As a Chattanooga native, if you had told me 15 years ago this city would one day be teeming with trendy spots for drinks and dining I would have given you a solid, "Oh honey, bless your heart."
Well, color me pleasantly surprised because here we are in 2020 with an abundance of options that only seem to grow by the minute.
That said, within the swelling sea of hotspots, there are still some true standouts, one of which is Matilda Midnight, the ultra-hip, yet cozy, lounge bar on the ground floor of the Dwell Hotel.
Directly to the left of the hotel's lobby, Matilda Midnight is a beautiful escape from the outside world. With a rich, retro design aesthetic anchored in jewel tones, contrasting textures and eclectic artwork, the space feels straight out of a Wes Anderson film while also remaining thoroughly original.
The bar is small and comfortable, dark without being moody. In addition to a couple of round booths next to the bar, additional seating is available in the lounge area in the space's front corner with a lush live-plant wall as a backdrop and large windows framing the space.
Thoughtfully curated, colorful and creative, the menu is a perfect extension of the space itself. With wine by the glass or bottle, a small but well-rounded selection of bottled beers and draught beers on rotation and cocktails, drinkers and nondrinkers can easily find something special to wet their whistle.
For example, The Swan ($12) features English breakfast tea-infused vodka, amaretto, rosemary syrup, lemon juice and cream. Nonalcoholic mocktails include the Salty Minx Collins ($9) with grapefruit juice, lime juice, agave, soda, a salted rim, an edible flower and lime.
Libations are complemented by the Cravings menu, which includes snacks and shareables such as jalapeno ginger chicken wings ($12), a smoked salmon spread ($10) or a crispy vegan veggie burger ($12) with marinated cucumbers, arugula, tomato and vegan mayo on a Niedlov's bun. Rounding out the menu are the Sweets options: a warm chocolate chip cookie ($3) or Clumpies scoop of the day ($3).
Although the cocktails and food on the permanent menu are excluded, patrons can take advantage of a daily happy hour from 5 to 7 p.m. featuring $3 draught beer, $5 glasses of house wine and a $5 rotating champagne cocktail.
For our drinks, my boyfriend chose the Midas ($10), an upscale iteration of his go-to Moscow mule featuring Chattanooga Whiskey, orange curacao, orange marmalade and ginger beer. I opted for a more tame, yet equally delicious mocktail, the Stinging Matilda ($9) featuring blood orange gastrique, lemon juice, maraschino cherry juice, egg white, orange citrite and hellfire bitters. Both were standouts in their own rights, but I will be dreaming about the frothy, spicy goodness of my mocktail for many moons to come. Seriously, with a drink that good, you don't even need alcohol.
We came hungry, so he landed on the grilled pimento cheese with bacon on an Italian panini ($8) and a bowl of tomato basil soup ($8). Both were hearty and flavorful, the perfect upscale comfort food for a cold winter evening.
I took pride in what I considered a win in the never-ending battle of "Who Ordered Best?" My selection, the Jerk Carnitas Sandwich ($12), was a triumph, featuring a soft Niedlov's bun piled high with juicy, tender pulled pork bursting with spicy jerk seasoning and topped off with homemade, tangy slaw and cilantro for a truly balanced flavor profile. Throw in an order of french fries ($5) with fresh garlic aioli and you've got yourself one heck of a meal.
If you go
› Where: Matilda Midnight, 120 E. 10th St.
› Hours: 3 p.m.-midnight daily
› Price range: $3-$14 drinks; $3-$12 Sweets and Cravings
Our actual server was adequately attentive and answered whatever question I threw at her on a basic level, but it was clear she wasn't interested in taking out server/patron relationship any further.
It's OK, I told myself. Not everyone has to want to be your best friend, Kate. But this being the bar in a hotel, I would assume they see lots of patrons from out of town, and it might behoove them to have servers who show a little more interest in engaging.
Matilda Midnight is, hands-down, a must-visit. Perfect for a romantic date locale, a girls night out or after-work drinks and bites, its atmosphere, food and drinks are truly in a league of their own.
Contact Kate Brennan at firstname.lastname@example.org.