If you live downtown chances are you don't have your own garage. Condos and apartment buildings usually have massive underground parking areas for everybody's cars. Those aren't man-cave-type spots where you'd want to chill with a cocktail. Garage Kitchen + Bar (655 Fourth Ave.) is.
Garage is a local's hangout, but not in a beach bar, local's-only fashion. It's not hard to find this Gaslamp Quarter restaurant/bar, but it is tucked into an unusual location. Next door to the south is The Shout! House, home of the unexplainably popular dueling pianos. Garage and Shout are under the same management, and share a kitchen, albeit with different menus. On the north side of Garage is bar/restaurant/music venue Tin Roof. That space used to be a Rock Bottom; in fact, Garage's split-level interior used to be Rock Bottom's banquet hall.
There's always a new restaurant opening up downtown, and I'm always looking to pop into the latest offering. Garage is one place that keeps drawing me back. It's almost never packed, and the upstairs is mostly in play on weekend nights. On a recent Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. I was the lone patron for about 10 minutes. It wasn't ideal ambiance, but there are plenty of reasons to try to be the one who starts the party, and, every server/bartender is genuinely friendly.
A price-point draw is the seven-day-a-week happy hour. From 4 to 7 p.m. all drinks and appetizers are 51 percent off. Yes, more than half off. No apps are more than $13 at full price. That means $6-$7 at happy hour gets you a medium sized bowl of mussels and clams (with chorizo, fennel, saffron white wine sauce and Sadie Rose bread, or three fresh ceviche tostadas (halibut, salsa fresca, Napa cabbage, queso Oaxaca, el pato sauce and cilantro crème).
The signature app is the artistically awesome ahi tartare nachos. Triangular wonton crisps are propped up on their sides, with ahi squares, avocado, tomatoes and siracha aioli packed between them. The dish appears to be spicy, but it's not. That light green ingredient that looks like wasabi is actually edamame puree.
For dinner, try the stuffed free-range chicken breast, filled with pine nuts, spinach and goat cheese. It's a really big portion for $16, and comes with garlic mashed potatoes.
I also recommend the plate of seared ahi and sesame brown rice ($15). It's a gluten-free entrée, served with wild mushrooms, broccolini, avocado and a soy vinaigrette. No matter what your fork picks up it all mixes palatably.
Like many garages, Garage doesn't have a defining motif. There's a wall that pays homage to San Diego music acts (Eddie Vedder, Slightly Stoopid, etc.) that started as garage bands before making it big. But this isn't a music venue. When the NFL season kicks off in a few weeks, new flat-screens will be up on the wall. But this isn't a sports bar.
Garage is an escape. A casual, yet stimulating, place to go when you just need to get out of the house.