12/10/2012 06:04:00 PM

First Look: The Black Cat Brings Better Cocktails to Sunset Junction

One thing we realized immediately after walking into The Black Cat this weekend: This is not a gastropub, and thank goodness for that. Sunset Junction doesn't really need one of those, what with Good right there plus several other good neighborhood bars within blocks. But having a place with linen-covered tables, dark woods, great cocktails that won't break the bank, and food that's more high-end than its sibling, the Village Idiot on Melrose, is apparently just what the locals ordered. We chatted with several at the bar, all already regulars after just a week of service. That says something.

They're coming back for the food, things like a really nicely cooked pork chop, thick and juicy and serviced with chorizo, apples and a tangy mustard sauce. The lasagnette is a flattened lasagna layered with cheeses, a bright marinara and roasted vegetables. Even the Cat Snack, a plate with cashews, pickled onions and chilies, and Castelvetrano olives, which is pretty much the only thing available between 4 and 5 PM when the kitchen turns over, is above average. Cocktails play with classic ingredients but take on a personality of their own, especially the Manhattan-esque Halflight made with fig-infused bourbon and blood orange bitters. They have to be impressive with Bar Keeper right across the street.

And just as the owners suggested, the past is not forgotten here, and not just by name. There's a corner dedicated to the original Black Cat Tavern, which stood as the epicenter of gay activism in the 60s when police raided the pub and arrested its patrons. That moved resulted in protests, which resulted in more police brutality and arrests. It's not as controversial now, but still honored - with better wine, craft brews and artisanal spirits. Check out our mini slide show for a few sights and bites. Meow.

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