Woodbar has a casual yet cultivated elegance that gives it the air of a small European cafe.

"I want to go to a place where we can have coffee," my friend Brandi laid out for me as we made Saturday brunch plans last week, "but also cocktails." The implied emphasis here was on cocktails, as in, we need to go to a place that makes cocktails a priority. And there needed to be food. Not just "bar bites" to nibble on, but real food. And it needed to be super casual—the kind of place where one could wear their "fashion sweatpants" and not raise too many eyebrows, because we're talking about leaving the house on a cold, rainy Saturday morning before noon, and let's be honest here: it's only because we're too lazy to make our own food, coffee, and/or cocktails.

Woodbar
3939 Montrose Blvd.
713-528-6848
shadeandcanopy.com/Woodbar

We ended up at Woodbar, the newest concept from Shade and Canopy owner Claire Smith, which opened in mid-December. As it happens, Woodbar is actually just an extension of Canopy, not the more-or-less independent concept I'd imagined. Woodbar and its small, shotgun-style café space sits right next door, with a large doorway that joins the two spaces—or, rather, allows waitstaff to bring food from Canopy's kitchen into Woodbar. The menus are even (mostly) identical; you can order Canopy's food—as well as dishes from a Woodbar-only small bites menu—in Woodbar, and Woodbar's cocktails and coffee in Canopy. This sounds ideal, but presents a few issues here in its infancy.

On the Saturday morning we visited, Canopy was packed—unsurprisingly. Over the years, it's retained its status as one of Montrose's most popular weekend brunch destinations, and the weather that morning hadn't kept any of its regulars away.

Good for Canopy. Not so good for Woodbar, whose single bartender/barista was overwhelmed with orders. She was friendly and skilled, but absolutely slammed. Her help consisted of a server who darted back and forth between Canopy and Woodbar, and a food runner who did the same. We practically had to beg to order coffee, to order cocktails, to order food—to even get menus and silverware. Sitting neglected over the course of a very long meal, my friends and I initially felt like red-headed stepchildren—but then quickly realized that it was Woodbar itself who was the red-headed stepchild of this arrangement. Canopy's dining room—and its crowd—is far larger and has far more staff to take care of this weekly crush; as a result, it seems that Woodbar is a bit of an afterthought.

Fresh-baked pastries are a solid bet.

When the food, coffee, and cocktails did finally emerge, however, they were great. This is no surprise; Canopy's talented pastry chef, Jonny Ugarte, makes delectable mini monkey bread muffins; flaky, chocolate-stuffed croissants and almond croissants rich with butter; sweet little scones that are even better dunked into a cup of coffee. The pastries are certainly the easiest thing to get here, too: they reside near the espresso machine, waiting for you to order a plate. The rest of our brunch was equally good: eggy French toast with plenty of cinnamon and sugar; a salmon plate with two boiled eggs and plenty of capers (though a bit light on the cream cheese).

As soon as noon rolled around, we ordered a couple of cocktails—hey, we have some standards; you can't start drinking before noon (especially if you only woke up a couple of hours prior). Though it took a while to get them out, my Oxy Daisy and Brandi's Phoni Negroni were every bit the match of the food. The Oxy Daisy was a smart twist on a whiskey daisy, subbing out the whiskey for smoky mezcal—the spirit of the season that's enjoying a meteoric rise in popularity. The Phoni Negroni also featured mezcal, this time sweetened up with Campari, sweet vermouth, and cinnamon syrup. They proved even better hand-and-gut-warmers than the coffees had been.

Grab a latte and relax when Woodbar isn't crowded.

It always takes some time for new restaurants, cafés, bars, etc. to get their sea legs, and Woodbar is no exception to this rule. Staffing up on busy weekends would seem to be the first and most important order of business, after which it feels as if everything would run much more smoothly. Everything else is on point, after all.

Regardless, Woodbar is the sort of place it makes more sense to visit on a weekday, when you can spend time relaxing at the long bar or in one of the sunny windows near the front at a café table, nursing a few lattes and a scone, or heading to after work for the menu of small bites and those well-made cocktails. As a casual brunch spot with coffee and cocktails where you can avoid an overwhelming crush of humanity, however, I think we'll keep looking—at least until Woodbar finds its footing.

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