Forever at Chapel
On a Friday evening at Chapel, you may expire prior to getting a drink. The table service being practically hypothetical, you're tempted to go try your luck at the bar, but that's bad form; a length of your time on earth slips away. On a less-busy night last week, with several employees on the floor, it took 15 minutes to get any attending to. In a half-empty bar, 15 minutes feels like an eternity. Clearing tables of used glassware—someone at some point got a drink, just not you, now—and setting out of candles and dimming of the lights seemed to preclude taking orders. Maybe that was a busperson, but still: demoralizing to have someone in an apron so near, yet so far.
Chapel's lack of commitment to service has become legendary—it's never not taken forever, one source says—but Chapel is so pretty that legions of people continue not to mind. The room, with its stained glass and mirrors and vaulted ceiling, dates from the 1920s and was the chapel for a mortuary. The extra-tall bar is made out of stone salvaged from the mausoleum, cool and white.
Chapel's got a very long list of specialty cocktails, many made with liquor infused with fruit and herbs on the premises. I once witnessed infusion occurring directly on the business side of the bar, involving plastic vodka bottles, giant jars, and the wringing of pieces of melon by a staffer's bare hands. While this is not significantly different than a bartender squeezing a wedge of lime into your glass, it is somehow exactly what you do not want to see. By phone, a representative of Chapel said that normally this process ("prepping the excess vodka out of the fruit") is conducted wearing gloves—which, if everyone's washing up properly, maybe isn't as much of a concern as preserving the mystery of the infusion process. I rallied and tried two: (1) cucumber, lightly sweet, subtly scented, delicate, and delicious; and (2) peach, not unpleasant but more like a Sour Patch Kid than a peach. Neither tasted like hands nor produced any ill effects.
From Chapel's food menu: a burger with an odd smoky flavor, limp greens, and a squishy white bun; butter bean–spinach dip with a good smoky flavor and crunchy crostini crackers; tuna carpaccio with blobs of yellow mayo—pardon, saffron aioli. A dish called Praline—thick slices of bacon with channels of fat topped with chopped pecans—was cold. The server could not say whether this was intentional and showed no inclination to inquire, offering only that the bacon was precooked, which in context, is exactly what you do not want to know.
Chapel, 1600 Melrose Ave, 447-4180.