When people talk about The Met, they call it “the wine bar downtown.”
And there’s nothing wrong with that. The Met initially billed itself as such, and that label gives it notoriety in a city that lacks wine bars.
But, I wondered, why does a wine bar open at 11 a.m. and who goes there?
So I set aside $100 to find out Feb. 16.
Honestly, it was 11:30 a.m. I don’t do mornings, even when there’s booze involved. Kelli Cardinal, a former photographer with The Lima News, and I arrived assuming we’d be the only customers at The Met. We were wrong. A family of four was seated at a low-top table.
Surely, I thought, the man and woman weren’t drinking. They were. But they also were eating food.
That’s something everyone who hasn’t been should know about The Met: The food is solid. It isn’t cheap or plentiful, but it’s creative and made with care. And the changing menu items and specials are posted on Facebook, which puts The Met ahead of most Lima eateries in its use of social media. You know what you want before stepping through the door.
Jenna Kern, the resident beer expert, sauntered over to our table with the St. Valentine’s Day breakfast menu. It included red velvet pancakes and custom omelets with pretty-pink potatoes made with beets. OK, so that’s one good reason to visit in the morning.
So a guy walks into a wine bar with a growler. Seriously.
He came in, walked over to the bar and had his half-gallon The Met jug filled with double-chocolate stout, the bar’s St. Valentine’s Day special. He was there for the same reason I go: High-octane beer is great, and high-octane beer on tap is heaven. You’re not serious about beer until you sell and fill growlers.
For that reason, The Met isn’t a wine bar. More than anything, it’s a gastropub. It started with six taps and expanded to 10. Kitchen staff was added. The menu was expanded. If there’s one thing Lima loves, it’s food and beer. The Met is giving people what they want, even at noon.
Jenna, Kelli and I discuss the merits of wearing pajamas to a bar if you’re morning drinking. I begin to suspect the two pints of Weihenstephaner I’ve downed are working their magic.
I discover The Met has free parking on the side of the building, in addition to the ample parking on Main Street. To those of you who say downtown Lima doesn’t have enough convenient parking: That’s crazy talk.
I ask Jenna if The Met feels at all intimidate by John Heaphy’s plans to build the Old City Prime steakhouse just down the street, no doubt attracting a similarly upscale clientele. She genuinely says The Met isn’t worried at all. The more Lima rediscovers its downtown, the better it is for all the businesses there. It’s almost like the seeds have been planted, but enough buzz is needed to foster a critical mass for downtown’s rebirth.
I begin to discover The Met’s daytime patrons largely mirror the opinion of Lima I’ve held for years: No one exists between age 18 and 40. Everyone at the bar is either young enough to be my son or old enough to be my mom.
Four other groups now are seated and drinking. It doesn’t sound like much, but The Met is a smartly compact establishment, and 1 p.m. crowds in Lima aren’t exactly normal.
I swear you can’t visit a wine bar without someone bringing up “Sideways.” I’m surprised it took a whole two hours for the movie to be mentioned.
In unrelated news, an impressive older gentleman in a topcoat walks in. He has an upturned collar and a very distinct idea of how to pronounce “Chile.” I instantly adore this guy and wish more people like him were around town. He buys six bottles of wine on recommendation alone, and The Met staff is nice enough to carry them to his waiting car.
I sadly discover the kitchen will be closed from 2 to 4 p.m. so the staff can switch from the brunch menu to the dinner menu. Thankfully, the beer continues to flow.
I’m done drinking lager and ready to break out the big guns. On Jenna’s recommendation, I order a massive bottle of Rogue Hazelnut Brown. The Met also is one of the few places in town you can buy large-profile bottles. I like that.
For the third time, a glass is dropped and broken. I begin to wonder if the staff is as hungover as I was when I woke up.
Is that customer in the back tap dancing? Is it an attempt at Irish stepdance? Whatever, she rules and probably is drinking Rogue, too.
Kelli and I talk another 15 minutes with Jenna and The Met co-owner Rob Nelson about Lima’s future. You get the sense these brave souls in the downtown vanguard — along with Heaphy, Alter Ego Comics owner Marc Bowker, pears avenue owner Jason Bowers, Fat Cat Diner chef Alisa McPheron and others — really believe in what they’re doing. As Avalon bar co-owner Pepper Allen told me Saturday night, “There are more important things than the almighty Greenback.”
A lull comes over The Met, and the sunshine is beaming through its massive windows facing Main Street. I’m feeling nap happy, so Kelly and I head out with the knowledge of why people visit The Met at 11 a.m.
Five hours later, we were back for dinner and drinks.