The whole world should be lit like the bar at Machiavelli. It's approximately the size of the head of a pin, and oftentimes more people are fit into it than seems possible, and they're all better looking and happier than they actually are in real life elsewhere. On a recent night, the wait for a table upstairs was an hour and a half; bathed in the red glow of the "COCKTAILS" sign in the window, everybody drank martinis and glasses of wine and didn't mind. At the bar, a man discussed his ongoing psychotherapy at length, with such good cheer that it was clear that the treatment, the martini, his meds, or some combination of all of it was working well. ("Therapy is not depressing!" he said.)

Machiavelli's been at the corner of Pine Street and Melrose Avenue for a long time. Fancier, higher-concept Italian restaurants come and go, amazing or disappointing or both; Machiavelli's a reliable friend. Machiavelli's lasagna, baked to order (allow 20 minutes) with spinach noodles and chicken livers, is the kind of thing you think about suddenly for no apparent reason. Then if you don't have it for dinner that night, you will the next night or some night very soon.

The tables in the dining room don't have red-and-white-checked tablecloths, but they might as well. People bring their parents or their 10 closest friends or someone they really like for a first (or second, or umpteenth) date. Once (and probably more than once) one-half of a couple arose from a table to get down on bended knee, velvety box with ring in hand. This went over capitally, applauded by the whole room.

The bar's walls are wood paneled, the ceiling is dormered, and the single table (known as "the island") is coveted. People trudge past outside, going down to or coming up from downtown. (It's especially satisfying viewing in the winter, when passersby look cold and miserable, while inside everyone is insulated with good company, beverages, and anticipation.) Usually nothing exciting happens in the bar, but during the WTO, a hand-lettered sign in the window declared the place independently owned and pro–sea turtle, and a captive audience watched the cops lobbing tear gas canisters at protesters. And one evening during happy hour not too long ago, two slightly unkempt men became slightly unruly, demanding the identity of the dapper man in the photo on the wall (it's the owner's grandfather), then commencing to play dice (they brought their own). The barkeep asked them to leave nicely. Belligerence ensued. She went behind the bar and returned with a baseball bat. They left with an alacrity suggesting they'd been on the business end of a baseball bat before, and life went on, peace restored. recommended

Machiavelli Ristorante, 1215 Pine St, 621-7941.