When you’re looking for a restaurant in downtown Durham for a DPAC show, there’s no end to the choices. But one of the closest options (outside of Nana Steak) is the very popular Bar Virgile. And while I had been to Bar Virgile for pre-show drinks and bites, I never took advantage of the small dining room. The menu was on the smaller side with mostly charcuterie and small bites which didn’t really appeal to me. But a new chef at Bar Virgile has changed things up a bit so I decided it was finally time to check out the whole Bar Virgile dining experience with friends!
I popped into Bar Virgile on a quiet Wednesday evening and thankfully there wasn’t a huge hit show at DPAC that week. From the outside, Bar Virgile sports some art-deco neon signage and you enter through a small doorway set into the front of the building. You’ll immediately run into their beautiful bar, stocked to the ceiling with liquor bottles. I decided to wait for my friends here since it was a bit early. Given its name, you can bet that Bar Virgile does a pretty mean cocktail which is a perfect way to kill time before a show.
I dove into a lighter cocktail, the First Word which is a wonderfully chilled concoction of gin, lemon, grapefruit and sparkling wine. The scene at the bar is a fun and lively spot for a conversation given the ambiance. Above the well-stocked bar, Bar Virgile has a wonderful stamped metal ceiling and this space just feels right. The bartenders here are talented and can spin a mean drink at reasonable prices ($10 to $11). But soon enough my friends show up so it’s now time for the dining room!
What’s tricky about Bar Virgile is that due to the small space, they do not take reservations which could be a challenge if you’re on a tight schedule. We end up on a small 4-top to the side but it’s nice to finally make it here for an official meal. The dining room walls are weathered brick dotted with French language adverts. And one wall is backed up by beautiful, brown, button-tufted leather seating. The menu at Bar Virgile consists of ten or so appetizers, ten entrees along with cheese and charcuterie with all dishes under $21. I go with the fried oysters along with a tasty sounding braised short-rib over spinach for my dinner.
The oysters comes out first and are beautifully fried, lumpy, and bumpy. Served up with some lemon wedges, pickled veggies, cornichones and aioli on the side! I really love this version of fried oysters at Bar Virgile. It reminded me of New England fried clams which is one of my fave dishes of all time, enjoy these fried oysters in all their crunchy glory.
We move on to my main which is a substantial piece of beef short-rib! Bar Virgile does a very nice job with this dish, presenting a very tender cut of beef but with an unusual taste profile. There’s hints of anise or cardamon in the sauce which gives it a more of an Indian or Middle-eastern spin and the meat is seared a bit on the outside giving it some crispy bits. Along with the braised spinach and rice, it’s a comfortable and satisfying entree.
My tablemates have a great looking lobster bucatini and seared salmon for their dishes but soon we’re on to dessert. They also swear by the German chocolate cake so we order that up for the table and it’s excellent. A 4-layer dark chocolate cake with buttercream frosting on the outside and a white frosting between layers, yum! Really enjoyed this dessert which brings a lot of taste to the table but doesn’t over-do it with sugar and sweetness.
Service at Bar Virgile is solid and the space gets pretty busy as the night wears on. And while I really did like my meal here, I’m usually in the area for a DPAC show which makes it hard to plan on dinner at Bar Virgile given the lack of reservations. But if you do make the effort, Bar Virgile is totally worth a visit. From the great cocktails, tasty entrees and solid desserts, you really can’t go wrong here. And it would be hard to get closer to DPAC than this convenient location, bon appetit!