Braised short ribs with pickled vegetables at Cork. Listening to the latest rumblings, you'd think that no one goes out to eat anymore. But try to get a table at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night in Bend, and you might forget there's a recession. If your party is small and your dinner plan is flexible, it can be easier and a lot more fun to grab a seat at the bar than wait. Brewpubs and bars that serve food abound downtown, but there are also some great options for bar seating if you're in the mood for higher-end fare but don't mind eating it in a more casual setting. The bar at the newly relocated Zydeco Kitchen & Cocktails (919 Bond St.) is welcoming and should be a little easier to access than the highly sought-after tables. Just down the street, Staccato at the Firehall (5 NW Minnesota Ave.) serves up northern Italian recipes with a contemporary twist in its lively bar area that comes complete with cocktail tables and bar-worthy lighting. If you find yourself in the Old Mill District and want to hunker down on a comfortable bar stool, be sure to try Fireside red (803 SW Industrial Way) for eclectic small plates served in a newly expanded bar area that's cordoned off with a bank of red booths.
Several restaurants also have separate rooms dedicated to bar seating that are distinctly different from the main dining rooms, and customers often find them preferable even if tables are available. Cork (150 NW Oregon Ave.), known for its extensive wine list and romantic setting, is a very different experience if you choose to sidle up to the bar. The massive glowing square bar at the Blacksmith (211 NW Greenwood Ave.) will shed a new light on whatever you order from the "New Ranch" menu, specializing in steaks and other hearty entrees. And Giuseppe's (932 NW Bond St.), a downtown fixture since 1985, offers up Goomba's, a lounge at the back of the restaurant that's a favorite of bar denizens. Even Bend's oldest restaurant Pine Tavern (967 NW Brooks St.) has a popular dimly lit lounge in front for those willing to forgo a view of the historic Ponderosa trees growing in the middle of the dining room. You may be sacrificing white tablecloths for cocktail napkins, but the after-dinner drink is far more convenient. - Alice Finer