Happy Hour: Aoi Blue Bar

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From the October 20, 2011 edition

Aoi Blue Bar is the coolest transformation of a Boston Market ever. The former fast-food rotisserie joint that rivaled Kenny Rogers on Bethel Road is now a delightful restaurant and bar.

One part of Aoi is a Japanese restaurant and sushi bar, and the other is a sleek, minimalist lounge. The black granite bar top and nightly DJ (who only uses vinyl, suckas) in the bar area is enough evidence that something hip can come of a Boston Market.

Throw in happy hour specials and a sushi menu with traditional and unique options, and Aoi is wonderful hidden gem.

The booze:

During happy hour, Aoi offers specials on beers and a number of stiff cocktails. There are a good selection of import, craft and domestic drafts (including Yuengling, Columbus’ newest brew) and $4 cosmos, mojitos, sake bombs and dirty martinis. The martini was especially dirty, and tasty, if you like olives.

While the traditional bar options are worth ordering at Aoi, the extensive sake menu is remarkable. I’m no sake connoisseur, but I’ve tried a few, and I was more than impressed by the dozen-plus varieties. They range from the house sake ($10), served out of a Jagermeister-like machine that heats instead of cools, to more choice brands ($18).

The house version would please just about any sake drinker, but have fun sampling the other varieties to get a taste for what you like.

All glasses of wine are $1 off during happy hour, and the list is also extensive — everything from bold reds to sweet plum wine.

The food:

Aoi doesn’t have any food specials for happy hour, but with a wealth of traditional and veggie rolls ($4-6), and a la carte sashimi options ($3-6), you’re not going to break the bank.

The spicy tuna ($4.50), yellowtail ($5) and shrimp avocado cucumber ($6) rolls are as tasty as they are economical.

If you’re looking to splurge a little bit, the spicy lobster ($11) is quite good, and Aoi’s house specialty rolls ($18) are some wonderfully outside-the-bento-box options.

The Mediterranean — with spicy salmon and cream cheese, and topped with olives and sliced beef — is about as far from traditional sushi as you can get, but it’s a hearty, salty treat.