As the curb says, "watch your step" when entering the front door at Mason Bar; the sudden step up could be potentially lethal for tipsy girls in heels.
Inside, a couple occupies stools at one end of the bar, and save for them it's empty -- just a quiet Monday night at the State-Thomas neighborhood's newest watering hole.
The room has tall ceilings and gorgeous old arched windows behind the bar, but other than that it's fairly nondescript -- lots of random album covers adorn the walls, from Jesus Lizard to Sonic Youth to Jurassic 5. This very building used to house a Masonic temple, but you'd hardly know it, save for a few small relics hanging here and there.
Despite being just a block removed from Woodall Rogers, this spot feels comfortably tucked away from the hectic pace of downtown. It's definitely a neighborhood bar, and if I lived within walking distance I'd be here every Monday knocking back half-price classic cocktails.
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About those cocktails: They're solid, even at full price (most of them falling between $8 and $10). Mason Bar isn't trying to reinvent the wheel, instead offering a small selection of half a dozen or so classic drinks and staying true to the original recipes. The French 75 is just as it should be: fizzy and a little boozy, with a nice lemony bite and just a touch of sugar for balance.
The Hemingway Daiquiri is worthwhile, too. This drink looks like summer in a glass: the color of orange sherbet with a juicy lime wedge perched on the rim. It differs from a regular daiquiri (white rum, lime, simple syrup) with the addition of grapefruit juice and maraschino liqueur, and was supposedly Mr. Hemingway's preferred method of getting sloshed while conjuring up Death in the Afternoon and other literary masterpieces. Neither drink bears any resemblance to the frozen strawberry slush I used to whip up in my blender at home, and each is a hell of a lot more potent.
The bar was opened with he-of-underground-dinner-fame David Anthony Temple manning the kitchen, but he departed very shortly after the bar opened. With DAT at the helm, a New Orleans/Creole direction was the intention, but now only traces of that inspiration remain on the menu -- a Sazerac and shrimp 'n grits sprinkled amongst other menu items that globe-trot all over the place.
Mason Bar seems to still be searching for its identity a bit, but the atmosphere is comfortable, if not exciting, and they mix a more than capable drink; these attributes, along with a something-for-everyone menu, are probably more than sufficient to secure Mason Bar a spot alongside The Nodding Donkey and State and Allen Lounge as a reliable neighborhood bar.