Food & Drink

Bar Exam

Octopus's Garden

The SeaMonster Lounge in Wallingford doesn't open until 9:00 p.m. or, sometimes, closer to 9:15 or so. SeaMonstergoers know this, and they trickle in accordingly, greeting the owner/bartender by name and, sometimes, hugging him. He momentarily holds a wiener dog made out of a balloon. The origin of the dog is unclear, and it disappears again as if by magic. Among the liquors on the top shelf stands a very tall pepper mill, a beacon of spice perhaps deployed in the creation of late-night bloody marys.

The SeaMonster used to be a breakfast place, and the layout, like most things about the place, is odd in a lovable way. The space is long and narrow, shotgun-style; the entry houses the bar, a few tables, a glowing miniature fake fireplace, and a corner booth that's an enormously satisfying place to sit. Further back, live music occurs awkwardly along one side of an elongated room that also features murals of lovely mermaids and menacing tentacles. Another wall in the belly of the SeaMonster is punctured with a series of portals leading to yet another puzzling area with an exposed brick wall that seems to be in entirely the wrong place. In the very back, a porch swing is wedged into a weird corner, offering seating for those waiting for the bathroom. (The ladies' has an old-fashioned lock of the sort that never works; this one functions like a dream, with a beautiful clicking sound. The faucet is also antique and marvelous, but it only emits the slightest dribble of water at full blast.)

The SeaMonster avoids inducing total visual and spatial discombobulation by way of one key factor: perfect lighting. It is dark and blue-green, but not aggressively so; this dark blue-greenness is accomplished simply, with strands of Christmas lights of deep oceanic hues up near the ceiling and a few vintage lamps fitted with colored bulbs. (The best of the lampage is a hanging fixture featuring three gently sparkling green orbs.) The overall effect: both convivial and a bit foreboding, as every bar should be.

The SeaMonster's name fits it perfectly (unlike, say, upscale Wonder Bar down the street, which apparently did not offer enough wonder to stay in business). Being inside the SeaMonster, particularly on a pitch-black, wet autumn night, is like a dream of a submarine. The dream submarine is cozy if surreal, with no military personnel, an ample supply of liquor, and a captain who makes a very nice martini.

A few specialty drinks and snacks are available, but the SeaMonster isn't a cosmopolitans-and-cheese-plate place. It swallows you up rather than vice versa; it's frayed around the edges in the best way, the kind of place that makes you wish you lived within stumbling distance of its charms.

bethany@thestranger.com

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