NEW IN TOWN: The Diplomat at the Ambassador

If you’ve been following the saga of all the startups trying to make a go of it on the ground floor of the recently renovated Ambassador building downtown, you may have been surprised to see an “Open” sign lit in the front window for the last few weeks. In the very beginning, after Yats owner Joe Vuskovich “stepped away” from the original Bar Yats concept just as the place was opening in September of 2010, the bar morphed into The Bar at the Ambassador with real promise serving authentic Cajun dishes and top-notch cocktails, including excellent Sazeracs and Vieux Carres. But slow, understaffed service and a dwindling crowd caused the place to change concepts, then close, until it reopened briefly in January of this year as Azul, with a curious menu of Mexican-inspired dishes though minimal decor changes. The doors darkened just a few weeks later, with little hope of a bar or eatery coming back to this seemingly prime downtown location just north of Central Library, amid a host of downtown apartment complexes.
But in mid-August, the place opened again as The Diplomat at the Ambassador (43 E. 9th St., 317-602-4433), the name clearly hoping to restore some of the style and elegance that the historic space promises. With a streamlined menu that features everything from crab cakes and fish tacos to affordable stick-to-your ribs dinners such as pot roast ($12) and duck with a Port and berry reduction ($14), the place has promise to do what its forebears didn’t: provide straightforward bar eats and solid drinks to a downtown block with somewhat of a dearth of dining choices.

We started with a Flat 12 amber, then went for some light snacks, namely a spicy fish-and-chips appetizer platter that, in spite of a slightly off-puttingly sweet dusting of sugar on the fries, hit the spot, particularly with a good kick from a Thousand Island-like tartar sauce. A spinach salad with a light treatment of bacon, goat cheese, and pear, also came with a spicy sesame dressing that had us asking for more water, which came with tasty garnishes of both lemon and cucumber. An eclectic soundtrack ranging from Cyndi Lauper to Kelly Clarkson could be tweaked, but with several unobtrusive screens for catching the game, this is a place we will try again on our next downtown night out when we’d rather relax in a cool spot than fight for parking around Monument Circle.