The scent of chili-cheese etouffee has long been scrubbed from the old Yats location, and a stunning polished-wood bar has gone into the former art gallery (and turn-of-the-century tavern) next door as Shawn and Tammy Miller have been welcoming crowds to their ambitious new cocktail spot for over a week now. Owners of the popular Dorman Street Saloon, the Millers put their love of preserving historic structures to work in renovating the Mass Ave storefront, which they christened Liberty Street (659 Massachusetts Ave., 317-694-8482, libertyonmass.com) after the onetime name of a stretch of nearby Park Street. Promising “approachable New American” cuisine and both classic and contemporary cocktails, the bar mingles upscale mixology with surprisingly hearty dishes—all in a cozy atmosphere steeped in the city’s history. Casual, contemporary metal chairs on the former Yats side seem perhaps more appropriate to an outdoor patio than to a vintage saloon, but, all in all, Liberty Street brings a sparkling bit of class to what’s been a rather quiet corner over the last few months.
Despite a private trial run, things were a little harried on opening weekend as waitstaff and bartenders rushed to meet the modest crowd’s requests. But drinks were definitely polished, including a bright and frothy Gin Floozy and a smooth, unusually balanced Sazerac. Bar bites ranged from smaller snacks to full-on dinner fare. A list of small plates spanned the portion-size spectrum, from hummus to tacos to a meatloaf plate big enough for two. Kettle Blus, house chips topped with a blue-cheese sauce, arrived not on a plate but in a bowl, so covered in strips of green onion that we resorted to eating them with a fork.
A pair of “Tacos Locos” with fried chicken proved hearty enough, though the flour tortillas could have been softer or warmed to make them a bit more tender. By far the highlight of the food came in the form of Liberty Street’s generous meatloaf, enriched with “Gin and Juice” salami from Smoking Goose and served over mounds of mashed sweet potatoes. Green beans on the side were so al dente as to be nearly raw, and their tough stems had not been removed. The meatloaf itself was a tad dense but packed with flavor, and while we wondered if such a Sunday dinner-sized plate of food was the best pairing for our restrained cocktails, we were glad that another landmark downtown property had been rejuvenated—and were eager to watch what new history Liberty Street will make.