Friday Happy Hour Review: Division West Bistro & Bar

Raising the Bar or Falling Flat
in a Competitive Market?

Division West Bistro & Bar

Having reviewed a number of Friday Happy Hours in West Hartford, I can tell you that the bar has already been set pretty high. With each new review, the challenge becomes tougher to make a unique impression that makes a place standout. This past Friday, Division West Bistro & Bar ended up under The Dark Diva’s microscope. Plus, Division West has the distinction of being the first to have their Friday Happy Hour judged with my new scoring system. Read on to see how they fared.

“A Community Gathering Place …”

Taking its name from the original 1670’s designation for what is now West

Your Review Crew: (L to R) my son’s girlfriend, my son and me

Hartford … “West Division of Hartford,” Division West was created by owners Jimi Brahimi (Executive Chef) and Ermal Caushi (General Manager) as “a community gathering place” where all could “feel comfortable and cared for …” That’s what we were about to test. I say we, because my son and his girlfriend were visiting from Florida and had picked Division West (from a list of links I had sent them) as the place they wanted to “gather with me” for one of my reviews.

THE VIBE:
Contemporary, Cool & “Mostly” Comfortable

I arrived first and ordered a drink while waiting for my son and his girlfriend to arrive. I got there around 4, so there was still daylight which spilled into the bar thanks to all the glass in front. There was also glass separating the bar from the main dining area. This made it a feel a bit cozy without being confining. The bar stools were comfortable and had backs, which I find essential (although some places inexplicably have stools without backs). The bar itself is quite long with seating on 2 sides of an “L.” Overall, it had a coolly sophisticated contemporary vibe that was also quite welcoming. The welcoming extended to include a fairly large crowd as Happy Hour progressed. The crowd was friendly and genial. In fact, we had a nice conversation with a couple sitting next to us at the bar.

Those were the good points. On the slightly negative side, the bar stools were crammed in a bit tight. As the bar filled up, we were lucky that a group of ladies beside us pulled their stools in a semi-circle, which opened up a little more space for us. Also, there were no purse hooks underneath the bar on our side. They should be mandatory!

SCORING: THE VIBE (ATMOSPHERE – Maximum of 20 Pts.)
• Style _5_ (1-5)
• Layout _4_ (1-5) (Minus 1 point for crowded bar stools and no purse hooks)
• Cleanliness _5_ (1-5)
• Mood _5_ (1-5)
TOTAL VIBE SCORE _19_

THE HEARTBEAT:
Upbeat, Positive & Almost Steady

Division West HH Bartenders: Brianna, Deanna, Jackie, Jose & George (It was noisy, so some of the names or spellings may be off)

For those of you who are familiar with my reviews, you know that service is one area that I focus on heavily. To me, it is the heartbeat of any Happy Hour and the key to making a bar attractive to customers. In general, there was a lot to like with the service at Division West. José was my bartender when I first arrived. He was very quick to greet me, happy to answer my questions about the Spicy Margarita and instantly responsive in offering to leave out the sour mix when he saw my expression. (The sour mix adds nothing, in my opinion, while giving me heartburn!)

After my son and his girlfriend arrived, the bartenders switched around, but drinks were quick and well made. The only problem occurred when our first food order (Steak Tacos) was delivered from the kitchen. At the time they were delivered, two of the bartenders were waiting on tables and one was handling service bar (which was at the opposite end of the bar from where we were sitting). This meant that it took what all three of us considered an unacceptable amount time to attract the attention of the one bartender so that we could get napkins, extra plates (we were sharing) and silverware.
*(This also serves to illustrate one of my pet peeves with having servers bring bar food orders directly from the kitchen to the bar guests. Having the bartenders deliver the food to guests at the bar means they are right there to make sure the order was prepared right, and anything overlooked or needed is immediately addressed right then.)

Aside from this skip in the heartbeat, service picked right back up and was excellent to the end! I would have deducted more for the time lag, but it felt like this was an aberration and that it was a management fault by not allocating staff appropriately at the time – which is problematic because you can’t always anticipate sudden surges in the crowd. If it happens when I’m reviewing the next time, it will cost more points because then it would no longer be an isolated incident.

