- Enrique Limón
Once the temperature rises and the city streets start feeling more desert-like, our local late-night restaurants and watering holes become literal nightlife oases. We've spent a long summer day getting our asses kicked by the blazing disk in the sky, so when that vengeful presence finally calls it quits, we need just the right place to celebrate. Dinner and drinks tend to get pushed to well after 9 p.m., and IHOP just isn't going to cut it. Fortunately, downtown's after-hours gastropub scene remains hopping throughout the summer months, and places like Gracie's (326 S. West Temple, 801-819-7565) start offering up much more than tasty late-night eats and carefully crafted cocktails.
Even when Gracie's isn't packed for their Tuesday night bluegrass jam or for their Wednesday night trivia competitions, the place exudes an atmosphere of effortless cool. Much of this street cred goes to their amazing patio spaces—among the best in the city. Gracie's street-level patio is close enough to West Temple that you can still hear the nocturnal sounds of Salt Lake's hustle and bustle while remaining detached enough to enjoy your meal. The rooftop patio is ideal for those sweltering summer nights, especially if you visit on a Thursday for the live DJs and low-key party games during patio chill from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.—there's nothing like cool breezes and even cooler drinks to prime you for the weekend.
In addition to hosting weekly events, Gracie's has started doubling as a concert venue—Pixie & The Partygrass Boys host their bluegrass night there, and the gastropub recently featured eclectic acts like Swantourage and Johnny Utah. While expanding its amenities, Gracie's hasn't lost focus on their pub fare and creative mixology. Even at lunchtime in the middle of the week, it's hard to catch them having a bad day.
Following true gastropub fashion, Gracie's has a menu that can easily cater to those just in for a quick snack with friends or patrons who are in the mood for something that sticks to the bones. The latter won't want to miss the chance to dig into the golden mound of decadence that is the Gracie's mac and cheese ($18). It arrives in a sailboat of a ramekin with a thin crust of toasted breadcrumbs and lump crab meat sealing in a layer of melted cheese—four types, to be exact—and sliced bay shrimp. The crab and shrimp do a lot to send this dish over the top. But it's the mixture of sharp cheddar, mozzarella, gruyère and Parmesan cheese, coupled with a kick of cayenne pepper, that makes this variant on a nostalgic favorite something to savor.
As smaller plates go, the buttermilk chicken strips ($8), the Gracie's signature nachos ($12) and their regular fries ($4) represent pub food at its finest. The chicken strips are sliced from a whole chicken breast and fried in a buttermilk- flour coating that creates a satisfying outer crunch to the white meat chicken. I found that the bigger strips tend to get a little dry in the cooking process—nothing that the included side of red eye gravy can't fix. I know us Utahns love ranch dressing on our chicken strips, but a bit of homemade gravy as a dipping sauce is something that I'll always endorse. The fries make the list because they're of the thick-cut steak fry variety, and that parsley and Parmesan coating makes for a truly transcendent spud. Heartier items, like the signature BBQ bison burger ($14, pictured), are the stuff of legend.
While I contend that Gracie's is at its best when it's keeping its doors open for the late-night crowd, their brunch menu presents a pitch-perfect lineup for those in the mood for some early(ish) weekend dining. On Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Gracie's whips up European and Central American classics. Their crème brûlée French toast ($9) and Monte Cristo ($12) take you straight to the French Quarter, while their chilaquiles ($11) and machaca tacos ($8) burst with Latin flair.
Creating a restaurant from the gastropub playbook takes a lot of guts and preternaturally good instincts about food-adjacent activities and events. I've seen many places like this rise and fall over the years, but it feels like the team at Gracie's has achieved a harmonious balance. Much of its staying power is due to a kickass location and a well-maintained space, but this is a place that shows due reverence to the special kind of magic that floats through the downtown cityscape after the sun gets tired of scorching the streets. When the thermometer is hanging out around 78 degrees long after the night has descended, there are far worse places you could be enjoying our brand of nightlife than on the roof of Gracie's, listening to a local band's music bleed into the live music of West Temple below.