Bari's Sabato Sociale Isn't Your Typical Day-Drinking Experience 

Bartender Morgan McKinney's serving something special at this bimonthly event.

Bari Ristorante e Enoteca is a longtime favorite of the cool Memphis crowd, from Midtowners to East Memphians to Marc Gasol, and now it's kicking in the door of the daytime weekend bar scene. This isn't your typical bar experience. It's not your typical day-drinking experience, either, and it certainly isn't brunch. It's Sabato Sociale, an authentic, Puglian way to get your Saturday swerve on while the rest of your friends are slamming shots and screaming at a TV in a sports bar.

Morgan McKinney began bartending at Bari nearly three years ago. She's well-known for her creations in both Bari's enoteca (this is the Italian word for a "wine library," which is actually just one facet of Bari's bar's depth) and its upstairs companion, Dodici. She's the creator of #NOBADDRINKS, where she riffs on classic bar recipes. She's also widely appreciated around town for her prowess in ass-beating, as a highly skilled student of both Shotokan karate and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Now, through her collaboration with Chef Jason Severs and manager Rebecca Severs, she's kicking ass in a new special event occurring two Saturdays a month from noon to 3 p.m.

click to enlarge Morgan McKinney at Bari - PHOTOGRAPHS BY JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Photographs by Justin Fox Burks
  • Morgan McKinney at Bari

Sabato Sociale differs from brunch in that there is no table service, just a bar. It's an intimate experience where you can ask questions, learn more about cocktails, not look like an asshole for mispronouncing Italian words, and not step in puke in a bathroom stall before noon. The regular food menu isn't served; instead, Severs designs new, innovative Puglian dishes for each Sabato Sociale. Recent creations have included octopus crudo, balsamic-cured calamari, and a three-cheese panini with bocconcino, robiola, and goat cheeses with caramelized onions and honey. For those intimidated by the fancy cheese names, you won't be intimidated by the price: $6-$12 is the going rate.

McKinney is curating a very European drinking experience to accompany the menu. Though the full wine and cocktail lists are available for Sabato Sociale, her special low-ABV, house-made cocktails will ease you into your weekend. "You can smash three and not be drunk," she says. Right now, she's focusing on warm punches and spiked ciders for the chillier days but says her favorite drink to make at the moment is a caipirinha, courtesy of Bari's new avuá cachaça. Something you won't see anywhere else? A San Pellegrino Chinotto: a tiny, 200-ml soda made from the fruit of myrtle-leafed orange trees mixed with Cynar 70 and Campari. Her special Sabato Sociale cocktails cost anywhere from $10 to $12.

She's also drawing inspiration from regular trips to New Orleans, where she noticed the simple nuances of stellar bar service and how it affects the customer experience. "Right now, I want to focus on the overall experience," McKinney says. "I want it to be focused on the quality of service, creating an inclusive, service-based environment." What does this mean for visitors? "It's a good first exposure to Bari," she says, but I heard, "You won't sit at my bar for 10 minutes with a perplexed look on your face, trying to give someone your money in exchange for a beverage."

click to enlarge barreport_bari_51a2295.jpg

So far, the reception has been terrific. Regulars and newcomers alike have flocked to Sabato Sociale for new dishes, approachable cocktails, and a cool experience that other daytime hangout joints can't replicate. Here's the thing about Bari when the sun's up, though: "We're open," McKinney says. "Even if it doesn't look like it. We can't help it that the windows are tinted."

Sabato Sociale dates are announced via social media each month. Check Bari's Facebook page, or find them on Instagram @bariristorante. McKinney posts her creations and Sabato Sociale announcements @morganthesparrow.

Best part about Sabato Sociale? At the 3 p.m. cut-off time, you have two hours for a nap before Bari opens for dinner service.

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