Change isn't taken lightly at the Velvet Tango Room, where time-tested recipes and techniques have been in play for a decade and a half. In recent years, the cocktail club has upgraded its interior, reengineered its ice, and became fully committed to making everything from ginger ale to vermouth on the premises.
More recently, owner Paulius Nasvytis totally revamped the menu — both the pages themselves and what's on them. Along with his bartenders, Nasvytis designed a roster of new "classic" cocktails that were added to the list of old-style favorites.
"The VTR bartenders have extensive knowledge of liquors, flavor profiles, and how various liquors work together," explains Nasvytis. "They were asked to come up with signature cocktails that capture all of the complexities and nuances that make a cocktail a classic."
Now, in addition to the Ramos Gin Fizz, Negroni, and Moscow Mule, names like Cleveland Rose, the Rust Belt, and Shanghai Fizz appear on the menu.
What makes something like the KatyDid a "new" classic? "It's a vodka cocktail, but extremely complex," Nasvytis says, "the flavor shifting with each sip due to a heavy dose of Solerno, a blood-orange liqueur, sunk into the bottom of the drink. Oh, and there's more: It's finished with a flaming orange peel."
Also new is the live happy hour entertainment, featuring the house jazz trio.
"It's very old school, a nod to the old Theatrical in a way," says Nasvytis, refering to the downtown jazz club and watering hole that was the epitome of Cleveland cool in the 1940s and '50s. "Listening to the trio play 'Harlem Nocturne' while light shines through the wooden blinds makes you feel like you stepped into a film noir."
Of course, not all the recent changes are so welcome: Cocktail prices have edged up to a remarkable $18 each.
The Velvet Tango Room is at 2095 Columbus Rd. in Ohio City. Learn more at 216-241-8869 or velvettangoroom.com.
A Bistro for Larchmere: Open since June, Café Bon Vivant assumed the location that was once home to Vine & Bean and, before that, Café Limbo. The charming colonial structure with an elegant back patio makes a suitable setting for a cozy French-style bistro. Inside, owner and architect Joe Hanna managed to find space enough to squeeze in an intimate bar.
Starters on chef Thomas Rindfleisch's menu include cumin-scented meatballs ($6) — flavorful but on the dry side — and altogether pleasant deviled eggs ($4). We adored the red quinoa and chick pea salad ($8.50), which proved the perfect dish for an oppressively hot day. Ringed with fresh veggies and topped with lively pesto, the salad would make for a lovely light meal.
But we struggled to find an entrée that would pair well with the summer heat. Dishes like coq au vin and choucroute garnie (a hearty brew of pork, sausage, and sauerkraut) are classic wintertime dishes. What they are doing on the July menu I could not say. Two bites into our rich, heavy, wine-braised coq au vin ($15), which came with what seemed like a pound of mashed potatoes, and our appetite was exhausted. We didn't fare much better with a hefty mushroom strudel ($14), where a voluminous veggie filling completely overpowered the delicate phyllo crust.
Despite mention of Sunday brunch on the website (bonvivantlarchmere.com), that service has yet to commence. Current hours are 4 p.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday, and 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
The café is at 12706 Larchmere Blvd. Call 216-862-8931 for more information.
Closing Time: Lakewood's Sullivan's Irish Pub & Restaurant, a Madison Avenue fixture since 2003 , has closed. Attempts to contact the owner have been unsuccessful.