FOOD- DISH- Shaken & stirred: Second Street arts up the bar scene

The martini. Is there a cooler drink? With its own elegant glass, its skewered olives lounging against the rim, and its power to turn even the most uptight, stressed out office mate into a hoot, it may be the closest thing to a work of art that bartenders have to offer.

Until now...

In an effort to raise money and attract a younger crowd, the Second Street Gallery (along with sponsor Absolut Vodka), the long-running nonprofit contemporary art gallery, is shaking (or should we say stirring?) up the local bar scene by challenging restaurants to create their own "arty martini," which will culminate in a competition and fundraising party at the Frank IX building in late June. So far, Bang, Blue Light, Cassis, Escafé, Fellini's, Mono Loco, Oxo, Rapture, Shebeen, and Starr Hill have taken up the challenge, with more to follow.

"It's going to be a signature party that's mod and fun, something to attract the younger set to Second Street," says Leah Stoddard, director of the Gallery. "And we hope the restaurants involved come up with something interesting that relates to contemporary art."

For example, Stoddard herself suggests a martini inspired by the artist Damian Hurst. "You could have a little plastic shark floating in the bottom of the glass," she says playfully. Hurst, a British artist, is perhaps best known for displaying dead sharks, sheep, and other animals in formaldehyde.

To encourage that involvement, local artists will be creating a series of limited edition coasters using the "artini" theme, which will also double as raffle tickets for the party in June. If the "artinis" are as provocative as artist Sharon Shapiro's coaster (pictured here), which gives new meaning to the phrase "nursing your drink," plan on seeing some pretty unusual martinis at your favorite watering holes.

"We wanted to involve the living artist," says Stoddard, "because that's what Second Street is all about."

Sloan's? Not!

Talk about shoes to fill. The new Millmont Grille has the daunting tasking of trying to take over the space once occupied by Sloan's. As manger Ryan Cyr points out, when it opened up for the first time two Mondays ago, some folks thought Sloan's had reopened.

"We kind of opened silently," he says, "and people didn't realize the name had changed."

As Dish knows, people's perceptions are hard to change. But Cyr says the new American-style grill will quickly distinguish itself. "It has a very elegant atmosphere," says Cry, "but it's still very cozy and comfortable."

The Millmont Grille is the creation of a Staunton-based group called K&R Restaurants, which owns the Byers St. Bistro and a Boston Beanery franchise. They plan to serve up ribs, steak, seafood and other standard American fare. Although open only for dinner right now, they plan to be open for lunch in a couple of weeks, Cyr says.

Obrigado, very much

On Easter Sunday in Louisa, former Tanyard Country Club executive chef Jade Lourenco and her partner, the former sous-chef at the club, Debbie Wollett, opened the Mediterranean-inspired Obrigado ("Thank you" in Portuguese) on Main Street.

"The Mediterranean is one of my favorite places to travel," says Lourenco, who sadly admits that traveling won't be an option for a while. "And I wanted to bring those influences back here."

Lourenco singles out her Greek-style shrimp and Spanish-style pork loin with paprika and roasted red peppers as examples of the Mediterranean influence. Obrigado offers Virginia favorites like fried oysters, crab cakes, and choice steaks.

"We also have a full bar," says Lourenco, "with an emphasis on Portuguese and Spanish wines." Oh, in addition to both lunch and dinner hours, Obrigado serves Sunday brunch from 10am to 2pm.

And for all the artists out there, Lourenco says she has wall space to fill. "Right now, it's mostly stuff from my house," she says, "but I'd like to let local artists know that we'd love to display their work here."

Artist Sharon Shapiro's bar coaster riffs on the "arty martini" theme to raise money for Second Street Gallery.