I can’t figure out what Little Dipper is trying to do and I’m not rabid about what it’s already doing. This took me by surprise: the folks behind one of downtown’s newest bars have proven themselves to be extremely capable of separating me from my money on a daily basis, as they also own the excellent whiskey bar Poison Girl, Black Hole Coffee House (both in Montrose), and Heights coffee shop Antidote.
304 Main St.
But here on Main Street, they seem to have stumbled—and I’m not sure if they know what they’re trying to do with Little Dipper, either. Everything’s a too-polished hodgepodge; too obviously curated and too timid to embrace anything fully. It’s absent a theme stronger than “dimly lit and ostensibly hip soft-focus pop culture quicklime”—like someone hijacked a Fab.com delivery truck and set up a bar inside. I just can’t get a vibe for the place, and what I can suss out highlights a larger ennui that ain’t gonna bring me back.
Little Dipper is constructed like a bruise-colored cavern intent upon partitioning itself into little nooks to the detriment of cultivating a ‘communal’ space. A minefield of small, heavy marble tables and nice chairs—strewn about in each others’ way—make the booths near the door and the couches in back all seem very distant from each other. This works if you’re trying to build a cocktail bar or date spot, but here in this quasi downtown dive all the tabletop candles just look lonely.
The walls stretch toward a ceiling so tall that everything feels too small or sparse. There’s an exhibit for GET FAM OUS, a collection of black and white celebrity portraits, on the far end, buffered by occasional interruptions of mirrors or band posters or Astros paraphernalia, including a couple Man or Astro-Man? posters. These were the most memorable things about the entire place, because Man or Astro-Man? are extremely rad outer space surf-rockers who routinely set their theremin on fire.
The drink menu is… present. Much of it is standard bar fare: an Old Fashioned here, a Sazerac there. I punched through a decent Old Fashioned, then, in my ceaseless quest to pour any combination of coffee and booze down myself, I stood next to a dude with an e-cig and ordered the “Black Hole,” a combination of Black Hole’s cold brew coffee, Frangelico, and whiskey. I’m glad the Black Hole exists, but the ingredients also tasted more like a caustic mishmash than a cohesive whole. I’d rather have ordered a shot apiece of the toddy and some Wild Turkey.
Between the bar and the back sitting area sits a jukebox, still unopened. The owners are trying to decide what direction they want to take its collection and then fill it up--a kind of drive the rest of the bar could use. The visible records were compilations and movie soundtracks (I recognized Goodfellas and Bronx Tale).
In a neighborhood full of speciality bars, Little Dipper lacks a single superlative quality. There are better places to drop a tenner for a cocktail or steal a smooch, such as Bad News Bar or Goro & Gun, one or two doors down. Clutch City Squire and OKRA Charity Saloon have stronger beer selections. Warren’s Inn is already a friendly low-key spot with the jukebox Little Dipper is reaching toward, and it does so without needing to resort to compilation albums.
Can this ship be righted? Beats me. I’d guess that salvation might come in a slow cultivation of a "regulars" culture—which is still a long ways off; the only other lonesome dove the nights I went was a guy playing on his phone off to the side. The staff are all as friendly as could be and I’ve heard rumors of an occasional secret dice game, which is good; anything to break up the weirdly antisocial nook-collection the bar’s layout conjures. But as it stands now, there’s nothing to compel anyone to choose Little Dipper as a primary hangout but simple proximity—and in a neighborhood with only 5,000 residents, that’s a bit of a long-term bet.
My buddy Dan, in his more cynical moments, posits that perhaps Little Dipper was constructed as some sort of field trip for people who want to hang out downtown: here is a place where they can feel ‘Montrose hip’ without being made uncomfortable by looking at weird sculptures (GET FAM OUS, despite its subversive-looking name, is literally just portraits of famous people and is about as comfortable as any bar art I’ve ever seen) or talking to the occasional professional drunk. It’s a yupsterpalooza Warren’s for those heinous criminals of taste who don’t like Warren’s.
And to some extent, that’s working. I stood in the small patio-corral with a steady groove of Lone Stars (a shameful but not egregious $2.50), chainsmoking like 80,000 cigarettes until I was drunk enough to stop fretting about my bike’s popped tube, looking at the weird-ass building across the street—just wide enough to house Nit Noi but suddenly and rudely truncated—when I saw an Express button-down lead a flying V-neck of other quackers up Main.
“What is this?” asked the subordinate bro holding down the 6-spot.
“I don’t know,” the lead button-down paused to monotone in an Eastern European accent, “but let’s go in. It looks cool.”
He was right—Little Dipper does look cool. But that just ain’t enough.