published Friday, March 25th, 2011

Lamar’s offers ambiance, comfort, chicken

Reclining on a soft leather couch at a European-style table lit by candlelight, you’ll feel transported to another place inside Lamar’s, a self-described English pub.

Lamar’s is nestled in a dilapidated motel near the south end of M.L. King Boulevard, but the culinary surprises inside banish any doubts you may have upon first gaze.

The space

Walking up the covered steps to what once must have been the hotel’s front desk, the building feels frozen in time and space. Old-style cigarette machines lead to glowing fish tanks down a darkened hallway, the soft patter of conversation growing louder until, unexpectedly, you’re there.

There’s velvet wallpaper, a jukebox that comes alive at random intervals and some of the strongest drinks in town. But the real draw is the Chattanooga staple’s timelessness, a surreal atmosphere that doesn’t change much between visits.

The menu

IF YOU GO

* Where: Lamar’s, 1018 E. M.L. King Blvd.

* Phone: 266-0988.

* Hours: Open late-night on Thursday, Friday and Saturday; special events during the week and on Sunday.

* Price range: $6-$16 for entrees.

* Alcohol: Strong, inexpensive mixed drinks; price depends on shelf.

The menu isn’t the city’s most comprehensive, but when it comes to chicken, Lamar’s knows its business. If you’re a fan of fried chicken, you won’t go away disappointed.

Fans of chicken can choose between wings, fingers or a half-chicken, all of which are made to order and affordable. The chicken is flavorful, moist and delicious. Wings are medium-size, and the meat falls off the bone, while the fingers may as well double as dessert.

A chicken fingers basket runs $5.95, while a half golden-fried chicken costs $7.50.

You can spend up to $16.95 on a giant 20-ounce Porterhouse steak, but that’s about as expensive as this menu gets.

Salads, shrimp and club sandwiches also are available, made with the same care with which the ever-present bartender prepares the establishment’s libations.

Even Lamar’s salads hop on the chicken bandwagon. A spring salad with chicken strips costs $6.95.

The $9.95 fried jumbo shrimp are good enough to bring home to momma, and they are truly jumbo size. We’re talking three bites per scrumptious shrimp.

Yet it’s important to keep in mind that this is pub food, meant to complement a stiff drink or a frosty beer. It’s hearty and tasty, yet delightfully unrefined.

For late-night snackers, the kitchen doesn’t close until very late, though the staff won’t specify exactly when.

The service

Service is prompt and professional. Want a pink drink with a splash of vodka and something that tastes like cranberries? You’ll get it. Place mats, white napkins and candles are whisked onto the table before your meal, and if you want to be left alone, they’ll do that too.

If you go more than once, you’ll get to know the staff, and they’ll get to know you. And that’s part of what pulls you back to Lamar’s, time after time.

The verdict

Your fellow patrons come from all walks of life. From fraternity events to over-the-hill birthdays, one never knows what to expect. No matter who’s there, the Christmas lights and the Happy Birthday sign signal there’s always a potential celebration around the corner.

Street parking is easy and readily available on both sides of M.L. King Boulevard, but getting to your car after an evening of fun can be a challenge on the busy street.

While waiting for your meal, you may find all manner of wonderfully appropriate music playing autonomously from the jukebox every 30 minutes, so it’s important to time your conversations to coincide with the music machine’s artificial intelligence if you want to be heard.

Or you can kick back, sip your cocktail and simply allow yourself to enjoy one of the Scenic City’s most memorable dining experiences.

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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