A Tranquil Happy Hour at Ravenna's Bai Pai
On an evening of opaque darkness and rain of Biblical proportions, a bar with a fireplace is a haven. In the bar at Bai Pai, not only is there a fireplace, but a large-scale carving of the face of the Buddha hangs above it. The surpassingly peaceful visage is made of teak; it came from Chiang Mai, Thailand. Dark wood shelves holding several hundred bottles of wine flank the fireplace and the Buddha face. The comfort level goes beyond consciousness; the heavy-lidded eyes and proximate smile of the Buddha indicate that while the world may be literally coming to an end outside due to climate change, here we will sit in oneness with the warmth of the fire and these many bottles of wine, awaiting our eventual rebirth with tranquil mind and full glass.
If happiness may be defined as low expectations defied, Bai Pai is at a distinct advantage. It's in Ravenna, not exactly a hotbed of nightlife. The concept, upscale Thai, is less than a thrill at this juncture. The space isn't very promising—fresh ground-floor retail lodged under uninspired condominiums, with a low-ish ceiling, an awkward L-shape. But in addition to the Buddha, the fire, and the wine, Bai Pai has good lighting. Other establishments located in similar, potentially terrible spaces should note that slipping red gels into the illuminated panels among the overhead acoustic tiles vastly and instantly improves ambiance. The rosy half-light dyes the drapes a burnt orange; they wisely prevent a view of a sad, wet, nondescript interstitial courtyard. High-backed rattan chairs suggest that you should close your eyes and lean back for a moment, and that it's not 38 degrees out, it's just monsoon season.
At happy hour, almost a dozen wines by the glass are around $3, as are well drinks and beer; decent snacks—garlic string beans, green papaya salad, calamari—are $3.75 a plate. (Golden prawns were the only real disappointment, their wrapping thick and cardboardy, the prawns overdone inside. Also note that the spicy scale skews low here, with medium only barely warm.) All this inexpensive happiness is from 4:00 p.m. to close on Monday and Tuesday, and 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. other nights. If you're either a poet or able to tolerate the combination of poets and affordable wine, Bai Pai hosts a reportedly popular open-mic night on Monday, at the end of which free food is provided for practitioners and fans of verse.
A piano is wedged into the lower leg of the lounge's L-shape. On weekends there's usually live jazz, though the vocalist is currently in France; meanwhile, the bartender says, random patrons have proven to be remarkably talented pianists.
All things considered, an hour or two at Bai Pai is shockingly pleasant. ("Bai pai" means "bamboo leaf." Also surprisingly satisfying: saying "Bai Pai!" or, even better, "Bai Pai Thai!")