The soup of the day never changes at Blind Lady Tavern. But don't assume that Blind Lady is an unimaginative place that always plays it safe - its perennial soup du jour is listed as "whiskey." You won't hear me complain about that.

The soup of the day never changes at Blind Lady Tavern. But don't assume that Blind Lady is an unimaginative place that always plays it safe - its perennial soup du jour is listed as "whiskey." You won't hear me complain about that.

After several visits to this new Downtown establishment, you won't hear me complain about much else, either. That's because the playfulness evident in Blind Lady's nonexistent soup special is matched by its playful approach to food and drink - and because it's backed up by a consistent bar and kitchen.

Speaking of consistent, Blind Lady occupies the former Jury Room space inside a historic building that, going back to 1831, has reputedly housed the longest-running bar in Columbus. Not much has changed here visually since those Jury Room days.

An old-time saloon vibe is still emphasized by striped wallpaper, a pressed-tin ceiling, vintage-looking chandeliers and an absinthe fountain. But now, classic soul music or '70s metal often play, and there's a chalkboard sketch of Lady Justice that alludes to the nearby courthouse and explains Blind Lady's name.

Carefully made cocktails are featured in standard ($9) and specialty models ($10), the latter referencing the building's rich history. A few winning entries among these are the smoky, lemony and smooth-bodied Francis Miller, named after the legendary "madam" purportedly haunting the place, and made with mezcal, Licor 43 and a local IPA; the refreshingly bitter 1831, shaken with chamomile tea, Cynar, gin and honey; plus the soothing and pretty Jury Room, a fruity but not cloying, garnet-colored blend of bourbon, Oloroso sherry, lemon and blackberry puree.

The two-column menu, which groups starters with sides, hops around a few geographical influences but is based somewhere near New Orleans. So there are Red Beans and Rice ($6) and competently fried Hush Puppies speckled with jalapeno and paired with fiery cayenne honey ($6).

Seeking a flashy starter? The Devils ($9) will make you say "Hell, yes" if you like zeppelins of date and creamy goat cheese wrapped in thick, crisp bacon slathered with a sticky, black and sweet "porter gastrique." For a side, try the smoky and stout Mac-n-Cheese also enhanced with bacon ($8).

I'm high on the hog inside the BLT Banh Mi ($12) as well - warm slabs of equally meaty and fatty braised pork belly scented with five-spice powder. The rest of the synergistic, fusion-cuisine package: fresh jalapeno rings, cilantro, red cabbage slaw, basil, aioli and an appealing roll that's soft yet sturdy.

Prefer to pig out without the pig? The Hipster Hoagie ($11) is a meatless, cold sandwich vitalized by vinegar playing off goat cheese. Good ciabatta bread is additionally loaded with roasted-soft cauliflower, thinly sliced zucchini plus pickled onion and red pepper threads.

Vinegar again kindles lively vegetable flavors in the tender collard greens that accompany the huge Half Roasted Chicken dinner ($16) - a homey meal distinguished by accomplished cooking techniques. The simply, but perfectly, seasoned poultry arrives with crackly, bronzed skin and succulent meat that's been brined for two days. Also on the plate: dense, smashed redskins and comforting chicken gravy (misleadingly called "red-eye").

The Frisee Salad ($9) hits more delicate notes. A satisfying salade Lyonnaise, it combines good greens with a properly poached egg, lardons, pickled onions and a refreshing vinaigrette.

I've saved the best for last, at least in the value department. Because $11 buys a generous bowl of wonderful Shrimp and Grits - a half-dozen respectable crustaceans, extremely zesty tomato sauce plus cheesy, textured and intense Shagbark grits (from Athens).

Upon leaving, you'll see this freethinking manifesto posted on Blind Lady's door (amusingly borrowed from "Sex and the City"): "I'd rather be someone's shot of whiskey than everyone's cup of tea." I'd drink to that.