by Ian McNulty
Late in the summer of 2011, things looked bad for Bacchanal, the popular, then-mostly-outdoor destination for wine, food and music in the Bywater. In August of that year, City Hall made a full court press of enforcement, swooping in with a team of officials one busy night. They cited the place for a litany of code violations and permit issues, from its outdoor kitchen to its live music.
Eventually, however, Bacchanal got itself street legal and in doing so has built out and greatly expanded its operation. There’s now a proper indoor kitchen, a dining room and a new bar serving wine by the glass, beer and craft cocktails.
All of this developed in stages, with most components coming together in time for the Super Bowl in February. Now, with the spring weather hitting its sweet stride and the garden here looking as appealing as ever, the place seems ready for its close-up.
The front retail area still gives off the tattered wine cellar look Bacchanal has had since proprietor Chris Rudge first opened the business as a neighborhood wine shop back in 2002. People still line up at the register to buy bottles to take home or to drink there, usually in the rear garden. Head out to that garden, though, and the big changes start stacking up fast.
A staircase leads to a new deck overlooking the whole scene below (there's a second one facing the street) while the upstairs space has been renovated into a bar and dining room, together seating perhaps 80 people. The look and feel up here is something like a designer-built Creole cottage tree house, with exposed beams and brick, mellow lighting, lots of gleaming woodwork and windows and doors standing open all around.
Downstairs, chef Joaquin Rodas and his crew make dishes that would be at home in a contemporary bistro, though here they’re still served on paper plates. They range from snacks like bacon-wrapped dates with roasted tomatoes or steamed mussels with chorizo (each $8) to flat iron steak ($16), pork shoulder with hazelnuts and shitake mushrooms ($14) and whole grilled branzino ($22).
It’s all a big change for Bacchanal, where it was once advisable to bring your own camp chair to ensure a seat out back. But the place still functions in much the same way. You order food at the kitchen window and servers later track you down in the garden or (now) upstairs. You can get drinks directly from the new bar, or buy a whole bottle direct from the retail racks (a corkage fee is added). Cheese plates are still huge and bands still perform under strings of lights reaching from tree branches to fence posts.
Bacchanal serves lunch and dinner daily (until midnight on Friday and Saturday) and hosts live music nightly.
600 Poland Ave., (504) 948-9111