However, overall it was a friendly, attentive group of bartenders!

SCORING: THE HEARTBEAT (SERVICE – Maximum of 20 Pts.)
• Attitude _5_ (1-5)
• Attentive/Responsive _3_ (1-5) (Minus 2 points for wait time for napkins, plates, etc.)
• Helpfulness _5_ (1-5)
• Efficiency _5_ (1-5)
TOTAL HEARTBEAT SCORE _18_

THE SIPS:
Intoxicating, Intriguing and Impressively Priced

The Happy Hour Drink Menu

The drinks portion of the Division West Happy Hour Menu offered lots of

Cold Snap & Effen Cucumber Vodka Collins

choices for beer, wine and interesting $5 specialty cocktails. My son opted for the Cold Snap Sam Adams seasonal beer, while his girlfriend and I took checked out the mixed drinks. First, she tried the Effen Cucumber Vodka Collins, which she said was good, but not her favorite. For her second, she ordered a Moscow Mule, which definitely got a thumbs up.

Spicy Margarita

As for me, I started with a Spicy Margarita featuring Teano Jalapeno Tequila and lime juice without any sour mix. It was quite good and hot enough to satisfy my taste without overkill. For my next drink, I opted to try their Negroni.

Negroni

It was the first time I had seen this particular drink on anybody’s Happy Hour list because it’s not one that typically comes to mind. Made with Campari (a very bitter Italian liqueur), gin, sweet vermouth rosso, and orange peel, it proved to be a very refreshing cocktail in which the bitterness of the Campari was made pleasantly palatable by the gin, vermouth and orange peel.

Overall, we were “happy” with all aspects of our Happy Hour drinks!

SCORING: THE SIPS (DRINKS – Maximum of 20 Pts.)
• Selection _5_ (1-5)
• Unique Options _5_ (1-5)
• Pricing _5_ (1-5)
• Quality/Taste _5_ (1-5)
TOTAL SIPS SCORE _20_

THE BITES:
Tempting, Tasty and Totally Affordable

The Happy Hour Food Menu
Steak Tacos

The food part of the Division West Happy Hour Menu easily kept pace with the drink portion for a wide variety of distinctive and familiar offerings at very affordable prices to satisfy just about any taste. We started with the $5 Steak Tacos, which came 2 to an order. Consisting of soft and light corn tortillas filled with delicious bits of steak, tomato salsa, onion and lettuce, the tacos disappeared rather quickly.

We followed up with the $5 Calamari,

Calamari, Cold Snap & Moscow Mule

which came with cherry peppers and roasted pepper aioli. As something of a Calamari connoisseur, I truly appreciate Calamari that’s lightly breaded and not overcooked. Division West’s was perfect.

Overall, the food was excellent!

SCORING: THE BITES (FOOD – Maximum of 20 Pts.)
• Selection _5_ (1-5)
• Unique Options _5_ (1-5)
• Pricing _5_ (1-5)
• Quality/Taste _5_ (1-5)
TOTAL SIPS SCORE _20_

OVERALL IMPRESSION:
The Bar For Happy Hour in West Hartford
Has Just Been Raised

While there were a few opportunities for improvement, because no place is absolutely perfect, Division West’s Friday Happy Hour delivered on making us “feel comfortable and cared for.” It’s easy to understand why it’s a popular spot.

TOTAL SCORE _77_
RESULT
• TOP SHELF (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) _X_ (72-80) (Equates to Uniquely Recommended)
• GOOD CHOICE (WELL RECOMMENDED) ___ (64-71) (Equates to Recommended W/O Reservations)
• DECENT (STANDARD) ___ (52-63) (Equates to Recommended W/Caveats)
• AVERAGE (LAST RESORT) ___ (48-51) (NEW RATING)
• AVOID (THE BOTTOM) ___ (<48) (Equates to Not Recommended)

Visit their website for more info, then check them out for yourself

Tell them The Dark Diva sent you!

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