Photo by Josh Dobay Productions
Cloak & Dagger's cocktails shine
The greatest sleight of hand that Cloak & Dagger manages to pull off is making guests forget about all the restaurants that previously called this address home. For years and years, a visit to this prominent Tremont property would invariably be overshadowed by a running inventory of the many short-lived concepts that have occupied it. But so thoroughly transformed is the space that our group had a momentary lapse of recall.
One of the best ways to dispel notions of a so-called curse is to triumphantly sail into your 11th month of business despite opening during a pandemic, navigating a labyrinth of health and safety rules and enduring a long, cold winter followed by a wet, wet summer. With each passing day, week and month, fewer and fewer residents can even recall a time when Tremont didn’t have one of the most original and delightful cocktail lounges in the region.
If you want to call attention to your business, it helps to start by differentiating it from the masses. In a monochromatic landscape of sterile, white-tiled rooms, Cloak & Dagger offers the cozy appeal of a warmly lit study, where leatherbound books, antiquities and furniture combine to create a sense of ease but also expectation. After plopping down onto plush banquettes, we were greeted with a liquid amuse bouche, of sorts, in the form of a wee dram of spirits.
The literary device carries over from the décor to the drinks. Like many contemporary cocktail bars, Cloak & Dagger employs a thematic drinks menu, a physical book that is a delight both to hold and behold. These meticulously illustrated pamphlets present a seasonal selection of original cocktails bound together by an overarching motif. The opening menu was titled “The Tales of Life and Death,” and the drinks therein followed along, progressing from light and floral to dark, boozy and earthy. “Over the Garden Wall,” the current book, is divided into three chapters that move guests through the gate, into the garden and to the grave.
If that all sounds pretentious, take a nice, long swig of Where the Watermelons Grow ($12), a floral, tropical elixir that will bring the whole experience back down to earth. The gin-based cocktail is sweetened with watermelon and a touch of pomegranate and grounded by dark vanilla syrup. Whereas Chapter 1 drinks are served on the rocks, Chapter 2 concoctions arrive chilled and served up. Chapter 3 cocktails are chilled and poured over a large-format cube. While the menu gets reborn every six months or so, a few “legends” stick around. King of the Dead ($13), one enduring classic, is a bourbon-based mood-adjuster that arrives with a cold brew coffee ice cube in the shape of a skull. As the skull “decomposes,” the flavor of the drink evolves.
Another sleight of hand that Cloak & Dagger manages to pull off – at least for a few acts – is making diners forget that they’re eating vegan. Guests can giddily sip and snack away for hours before realizing that zero animal products have made an appearance. We reflexively reach for handfuls of popcorn ($4) and rice paper “pork” rinds ($5), both dusted with umami-rich seasonings that boost satisfaction. This kitchen makes nearly perfect french fries ($10), crispy standard-cut potatoes showered with dried spices and served with an aioli-like dipping sauce.
Even moving away from the bar snacks and toward the larger plates, a diner loses little in terms of flavor, texture and personal gratification, at least when it comes to dishes like the birria tacos ($13). I know it’s not the point, but it’s easy to mistake the mushroom-based filling for ground meat, especially when combined with raw onions, vegan cheese and fresh herbs and tucked into crisp-edged corn shells. A trio of barbecue “chicken” skewers ($14) had a pleasant sweet-and-smoky flavor and the vegan meat was remarkably tender, almost cloyingly so. Even the gorgeously charred bits had no bite. If you plan on sharing the overstuffed banh mi ($10) like we did, kindly ask your server to have it split in the kitchen to save you the trouble.
Photo by Josh Dobay Productions
For those in search of a sweet ending, the restaurant offers a selection of desserts from a local vegan bakery.
Not only has Cloak & Dagger reinvigorated a challenging Tremont restaurant space, it also is the first tenant to make full and proper use of the sidewalk space out front. The newly expanded, furnished and illuminated patio provides a lovely park-side setting in which to enjoy alfresco drinks, dining and people-watching.
Cloak & Dagger
2399 W. 11th St., Cleveland