NOMA quickly becoming an anchor in downtown

by Keith Barber

Qhen you enter the upscale, slightly trendy interior of NOMA Urban Bar & Grill in downtown Winston-Salem, you’re impressed with the modern d’cor, the smells emanating from the kitchen and the friendliness of the wait staff. And you quickly realize that NOMA, the brainchild of Chris Barnes — owner of 6 th & Vine — is whatever you need it to be at any given time.

If you’ve gone to see a show at the Stevens Center — a stone’s throw across Marshall Street — and you’re not ready to call it a night, dropping by NOMA can be the best move you’ve made all night. If it’s a weeknight and you’re on a first date, you’ll find the cool, hip confines of NOMA to be the perfect place to while away the hours as you get to know that special someone.

If it’s the weekend, you’ll get to experience Club NOMA, where a DJ will spin the hottest tunes from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. on the street level.

NOMA has three levels, and as of four months ago, all are smoke-free. The North Carolina legislature’s smoking ban in bars and restaurants won’t kick in until Jan. 2, 2010, but Barnes’ move to make NOMA entirely smoke-free underscores his progressive approach to managing a restaurant.

Ironically, Reynolds American owns the building where NOMA resides. The boys at RJR hoped to start a smoking bar, Barnes said, but decided the winds of change were not blowing in their favor.

“We’ve actually increased our business. It has been great since we went totally smoke-free,” Barnes said of the smoking ban.

But the real story at NOMA is the food. “American fare” is how Barnes describes the menu. Some of the more popular items among customers include the grass-fed New York strip; the roasted half-chicken; a jerk chicken wrap using bib lettuce as tortillas; and unique appetizers like coconut shrimp. All NOMA’s breads are made fresh by a local bakery, and the Barnes’ standard of culinary excellence comes shining through in each bite.

I personally enjoyed the grilled swordfish, while my friend raved over the coconut shrimp. Having lived in Wilmington for many years before relocating to Winston-Salem, I have grown accustomed to eating fish that has only been out of the water a few hours. NOMA’s swordfish with fruit and maple-syrup glaze was as good as any I’ve tasted.

NOMA also offers a variety of pizzas with homemade crust. Barnes points to fish tacos and sashimi tuna as being big hits with his loyal customers. NOMA is an upscale bar and grill without the upscale prices, Barnes said. With all the flat-screen TVs, NOMA can easily morph into a weekend sports bar.

“Most people compliment the food and the prices,” Barnes said. “When you walk into the restaurant, it’s a very nice restaurant and you’re not expecting the reasonable price.”

Fortunately for Barnes, NOMA has yet to feel the impact of the economic downturn.

“August was our busiest month at NOMA and usually that’s a slow month for restaurants,” Barnes said.

On Wednesdays, NOMA 101 goes into effect, which gives downtown residents in the 27101 zip code a 10-percent discount. On Thursday it’s $7 martinis and Shag Night and, come Friday, Club NOMA starts the weekend for the young and young at heart.

“We kind of make it a little different each night to bring people in and have a little fun outside of being a basic restaurant,” Barnes said.

The lok and feel of Noma in downtown Winston-Salem is urban chic,with all the accompanying hustle and bustle. (photo by Keith T. Barber)

wanna go?

NOMA Urban Bar & Grill 321 W. 4 th Street Winston-Salem, NC 27101

(336) 703-5112 Reservations Accepted! Open 7 days a week