Flapper and Dapper
By Bill Gerdes
Imagine if Baz Lurhmann hadn’t produced his lavish and luke-warmly reviewed version of The Great Gatsby and instead had spent an afternoon designing a whisky bar and restaurant in Downtown Riverside, which he then entitled ProAbition. Sounds improbable, unfinished, ill-conceived and yet kinda awesome, right?
And then imagine that he put red lighting out front to suggest a cathouse from the ’20s, a red carpet to suggest a movie premiere from the same era and a doorman with a mustache from the 1880s. Even the anachronisms at ProAbition are bitchin‘—like the two televisions above the bar, one showing a black-and-white movie from the period, the other the eastern conference NBA playoffs. Then lastly imagine arriving on a Friday about 8pm and being told the wait was an hour-and-forty-five minutes. Imagine.
My wife and I didn’t have to imagine, as this really happened to us. Our initial instinct was to piss off somewhere else but this review needed to happen. Luckily they do serve at the bar, but that was packed too, but we managed to cadge one of the three cask barrels that sit just off it. In the main dining hall a tight little jazz band was playing, the décor, especially the large red “A” that hangs off the back wall, was beautiful, and it didn’t matter so much that we were standing. Our drinks hearkened back to the ’20s in the liberal pour. My Hendricks Gin and Tonic was deliciously powerful, my wife’s Sidecar perfectly made. It’s a real bar, then or now.
And, yes, they serve food. But I would like to preface my comments by noting I ate standing up at a barrel, slightly fizz-faced after my second cocktail and spent an inordinate amount of my time people watching, for it is slightly surreal seeing erstwhile flappers hanging onto their boyfriends with trucker caps and neck tattoos. There’s something of a buzz to the place, this seemingly doomed space that has seen so many previous attempts fail (see Crescent Jewell, et. al.).
So, the food. We started with the Halibut Ceviche, which featured some lovely halibut that lay hidden in a bed of micro greens, apple and avocado. The fish was delicious—I wish there was more of it. It makes more sense to call this a salad, avoid some confusion, and have a nice salad on your hands. If Jay Gatz could rename himself, ProAbition could do the same with its ceviche.
I had the Hanging Steak, with roasted potatoes and green beans. The potatoes were creamy, and perfectly seasoned and made a nice compliment to the steak, which was nice enough. It all depends if the large dollops of roasted red pepper sauce detract from meat itself. For me, it did. Just a little because the steak itself was juicy and full of flavor. My wife had the Roasted Diver Scallop, which were perfectly cooked but a victim of the “Let’s put heat in here to be interesting” approach when they could use a bit more subtlety. Then again, we had been standing for quite a bit at this point.
All this being said—I can’t wait to go back. Here is a whisky bar, here is a restaurant and a restaurant space that is taking some real chances, having some genuine fun and creating a place that an eclectic group of people wants to hang out in. Next time though I’ll get a reservation and watch them attempt to recreate the past, Nick Carraway be dammed.
The following is a bunch of asides that didn’t make it into the main review but perhaps need saying, Real speakeasies didn’t have a red carpet outside as they were trying to, um, hide their drinking; in this way they were like teenagers. There is a smugness to some of the staff here—a vibe, a feel. That being said our waiter was excellent. My wife is Scottish and therefore knows whisky and gave the whisky choices here a thumbs-up. Good bye, old sport.
ProAbition Whisky Bar and Restaurant, 3597 Main St., Riverside, (951) 222-2110; www.proabition.com. Closed Monday for hat and mustache repair. AE, D, MC, V.