Bar Basic opened just about two weeks ago, turning the old Gallery Lounge space on Brannan into a, well, basic lounge with touches worthy of sets from some high school production of Arsenic and Old Lace: Victorian wall moldings and a gold ceiling crown, with a touch of genuinely old paneling and marble at the front. The crowd: Guys in caps, keeping an eye on the West Virginia-Washington game, draining pints; a pair of skinny guys in even skinnier suits with an H&M fit; and groups of women coalescing on the long, textured banquette.
Our $6 well-gin martini wasn't bad, but the scene was too basic, even for us. With martini residue still on our lips, we ducked around the corner, up the long block of Fourth to Orson. There, couples in sweaters ringed the gray marble of the pinched-horseshoe-shaped bar, as daylight still filtered in through the high skylights. Parties of 10 or more occupied the lounge areas, including a guy in a club shirt that looked forged from metallic condom packets, and a woman with fiercely marcelled hair.Through size and lift alone, Orson is a place that feels like something important is about to happen, even if, like last night, it doesn't. Happy hour has its own printed drinks menu called The Well: a Manhattan, a gin martini, Moscow mule, and a few more, plus the house selection of a red or white, all $5 each. Half a dozen beers ring in at less than $7, plus $3 PBR cans the tweed-capped bartender was classy enough to empty into glassware.
The downside of those $5 cocktails: They're served in glasses that probably looked just fine snuggled into Don Draper's hand, but which in the post-Big Gulp age seem tiny. You might come out even if you spring for a regular $10 old fashioned, rather than slamming two Manhattans at half the price. It was a calculation we tried making after the third drink, but by then, well: We were concentrating instead on not approaching the guy in the condom-wrapper shirt.
Bar Basic 510 Brannan (at Fourth St.), 227-0449; happy hour Mon.-Fri. 4-9 p.m.
Orson 508 Fourth St. (at Bryant) 777-1508; happy hour Tues.-Sat. 5-7 p.m.