White Mule, Gotham pump life into Main Street

When I first moved to Columbia, I stopped in the Kress store downtown and found one of the few remaining dime-store lunch counters that was authentic and not a retro version of one.

The store closed within that year, but not before I had the chance to shop and eat in this quaint downtown building.

It lay dormant for several years, until Rising High took over the Main Street portion of the space, sprucing it up and giving it a contemporary art deco look.

The Main Street streetscaping over the past several years took a toll on Rising High (and several other establishments), but in the spring, Gotham Bagel Cafe moved into the space.

Gotham isn't just a breakfast bagel shop - it might just help liven up Main Street at night.

The eatery has added evening hours and entertainment on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and with The White Mule recently opened up nearby, people might just start hanging out downtown.

It's not that Main Street proprietors aren't giving it a shot: Coming from the State House, there is the subterranean The Whig, rooftop and basement bars at the newly renovated Sheraton, Gotham, The White Mule and Mac's on Main. C'mon people. Main Street is happening.

Particularly popular at Gotham are Thursday nights with the Palmetto Swing Club and Sonny D and Friends, a six-piece jazz and pop band.

Gotham's beer selection is eclectic and heavy on the micro-brews, including He'Brew Genesis Ale and Coney Island Lager from New York's Shmaltz Brewing Co. There is no table service for the beer yet, so just grab one out of the cooler. Wine, including from Robertson Winery in South Africa, is available by the bottle.

The White Mule, just to the left of Gotham, focuses more on the music, with nearly nightly bookings of local and national singer-songwriters and bands.

Both places can appeal to your taste buds as well.

Gotham makes its own bagels, which aren't as big as I've had in New York but just as chewy. There is a wide variety of bagels, including delicious chunky blueberry ones, flavored cream cheeses, and true to form, lox. Other breakfast items include omelets, breakfast sandwiches and pancakes.

But the lunch menu (which is the same during evening hours) is the bread and butter, offering New York-themed sandwiches, burgers, soups and salads. A true test of a New York-style deli is the Reuben ($6.20), and Gotham passed: tender corned beef, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut on marbled rye (the only thing missing was the Russian dressing, which was inadvertently left off).

Similarly, the Broadway sandwich ($6.20), with grilled turkey, melted cheese and roasted peppers, came together well but could've used moisture - perhaps some of that Russian dressing. But the creamy potato salad was right on, enhanced by chunks of real bacon.

There is also an array of bakery items, muffins, cookies and a rich seven-layer brownie that will satisfy the sweetest tooth.

Gotham retains a lot of the look of Rising High, with a high, pressed-tin ceiling; blonde, wooden tables; and comfy upholstered chairs in the corners for conversation. There are also outside tables with a nice view of the Columbia Museum of Art plaza across the street.

The White Mule, which is below ground level with a patio out back, is a long, narrow space with exposed beams and artwork on the walls.

Office workers come in at lunch for upscale pizza, salads and sandwiches, including a piled-high club ($7.99), Mediterranean chicken with feta and black olives ($6.99) and thick homemade pimento cheese on panini ($5.99).

The pub, which opened in August in the space that once housed Jammin Java, keeps the music low and the atmosphere low-key.

While both Gotham and The White Mule will bring bodies to Main Street at night, Gotham's storefront windows will bring visibility. Most of the other Main Street bars are either above or below ground, leaving little mingling and people watching on the street. But I dare you to walk past swing dancing at Gotham and not want to join the fun.