First Look: Proof Bar + Lounge in Hillcrest

It won’t be long now before Hillcrest’s newest late night spot opens for business. Proof Bar + Lounge, owned by former Pantry bar manager Gene Lee, has been overhauled and updated from the former Next Bar and Bistro. Lee’s work over the past seven weeks has been impressive, and Proof is in the final stage before opening day. Pending final approval from the Arkansas Department of Health, Proof should be open sometime next week, with friends and family taking part in a soft opening this weekend.

Lee has put together a clean, minimalist lounge with strategic lighting and select décor. Warm wood accents are in the tables, chairs and bar storage. The bathrooms have been upgraded and given a humorous entryway. And while guests likely won’t see it for themselves, Proof’s small kitchen has been massively enhanced. Lee installed professional vent hoods and appliances, and while his food menu won’t be anything expansive, it’s safe to say the plates coming out of the kitchen will benefit from the new workspace.

Proof’s bar is halfway complete; when I was there Monday, Lee was meeting with distributors to get the rest of the wine and liquor needed for opening day. Proof will also feature 12 taps for craft beer, with nearly half of them dedicated to the local guys. Lost Forty’s Love Honey Bock, Flyway’s Bluewing and Rebel Kettle’s Working Glass Hero are going to feature prominently, just to name a few. Lee already had taps dedicated to Ballast Point, Boulevard, Founders and other excellent regional craft breweries as well. And yes, Lee also has several bottles of Little Rock’s own Rock Town Distillery in stock; clearly, supporting local businesses is a big part of Proof’s model.

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So here’s where we stand: Proof will hold private soft openings this week and weekend, which will be by invitation only. Assuming those go well and the health department shows up to give its final approval, Proof will be open the first week of March. We will keep you posted on the exact opening date. Lee says the patio won’t yet be ready, but he’s not going to let that delay the opening day. When it opens, Proof’s hours will be 4 p.m. until 1 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 4 p.m. until 2 a.m. on Friday, then back to 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Saturday, before opening from noon until 10 on Sunday. Proof will be closed on Mondays.

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First Look: Proof Bar + Lounge in Hillcrest