The bar inside the second incarnation of Elmwood restaurant Nektar is just as sweet as I remember it two summers ago. The gorgeous Californiaesque eatery and be-seen-ery might have gone up in a blaze of glory in a horrific 2004 fire, but its fiery ambitions to be this small city's ultimate in big-city swank have never departed.
The last time I dined in Nektar just happened to be two nights before said fire closed shop for extensive remodeling and repair. I was afraid -- I'm not going to lie -- that my visit might have been ominous, but I wasn't going to let my friend's recent birthday party stop me from taking another swing at it.
Inside, the feeling is chic and luxurious, but not overpoweringly so. Muted shades of beige and other such monochromatic tones are framed by a Laguna Beach-feeling breeze of soft lighting and pale-colored wood walls that seem to make everyone, sitting or standing, just a tad better looking. If you aren't already living in the "It's spring now, I'm wearing shorts" mentality of Western New York beach culture, this place just might make you think it's 75 degrees outside.
On a Friday night, around 11, we seem to be the last to enter, as things appear to have been going for quite some time now. The dinner crowd -- the one that eats at 8:30 because, I guess, dinner at 6 is just too early -- is still finishing cocktails and nibbling on desserts; the bar scene is bustling and full of excitement.
I can't say that I've seen a finer-looking group of individuals, from the sharply dressed college set to the beautifully refined fortysomethings. Not everyone looks like they've just walked off the set of "The O.C.," but they do look like at the very least they've been to Orange County, saw the trends, brought them back to Buffalo and introduced the blue-collared folk to new swirls of fashion and combinations in mixed drinks.
If "Project Runway" had a local contingency, this would surely be the shooting locale for a segment on budding trends.
The drinks, thankfully, live up to the hullabaloo of the scenery. My vodka and cranberry, as well as my vodka tonic, as well as my whatever else I had after that, were all quite good and fun. As this was my friend's birthday party, we were commanding the west end of the lengthy bar, and bartender Brian was more than accommodating. An appetizer of corn-breaded banana peppers heated things up in all the right ways. In the pseudo-alcove that adorns the only window out onto Elmwood, we were met by a long table of beautiful women sharing what looked like a birthday party straight out of "Sex and the City."
But it wasn't until Stevie Wonder -- it's Stevie!!! -- came pumping through the speakers that this table became the ultimate in dinner theater. Dining, drinking and dancing, all in the confines of their seats, they were living it up. I couldn't tell if they were staying immobile because of a lack of dance floor -- an addition, by the way, that would turn this already hot spot into an explosive Miami attraction, if it were so destined -- or because the seats were just so comfortable. (They did look cushiony; I can't blame them for sitting.)
The dance party didn't stop with Stevie, though I'm sure glad it started with him. Moving on through Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye and Sade, the grooves were wonderfully in tune with good times and exquisite musical taste. In the wrong hands, Nektar's sort of aesthetic might be botched with a soundtrack of Jennifer Lopez and whatever Simpson sister owns the tabloids that week.
No, this is a bar for adults, made by adults, and with only the pleasures of a refined classy stud or lady in mind. Try finding valet parking on Chippewa, let alone "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," and you might have a fight.
451 Elmwood Ave.
Scene: Classy beautiful people
Music: Classic dance, Motown, all the best
Drinks: Martinis, mixed drinks, some beer, plenty of wine
Dress Code: Dress your (comfortably) best