Sounds like a fun night coming up! I look forward to it.
More About the Velvet Tango Room from an article that I wrote for "Currents"...a monthly pulication that goes to about 100,000 suburben homes in Northeastern Ohio. I had lots of fun writing this one:
ON FOOD & WINE February 2002 A Wonderful Mystery
“Ah sweet mystery of life, at last I found you!”
These enticing lyrics from a bygone era also set the stage for a Cleveland gem. If you are fortunate enough to know about it and there’s room, you will find yourself transported to a warm and wonderful place you thought only existed in Chicago or New York. All I will tell you now is that its name suits it well, conjuring images of lush elegance of days long gone.
This is a jewel of many mysteries. Perhaps it’s the setting, so close to downtown, dimly lit and difficult to find the first few times. Or possibly it is its name in pink neon in a window that often isn’t even visible from the outside. Or is it the vast grate that often covers the whole window-wall outside? It’s often in place when the hour grows late, or the place is filled. Many also wonder about the only TV in the place, muted and set to show only old movies and only in black and white! Still others see mystery in the aura surrounding the handsomely stylish and commanding man who might greet you near the door.
The cognoscenti know that nothing is accidental here. And they would suggest that you be patient and its many subtle layers will slowly reveal themselves. They will always entertain, and if you pay attention, you just may not miss an important bit of information, a clue….to something very fascinating that’s difficult to explain.
Invisible hands leave little to chance. A small sign by the entrance announces to one and all, not what you will find inside, rather you are told what is NOT there. It is not a place to come in shorts or tee shirts; nor is it a place that serves white Zinfandel wine. In other words, this is not a booze place in the Flats. So what is it really?
For certain it is the perfect place to visit after a dinner near downtown. Or it might be a place to visit before you have a late dinner nearby. Or after theater or the opera. An exceptional drink or two made by real professionals enjoyed in stylish comfort. Add some beautiful piano music and one is transported to another place in time. This is Cleveland’s bar at New York’s Carlyle; once you find it, you will visit often. But you will never mention it to those who might not appreciate it.
“I see this as a place for mature adults,” Mysterious Creator told me. And so it is, complete with an old and stunning Cuban mahogany bar and richly trimmed back wall, with each end ornamented by slim vertical glass rods. A number of tall, intimate tables are equally inviting. The walls are painted a serious pink. “It’s a really flattering color and it makes everyone glow,” he said. And when I noted the recently installed purse hooks under the bar, he mentioned that he saw them in Chicago a few weeks earlier and thought that women would appreciate having a place off the floor for their purses. And they do.
But this is far from all there is. It takes a few minutes to realize that this is not just one room. To the back of the first room, just go up two steps and there, in a subtly lit, plum-painted alcove are deep and inviting pewter velvet sofas, some comfortable chairs and a large antique radio, silenced long ago by age. It might take a few visits, but some time you will finally chuckle at the marvelous painted flamingos on a mirror above a sofa. You can’t see it all in one visit. This alcove is the place to sit when you come with a few friends. At some point you will realize that just a tad further back in the alcove is a baby grand piano which comes to life almost every evening. This entire setting could be an exotic movie set, except, here, there is always someone to serve you who will always know your preferences.
Every detail has been planned very carefully. “I wanted this place to be masculine, yet appealing to woman,” Mysterious Creator said. “So I aimed for a look that’s a cross between grandmother’s living room and a ….brothel. It’s got to be seductive!” And it is.
He’d been one of this city’s few seriously professional waiters for many years, first waiting tables at Johnny’s Bar on Fulton as a young college student. There he learned well from both demanding patrons and a very demanding boss. When the CSU art department closed before he finished his degree, he just took on more work hours. By then he was very skilled. His last five years in the business he worked at Classics. Twenty years passed in a flash!
“I finally knew it was time for me to stop serving other people’s pie,” he said with a chuckle. “It was time to bake my own pie.”
There is probably nothing he does not know about food and beverage as “entertainment.” But first he needed to identify his strengths and figure out how he might use them best. Then he examined the entertainment needs in the region in relation to his particular set of strengths and experiences.
Conclusion? An elegantly comfortable, free-standing bar with live music did not really exist here as it does in other big cities. There was no destination place that was top shelf all the way. About that time, an old bar, not far from his home, came on the market. The building was virtually derelict when MC bought it. But the location felt right. It was easily accessed by East and West siders alike. It was close to both Tremont and Ohio City. Parking was plentiful and free. The neighborhood, while old, is safe.
Then surprises came tumbling out of the walls; there is an album of photographs to prove it. In fact, it may be what turned his hair to silver by the time he opened! A weight-bearing wall was close to collapse because a previous owner removed the beam, but never thought to replace it. Luckily the second floor did not pancake into the first. And Mysterious Creator and a group of supportive friends were able to do most of the work themselves. In the end, their results are quite beautiful and very, very appealing. It is obvious that its style was determined by a clever person of elegant taste and unusual humor.
There is nothing left to chance. The bottles behind the bar speak volumes. There is only quality here. Top, top shelf liquor, the finest Champagnes and exotic liqueurs abound. The two women bartenders are mature and experienced; any cocktail you might want, they can prepare, no matter how obscure. Guests understand that making real cocktails takes talent and attention. Glasses are chilled, not rinsed with ice water. When needed, cocktails are mixed with only freshly made simple syrup and hand squeezed juices. Not surprisingly, folks living near the bar were horrified to learn that their derelict watering hole was no longer. Drinks here now start at $10 and people are happy to pay the price for quality.
The next worry was….would they come, again? There is nothing MC does not know about good service and how best to please his customers. He is expert on making people comfortable under virtually all circumstances. And his touch is so subtle it is rarely noticed, except possibly by his friends.
Then there are the “extras.” Each woman receives a long stem rose, hand-stripped of thorns. There is an array of exceptional hand-made chocolates offered on a special “menu,” usually preceded by a variety of samples. They are a perfect compliment for a bottle of vintage port or a glass of champagne. From time to time, he might offer a petite edible chocolate cup filled with Bailey’s or port. His frequent patrons love these little touches. He knows just how to make women feel Fabulous. Which is why people come and return again. How can we not love someone who believes that a flûte of good champagne makes every woman beautiful?
Like celebrated bars of an earlier century, this has its “potent house-specialty cocktail.” Here it is the French 75, named after a special piece of French artillery used in the first World War. Legend says the drink originated in Venice’s fabled Harry’s Bar. It is made with cognac, champagne and some mysterious extras. A few French 75s and you, too, will certainly start wondering about the people who seem to disappear in the back, behind the piano? Or were you just too caught up in conversation to notice their return? ..........
There is much more to this article. The Mysterious Creator is Paulius Nasvytis. Recently he did a very brave thing...he totally purged his beautiful VTR of all smoke and took it smoke-free. All of its mixes are natural now. All of the juices are fresh. Paulius is a student of the exotic cocktail, so that menu is constantly evolving. There will be special ones for the winter to replace the summer ones when those special fresh ingredients are no longer available.
I don't work for Paulius, I hasten to say. But I have to admit that I've probably known him for almost as long as I've known my husband, since he first worked as a waiter since before Fred and I were married.
Velvet Tango Room
It is On Columbus just south of where it crosses Abby
(behind the W. 25th Street Rapid Station)