Go toward the light

There’s a reason Shady Lady at R and 14th streets has eight pages of drinky-poos and just two-and-a-half pages of food and desserts: It’s a place to drink with a kitchen that stays open until midnight.

As if further proof were needed of Shady Lady’s intentions, a large 20-stool rectangular bar and eight capacious booths dominate the dark space. The textured red wallpaper and sconces recall the Haunted Mansion. A jaunty rendering of “I Got it Bad (and That Ain’t Good)” bursts from the ceiling speakers.

If you compare Shady Lady to, say, Lounge on 20—another downtown place to chill that offers eats—Shady Lady, like King Belshazzar, would be weighed in the balance and found wanting. That said, Shady Lady does not inflict $20-a-pop glasses of wine on her patrons, and her selection of specialty drinks featuring distilled spirits—a Blood & Sand, a Horse’s Neck or is it a Sazerac moment?—is both eclectic and voluminous.

In fairness, Shady Lady may still be finding its way since, like Burgers and Brew down the block, it is relatively new. And, unlike Burgers and Brew, Our Lady starts fresh without the luxury of replicating a winning formula. For whatever reason, Shady Lady is hit-and-miss, sometimes on the same plate.

The R St. Cobb Salad at $7.50 is presented artfully. A Rainbow Coalition banner of stripes of finely diced egg, chicken, bacon, tomato and avocado masks the romaine. But beneath, the lettuce is flooded with vinaigrette. The cold green-bean salad with heirloom grape tomatoes and a crown of fried onion strings has a zesty but not overpowering dressing. The menu says there are supposed to be Yukon Golds, a nice pairing with the green beans. There are none. The pulled pork and the slaw of the $9 pulled-pork crepes shine, but the crepe is distractingly doughy. Suggestion: Ditch the crepe for a messy pulled-pork sandwich.

There are also hits subsequently missed. On one visit, there is a $4.50 cream of jalapeño soup adorned with squiggles of cilantro-lime cream that is wondrously smooth and delightfully spiced. Next time, it’s missing from the menu despite its clear superiority to the uninspired $5 tomato soup, which arrives lukewarm. Garlic? Oregano? Chervil?

On the hit parade list, however, are the fried-green tomatoes. Melissa, the attentive and helpful waitress, says the joint hops more at night—it better!—and singles out two of the menu’s four sandwiches as her favorites: Shrimp Po’ Boy and Sac town Cheese Steak, both $9.50.

“Fully dressed”—as opposed to scantily clad, presumably—is how the menu describes the Po’ Boy, which doesn’t hold a lot of excitement, dressed or naked. The Cheese Steak sandwich features a carpet-bombing of Whiz and a woeful absence of mushrooms. For a significantly better version, walk to Burgers and Brew. Accompanying both sandwiches are overly salty shoestrings that are not improved by immersion in the bland barbecue sauce.

As already established, as a drinking establishment Shady Lady offers much. Murphy’s Irish Stout and Belhaven Scottish Ale are two $5 draught standouts. There’s a righteous Mickey’s Big Mouth karma to including Olympia for $2 a quaff.

Two cents—and worth every penny: Shady Lady has to ask herself some hard questions. If indeed her desire is to be a place to hang, drink and hear live music while offering food, then she needs to add some food attractive to people who are drinking. Generally, someone with a good heat on doesn’t gravitate toward pasta puttanesca or meatloaf. There’s a reason fried calamari, Buffalo wings and sliders are ubiquitous.

Adding more items from a drinker’s desired diet would in no way sully the speak-easy/saloon ambience the Good Lady offers, and might help draw a bigger crowd—day and night.

Right now, our Lady of Shady is flawed with moments, but garners an extra half star for the pleasantly professional service of Melissa and the folks behind the bar. Hunch here is the trend line arches upward.