fall into place at American Social, a destination made for drinking and maybe some food. But above all, drinking.
The place is the creation of partners Rick Mijares and Paul Greenberg. You'll recognize the second name if you attended Florida State; Greenberg was managing partner of the famed Potbelly's in Tallahassee. Their creation is something akin to what would happen if a raucous college bar matured into a place for alumni a few years removed from Jell-O shots.
Greenberg told me later by phone that the idea was to open a restaurant with the feel of a bar. "I wouldn't consider it a restaurant, I wouldn't consider it a sports bar, and I wouldn't consider it a lounge," he says. "We're combining this into something that hasn't been done down here before."
American Social might not seem novel on nearby Himmarshee, but here on Las Olas, among the traps serving tilapia to tourists, this is part of a new direction. It joins the always-packed Rocco's Tacos, happening YOLO, and the soon-to-open Royal Pig Pub.
We sat at a high-top along the wall on Eighth Street and had a vantage point above the comfy seating that lines the place. Those booths are more like couches, really, with cushions as soft as marshmallows that seem to suggest a nap and with tables too far away to really eat off your plate. But these booths are probably the most inviting seats you'll ever find in a restaurant. A close second are the leather-topped, brass-studded barstools nearby.
Becky, who actually turned out to be a spot-on server, noticed our closed menus and asked if we wanted to eat. We inquired about specials. "Specials? I know it's happy hour right now, but just on drinks," she said, revealing the gist of the place.
The most striking thing about the dinner menu is the lack of actual dinners. It's all appetizers, salads, sliders, and sandwiches. The simple but quite nice ahi tuna spinach niçoise salad, the highlight of a previous lunch, tops the prices at $16. On Becky's suggestion, we ordered a couple of starters as that second Manhattan disappeared.
The spinach and artichoke dip ($11) came out looking like something you might expect on a buddy's coffee table. Maybe that fit the vibe, really, considering the place is decked out more like a comfortable living room than a restaurant, with warm sconce-style chandeliers, framed Life magazines, and faux bookshelves painted on the back wall. Underneath the panko crust of the dip, however, was something cheesy and garlicky and certainly better than what would come out of your buddy's microwave. We scraped it clean with the store-bought-style tortilla chips.
The caprese pesto flatbread ($11) was quite nice too, with a balsamic drizzle making a checkerboard pattern across the top. We should've skipped the chicken on top (an extra $4), though, considering the slices of roast breast added a bizarre texture to the pizza.
"You mind if I take a slice?" a guy in an askew tie asked as he walked past our table. His bourbon on the rocks was nearly empty, to the point that it had apparently made him chatty. His group was occupying the couch/booth next to us, where American Social has something rather convenient for the serious drinker. In the center of the table jut beer taps connected to some kind of gizmo that keeps track of how much you drink. The booth seats nine, and the restaurant requires at least $120 per hour for the spot. The boys were certainly hitting that minimum.
And we didn't blame him for asking for a slice. That balsamic drizzle was beautiful, and we suggested he should probably try some of it. He laughed it off and went back to his entourage, which had just finished off the quite-crispy Parmesan truffle fries and an order of the pretzel spears.
We went on to the trio of sliders ($12), which had a success rate of two out of three. The short-rib slider boasted warm bacon onion chutney, and the burger version was adorned with Maytag blue cheese — both the kind of miniburgers you'd want to eat while watching the Dolphins lose. But the Miami roast pork with mojo had the texture of undercooked pulled chicken, nothing like the Noche Buena-style pork you'd expect.
By now, I had switched to a glass of the Graffigna Malbec ($6 at happy hour) from a wine menu that features all the regulars, a Mark West pinot noir, something from Erath. Nothing to disappoint, but then most will probably be ordering from the specialty cocktail list, with its array of exotic ingredients, or going for the taps. There's even a novel concept up by the front windows: an array of do-it-yourself beer taps activated with a special key fob available from the bartender. Tie it in with a credit card and you're refilling at your own speed. Nobody was trying them, though. Instead, the bar was three-deep, with a 4-to-1 ratio of guys to girls, all the well-coifed types you find at YOLO. No female lacked suitors, like the girl at the end of the bar, crowded around by three Brooks Brothers men who paid attention to her as if she were curing cancer.
Weezer was making "hep hep" sounds from the blaring music when we turned to our prosciutto and mozzarella panini ($12). It came on airy ciabatta already cut into squares, fries on the side. This presentation, chopped up into small servings, was as representative as anything of the end goal here. It came ready to share, passed around by a group of coworkers or friends marveling at the key fob beer taps.
The guitar ballad "Yellow Ledbetter" came on as a young woman walked in with her parents, took a look at the packed bar, and turned right around. Mom would not appreciate this noise, and Dad, he'd wonder what kind of restaurant doesn't serve a steak. But then, American Social isn't a dinner club. It's a social club, and as that, it shines.