PITTSFIELD -- Tuesday, for me, was one of those days when nothing goes exactly as planned, and I found myself working at my desk after 9 p.m., running on the sustenance of the bagel I had for breakfast and a cup of chicken noodle soup consumed at 2.
At about 9:45, I finally wrapped the story I was working on and felt nothing but exhaustion and hunger pains. I made a mental rundown of my options:
1) Drive home and cook. (Nope.)
2) Pizza. (Having that for dinner Wednesday.)
3) Drive-thru fast food. (Meh.)
Then, I thought of Mission Bar & Tapas. I hadn't been there in a long while, particularly since moving to North County. In last week's Berkshires After Dark review, I had likened 52 Main in Millerton, N.Y., to Mission, so I figured why not head over to the real thing.
I made a quick check online (they don't have a phone) to make sure their kitchen was still open, then hopped in the car to try my luck.
When it first opened in 2008, you could likely find my friends and I at Mission nearly any night of the week. It was new, hip, kind of artsy, had a great focus on wine and beer and local produce and meats, and they had free music. What more could you want in a social hub when you're in your 20s?
Now in the start of my 30s, my nightlife habits have changed. Many of my friends have coupled up and settled down. My carefree pre-car payment days are gone; instead I've got rent, bills, friends' weddings and baby showers to fund versus buying friends rounds of drinks.
As I parked my car on North Street, I started to get anxious as I headed in alone. Would I have to battle my way through a squealing crowd of 20-somethings to squeeze into a corner in the back to get dinner? Would I become annoyed? Would I even know anyone?
Then, my stomach reminded me that I was too hungry and tired to care. If anything, I'd go in, eat and leave.
But when I walked through the door, I was pleasantly surprised to find that everything I've always fundamentally loved about Mission was still there.
My friend Jordan, who hosts open mics, was in the middle of singing and playing on his acoustic guitar in the window. At 10 p.m. on a Tuesday, the place wasn't jam-packed, but there were people of all ages sitting at nearly every table and at the bar.
Out of the corner of my eye, I recognized a few friends to my right, having a lively conversation. Proprietor Jim Benson was at another table hanging out with a couple of other patrons. At the bar itself, there were a half-dozen younger-than-me people I didn't know, and one face that just about everyone knows, Jinx, one of the most social barhoppers in Pittsfield. And when I asked Leia, one of the bartenders, if the kitchen was still open, she said, "yes." I felt like doing a dance on the spot to Pharrell Williams' song, "Happy."
But again, too tired, I managed to shrug my coat off my shoulders, place my order and strike up a conversation with Jinx.
For those of you who are new to the area, or who have still never been to Mission, it's a long, somewhat narrow eatery and lounge with high ceilings, burgundy walls decorated with locally-made art and exposed brick. There is a mix of tall, long wood tables as well as lower two- and four-tops. There is also seating at and along the wall across from the bar.
The kitchen is open until 10 every night. The new spring menu has a nice range of small plates, or tapas, with more of a Spanish flair, priced between $5 and $12, as well as paellas for two priced between $18 and $23.
I went with more gringo choices of the house-smoked brisket sliders ($9) with mixed greens, and a side of fries ($6) and a glass of one of my favorites, the Ludovicus -- a nice, smooth Spanish red wine ($9), with berry, pepper and mineral flavors.
While waiting, Jinx and I talked about our recent travels -- he to several Eastern Bloc countries back in the fall, me to Pakistan earlier this month (read more above) -- and in less than 10 minutes, my dinner arrived.
I moved to a table and ate in blissful, uninterrupted peace. The three sliders were tender and flavorful with meat tucked into tiny toasted brioche buns. The ample heap of fresh greens were dressed in a tangy balsamic vinaigrette. The French-cut fries, as always, were savory and came served with a side of garlic aioli, and the portion would have been plenty to share between two people.
After Leia cleared my plate, Jinx sat down and we chatted some more. I also got to spend time chatting with my friends Brenda, Morgan, Jordan and Sean. Before I knew it, two hours had passed. I went home full, relaxed and happy.
Great food, conversation and an easy-going but lively atmosphere -- what more could you want in a social hub at any age?