Those looking for a more upscale option en route to a Blue Jackets game should look no further than Cotters Restaurant.

Those looking for a more upscale option en route to a Blue Jackets game should look no further than Cotters Restaurant.

Make that no closer than Cotters, which enjoys an elite location on the western end of Nationwide Arena. This makes it an excellent alternative for those hitting Park Street, LC Pavilion and Huntington Park - and for any Downtown worker resolving to make 2010 the year of the two-martini lunch.

An open, airy interior feels grandiose yet welcoming, and this is a place where you can enjoy good food and people-watching through giant windows without feeling guilty. There's a series of white-clothed seating spots and a comfortable bar, all beneath a lofted ceiling and tasteful lighting.

If you're feeling especially swanky, opt for a round, curtain-clad booth that's been informally dubbed "the captain's table."

The menu offers fancier fare like Mushroom Bisque ($6), Balsamic Scallops ($16) and Chicken Saltimbocca ($13), as well as burgers, appetizers and other pre-game goodies. A full lunch menu has salads, wraps and plates to share.

Don't let the swanky look fool you: Jeans and hockey sweaters are welcome, and the vibe is special, not stuffy. Those just in for a drink will meet a crew of jovial tenders who know how to get lively behind their bar.

Cocktails here are a mix of art and science, thanks to bartenders Kevin Payne and Hans Maggard, who studies biochemistry when not slinging drinks. They're currently experimenting with chestnut-infused bourbon, pomegranate molasses and sodium acetate solution, a form of "liquid ice" that crystallizes when touched.

For now, try the Raspberry Sorbet Bellini, which combines Stoli Razberi, muddled raspberry sorbet, champagne and a twist of lemon, or a Bartlett Cider, a concoction of Grey Goose La Poire, Maker's Mark, ginger-cinnamon syrup, lemon juice, apple juice and pear slices.

New creations are constantly in the mix and cost $8.

Happy-hour specials

Even if there's nothing special going on, there's still a reason to hit up Cotters. The restaurant offers a great happy hour 4-7 p.m. weekdays without a special event.

Monday: $2 domestic bottles, $4 Jack Daniels, half-off appetizers

Tuesday: $3 Finlandia, $4 fish tacos

Wednesday: $4 most wine pours, half-off appetizers

Thursday: Half-off most Scotch, $6 Burned Steak Sandwich or Stinger Burger

Friday: $4 martinis, free hors d'oeuvres