San Francisco. 1950.
A group of writers and poets are struggling with the materialism, nationalism, and creeping monoculture of American society following the second World War. In response, these creators begin to broadcast for the first time the growing non-conformist subcultures of the West Coast: drug use, sexual liberation, hedonism.
Names like Allen Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac formed the beatnick culture, the bedrock on which the hippie movement would be built over the next decade and a half. They were called beat poets, and their culture influence would extend past poetry and literature to the music of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, outside of San Francisco to the bars of Greenwich Village, and outside of the pages of their works into the architectural style that mirrored their creative spaces.
That style, loosely known as bohemian, makes use of botanical elements, distressed wood, neutral tones, brass, mirrors, and a traveled kind of maximalism.
Walking into Bardo in Southend is like walking into the study of William S. Burroughs. You're transported back to San Francisco in the late 50's, and dropped into the cultural war for America's soul.
Patterned moss art hangs on the walls. Lighting fixtures resembling desk lamps illuminate the bar, over which three slightly stained mirrors hang. The bar is made of scuffed up wood, and when you stroke your fingers along it you can almost coax it into whispering stories to you about its former life as a church pew or a barn door.
Just around the corner, a female-focused lounge [4.6] is decked out in warpaint, dripping with neon and hypnotic Instagrammable patterns. That kind of empty-caloried take, more densely stuffed with trend chasing nonsense than an Eminem song in 2020, makes the more bohemian take of Bardo feel warm and important.
I visited Bardo on a Monday night.
You'll get 20% off your meal if you dine at the bar on Mondays or Tuesdays.
After marveling at the decor, I noticed the open kitchen. Much of the food is prepared on a sort of kitchen island setup, giving the restaurant the feeling of a studio apartment.
My bartender recommended Silence is Joven, a cocktail with the spice and sweetness of a margarita and the herbal aftertaste of Italian after-dinner liqeur.
I ordered the lobster from the understated menu. I respect it so much when a restaurant doesn't feel the need to describe every element of a dish on their menu. It always feels condescending to me, and condescending to the staff. Giving minimal detail on the dishes allows your customer and your kitchen to interact and collaborate on your meal.
Bardo makes use of American-style small plates, and just so you're not shocked, the entrees are high-end small.
I've never taken issue with portion size at high-end spots. The push back against small plates is fed into by a weird male rage adjacent wing of people who seem gleefully uncultured. These folks think they sound like Larry David, but they really sound more like George Constanza. You're welcome to dislike small plates, but that isn't a reason to dislike a restaurant that serves them. That would be like going to Dominoes and getting pissed that all they have is pizza.
The lobster performed extremely well.
The sauce is slightly sweet, likely owing to its coconut. It plays wonderfully against the savory bacon in both flavor and texture. Ginger is a great touch here. The quality of the lobster itself is typical for Charlotte: good, not great. It gets chewy, at times to a level that's significantly not fun. But it's tough to logistically get high quality, fresh lobster down here, so I Kanye-shrugged it off.
Bardo is one of the best places you can eat in Charlotte. It's a visual, multi-sensory experience. Your evening will be fluid, communicative, and almost poetic.
A further development of the bohemian spirit in this neighborhood and in this city would be an important step in diversifying our food. Like Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Kerouac did in the 1950's, Bardo's decidedly left take helps disrupt the monotony of a culinary community that has a habit of drifting to an unexciting center.