Image: Amos Morgan

Mediterranean Mona’s not just a bar with a dinner menu, but a place with a recharged culinary reputation.

IF A RESTAURANT could express the soul of a city, Washington, DC, would be a chophouse for deal makers; New York City a four-alarm ethnic mom ’n’ pop. Seattle? I’ll vote neighborhood bistro, effortlessly swanky and crammed with regulars, where food and drink are taken seriously and nothing is serious in the least.

Meet Mona’s, wedged between two other neighborhood icons—Krittika Noodles and the Latona Pub—in the lucky Latona district east of Green Lake. Chances are you’ve already met, as Mona’s opened 13 years ago. Two years ago the owners doubled the restaurant’s size, knocking down the wall between it and the former baseball card shop next door, adding a central horseshoe of a bar. One year ago they sold the place to their bartender Quinn Gallagher and then-girlfriend Aleece, the pastry chef for Lowell-Hunt Catering who’d been a regular at Mona’s for almost 10 years. (Her ex-brother-in-law had owned the baseball card shop.) Eight months ago Aleece and Quinn married, and naturally held their reception at Mona’s—the place they owned, but more significantly, the place where they met.

Walk into Mona’s and immediately sense that three-degrees-of-separation sizzle. Everyone’s a regular; so much that those whose job it is to greet guests may simply expect them to know they can sit wherever they like. On the restaurant side, perhaps, beneath oversize paintings at glossy tables, alongside purple velvet drapes. Or on the bar side, beneath oversize mirrors beside windows that open onto the sidewalk in summer. Its walls coolly warm in bold vermillion and periwinkle, its ceilings elegantly soaring—Mona’s shimmers after dark in a sexy starlight of pendant lamps and twinkling votives, that centerpiece bar glowing like a box of jewels.

Surveying the room you’ll spy singles at the bar—an uncommonly good spot for solo dining, the bar is suitably anonymous but still right in the middle of the party—along with romancing couples and merrymaking chums. Weekends live Brazilian samba coaxes dancers to their feet. Dangerously perfect cocktails flow freely, especially during Happy Hour.

So is Mona’s a bar with a dinner menu, or a restaurant with a great bar? The latter. It’s one of several places in town that recharged its culinary reputation the moment the tobacco ban cleared the smoke away. But more than that, Quinn the bartender-turned-owner knew the value of a talented chef. So he brought Micah Windham into the kitchen in March.