There are other cocktail lounges in Cleveland, but not one of them does such a remarkable job of transporting its guests to another place and time as the Katz Club. Step inside and you'll feel as though you've stumbled onto the bar car of the Twentieth Century Limited bound for Grand Central Terminal.
Magnificently reworked from front to back and top to bottom, the 1952 Mountain View Diner is now an elegant cocoon that completely shields inhabitants from the realities outside its stainless steel walls. Plush drapery obscures all but the memory of outdoors, leaving guests in a perpetual state of escape.
That's the feeling first-time visitor Esra Yagan experienced when she took a seat on a cushy stool at the lengthy bar. "What really sets the place apart is that sensational hideaway feeling," she noted. "The setting itself is memorable, so just add friends or take a date and you instantly feel like you've shared a secret."
Dim but dramatic overhead lighting, theatrically illuminated spirits bottles and plenty of flickering candlelight all but demand a round of classic cocktails. And when guests are ready to sip something special, bar manager Eric Mattimore is the ideal guide. Most recently at Rockefeller's, Mattimore is doing everything right when it comes to the cocktail program.
The concise menu features just a handful of classic drinks, but that doesn't mean options are meager. Order a Sazerac, for example, and you'll choose from more than a half dozen ryes. Go with the Old Fashioned and you'll have your choice of nearly 20 bourbons. That Sazerac ($9), assembled slowly in a crystal pitcher and served neat in an Old Fashioned glass, is a picture-perfect blast of the past. Martinis and Manhattans, in a glorious nod to wilder times, are sold by the pitcher.
"I like that their cocktails are challenging—the menu encourages you to have a great cocktail and not just a Grey Goose and soda," says Rick, who just recently discovered the Katz Club.
He was drinking a Ramos Gin Fizz ($12), which the bartender makes by combining gin—your choice of 15 different varieties—with fresh-squeezed citrus juices, simple syrup, orange flower water and the egg white from a local hen. The drink is shaken until it has the consistency of clouds, poured into a tall glass, and served with a long metal spoon.
"It's a throwback place," he adds. "It reminds me of a sexy joint you'd find in New York City or Chicago. And the music is great, perfect for a club like this."
Order a fine scotch or whiskey and Mattimore will chip off an appropriately sized piece of ice from the large block he keeps on the back bar. After he's shaken and poured a Pisco Sour ($10) into its champagne coupe, the bartender holds a stencil above its frothy cap and spritzes it with bitters. The resulting design is food for the eyes, while the contents that follow are equally appealing.
With seating for 15 at the bar and another 30 or so at the sleek banquette that travels the length of the room, the club is gleefully serene. It's open only Wednesday through Saturday nights after 8 p.m. And while it's visitors' natural inclination to try to enter from the central corridor that adjoins both diner cars, the proper entrance is at the far right-hand side.
"People in New York have no problem spending 20 minutes to find the door at some popular speakeasy," explains Katz. "Here, people get annoyed if it takes them an extra minute to go around to the back."
A petite food menu, available clear up til midnight, offers guests a nice sampling of cocktail-friendly snacks. West Coast oysters ($2.5 ea), shucked to order, are delivered on a silver platter. Delectable little potato latkes ($10), about the size of a half dollar, are topped with house-smoked salmon and a dollop of crème fraiche. Crisp and creamy centered polenta cubes ($10), not much larger than a die, are garnished with tomato and cheese. The best, in my opinion, are the adorable little roast beef sandwiches ($12), each layered onto mini house-baked buns with horseradish.
Given that the lounge is open only a few nights per week, it still is in its relative infancy. Crowds have yet to find their way into its warm embrace, while others make only a brief pit stop on their way out of the diner to explore its interior. Those who do sit down at the bar and order a cocktail, however, are invariably smitten by its charms.