• HOURS: Daily 4-6:30pm
• PRICES: Food $1-$3; $5 wine by the glass, beer $2-$4.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, a chatty birthday party of young professionals gathered in the back of Unicorn, its numbers increasing every few minutes as hand-holding couples and backpack-clad members of the tech industry joined the festivities. The bartendress, a cherry-lipped brunette in a royal-blue tutu, attended to the front of the house, and every few minutes an affable young man emerged from the kitchen to hand someone a red basket containing a comically phallic corn dog or a greasy bag of popcorn.
I positioned myself across the room in a zebra-striped booth, and watched the party turn from afternoon gathering to evening revel, chiding myself for having hitherto avoided this many-colored bar.
My reluctance to partake of happy hour here had stemmed from two things: One, Unicorn’s much-anticipatedness began too early in the build-out. I had read blog post after blog post about what I could look forward to here, and by the time it opened, I had already tired of thinking about it. Two, in pictures the Unicorn appears circusy, and the corn dog–centric menu seems to point further to a county-fair motif. While anyone can appreciate the aesthetic opportunities of the circus, I couldn’t quite imagine relaxing there. Yes, declaring one’s fear of clowns is a tropey attempt at quirkiness, about as desperate, in this post–Paris Hilton age, as an ironic foam truckers cap. But most of us are, in fact, a little afraid of clowns. And it’s not just the clowns: the circus makes me think of abused bears and missing children lured from their parents by pink wigs of cotton candy. It’s not a place I want to have beers.
But Unicorn turns out to be more beautiful than anything else, with nods everywhere to various folk-art traditions. Its hand-painted tables and bar, the latter as intricate as the altar in some Orthodox cathedral, make you feel, at moments, like you’re drinking inside a Mexican Day of the Dead diorama. Thick vertical stripes on the wall, here black and white, there Tiffany-blue and white, rise up to meet a candy pink ceiling. A freaky collection of taxidermic monkeys and zebras and bears looks down on the proceedings.
Happy hour is every day at Unicorn, and the menu is pretty simple. For food there are corn dogs (original ($1.50) and veg ($2)), popcorn ($1), fries ($1), and unicorn balls ($3)—fried pork balls flavored with ginger and jalapeno. The more squeamish of stomach will be pleased with the meatless version of the corn dog—stuffed with (what I believe to be) Field Roast sweet sausage. It’s good. The popcorn arrives warm and oozing with oily-sweet goodness. It would be a happy day at the Unicorn if they’d add some sparkling wine to the HH menu to pair up with that perfect popcorn. For now you can opt for the Oak Grove viognier ($5) or a Domaine de Couron merlot ($5), a $2 can of PBR, or a $4 pint of Big Al IPA or Irish Death Porter.
As the sun set on that recent Saturday, the private party began to bleed into the evening crowd—a lady seated at the end of the bar placed her tiny wire-haired terrier on top of it, the dog watched warily as a couple in rabbit ears sidled up for a cocktail. Nearby, a man wearing two backpacks—the one on his chest contained a sleeping baby—bid his friends good night.
Happy hour had come and gone, but it hadn’t yet occurred to me to leave Unicorn.