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Bar review: Copper Common rises to fill Plum Alley void

Published: 05/27/2014
By Anne Wilson, special to The Salt Lake Tribune -- For all I know, fans of the now-closed Plum Alley are still mourning its succulent pork belly buns and those steaming bowls of ramen soup, an antidote for whatever ailed you, whether it was a hangover or an inversion-inspired funk.

But here’s something to help mourners move more quickly through denial, anger, bargaining and depression to acceptance: Copper Common, Ryan Lowder’s new bar that replaced Plum Alley, is a visionary addition to Salt Lake City’s night scene, with a hip remodel and food that is restaurant quality.

Copper Common’s menu is large for a bar, ranging from snacks such as chicken croquettes and wafer-thin pork fat, to a smattering of small plates and entrees and several quality desserts.

A little background: Chef Lowder also owns the successful Copper Onion restaurant, just a parking lot away from his new place. He had wanted to open a bar on the same block, but launched Plum Alley instead in 2011 when he couldn’t immediately get the necessary license for a full-service bar. Plum Alley became a hit, but when Lowder got his club license he closed the restaurant (he has said he plans to relocate it) and opened Copper Common in mid-March.

It looks nothing like its popular predecessor. The interior has been beautifully remodeled to make good use of what is a relatively modest space.

Copper Common is rather narrow but feels open and airy thanks to large windows on two walls. Stools line the bar, situated in front of the 300 South window, but most of the seating is comfy booths and banquettes. A black beadboard ceiling and globe-shaped pendant lights lend a 19th century feel to the décor. The roomy patio is likely to be full all summer.

While Commoners are sipping their beers, wine or specialty cocktails, they can nibble on one or more of the dozen bar snacks, from seasoned nuts ($4) and deviled eggs ($4) to the aforementioned tasty chicken croquettes ($6). The latter were piping hot and creamy on the inside, with a light crisp coating, and taste like grandma’s chicken pot pie. Try pairing them with the house-made pickles $(4), which don’t overwhelm with their subtle marriage of garlic and vinegar.

Copper Common has a full bar, along with a selection of specialty cocktails. If you like tequila, try the Valentino ($8), an interesting variation on a margarita with Campari and a slice of jalapeno embedded in an ice cube that heats the drink as it melts. About half the beers on the menu are brewed locally, and the five beers on tap come in 9- or 16-ounce sizes.

Service was friendly and prompt, but more like a bar than restaurant: Food arrives when it’s ready, even though you may not be finished with the previous dish.

Copper Common is something different in Salt Lake City: A bar that also serves good food in a sleek, comfortable setting. Lowder has the touch. Let’s hope his streak continues.