On a Friday evening, I’m craving fried oysters. My husband obliges and we take off to Durham’s Bar Virgile, a cozy and cloistered eatery and bar near the Durham Performing Arts Center, a place that we had visited only once before.
A gaggle of guests are congregated around the bar area near the front lobby, waiting patiently for a table from its dining space enclave situated near the back kitchen. Bar Virgile doesn’t take reservations, so if you arrive at a prime dining time, you’ll most likely have to swash back an adult beverage as you linger alongside the bar (just be careful if you have a long coif—my husband and I witnessed a woman that night burn a few strands of hair on an ill-placed candle votive) . The drinks at Bar Virgile, however, as the name may suggest, are not ordinary; guests can sip on a veritable selection of specialty and seasonal craft cocktails and watch as bartenders pluck ingredients from the gleaming, towering bookshelf bar lined with spirits.
A short thirty minutes later, I’m sitting on a Chesterfield banquette at a small two-top table cherry-picking through the small plates menu as I sip on a Sauvignon Blanc. The fried oysters are still as good as the first time, crispy and tender, their brininess assuaged by occasional dunks into the accompanying aioli. The sautéed collard greens are easily forgettable, though nicely softened and speckled with chili flakes, but overall are disappointedly bland. The beet and goat cheese salad is better, though the goat cheese could have been warmed slightly to ameliorate the corrosive, earthy flavor that beets sometimes can exhibit.
I forgo an entrée but my husband indulges in Bar Vigile’s lamb burger, a nicely-charred ground lamb patty swaddled inside a brioche bun. The moist burger is what some may call “petite” in stature but it’s plenty satisfying according to him, and he finishes the last bite quickly before he reaches for the container of shoestring fries.
We are tended to throughout the night; our server is professional and polite, and quick to acquiesce with a few nods to any requests. We usher ourselves out quickly at the end of the meal, noticing that the hosts are eager to shuffle new people into the intimate dining space, and spill out onto Mangum Street perhaps to return again in the future when the craving for fried oysters strikes again.
BAR VIRGILE | 105 S. Mangum Street Durham NC 27701 | 919.973.3000