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Fine dining – no dining room required

Bar of the Week: 3 Doors Down Cafe and Lounge
by: KATIE HARTLEY, Diners take their cues from the sign above the bar at 3 Doors Down Cafe & Lounge.

In the early 1800s having a separate entry space, or foyer, in your house became a mark of respectability in America. It was considered backward to step off the street and directly into the living quarters of a residence, which had been the norm in colonial days.

There is no foyer at the 3 Doors Down Cafe and Lounge. Potential diners swell around the hostess podium inquiring about dining opportunities, or they fill the bar - imbibing until their table opens or just settling in for dinner at the bar.

Handsome as the space is, this bar is not a likely destination if you're in the mood for a highball and lively conversation with the proper stranger. Folks are busy eating at this bar.

On a weekend night the lone diner seated at the bar can feel like Bill Murray in 'Lost in Translation.' The place is packed. Service personnel fix smiles onto their faces and, trays held high, plow through the sea of back-to-back patrons. No language or single word is distinguishable in the deafening din of chattering diners.

Above the bar, as if cribbed from 'Alice in Wonderland,' are the words: 'drink eat drink.'

Very well then, order a drink. Let the soothing proportions of a Negroni - Campari, gin and sweet vermouth in perfect thirds - wash away annoyance.

Order some food. It's an hour-and-a-half wait for a table, and you're already at the bar. A couple next to you makes quick work of the potted rabbit with toast points. The clams - pan-steamed with white wine, basil and garlic with parmesan - are terrific here ($12).

The high bar means there is a shorter distance between the bowl and your mouth, reducing the risk of spotting your shirt front. Thankfully, delicious bread (it's always better in a restaurant) is brought to sop up the sauce or slather with a white bean spread.

There is a marvelous selection of wines by the glass, and the friendly bartender, who is by necessity something of a whirling dervish in his mixology, can recommend the perfect thing to accompany your food.

Once you're sated with fine food, it is time to follow the last word on the sign above the bar and order a postprandial drink. If, however, you're not in the mood for another beverage, some other fellow will be glad for your seat.

- Randall Barton

5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, 1429 S.E. 37th Ave., 503-236-6886, www.3doorsdowncafe.com