Last weekend, on a whim, I ended up at a bar that is often touted as one of the best in Cleveland. And though it’s rare that I agree with Cleveland Scene, I must say, I completely concur that it’s the bee’s knees.
The Velvet Tango Room is an unassuming space on the outside, tucked between condo complexes on a rather quiet end of Columbus Road, in the Duck Island neighborhood of Cleveland. The only thing to distinguish it from the street is the rather plain neon sign.
Once the door opens, however, jazz wafts into your ears mixed with the gentle murmur of conversation, and you realize that, after eating dinner at a brewery up the street, you are woefully underdressed in jean shorts and a moderately nice t-shirt. The low light does not mask the rows of fine liquors behind the bar or the cozy seating area towards what appears to be the back.
And then… You get the menu. The menu is dense, with sections for every major spirit from brandy to whiskey (with separate pages for bourbon and scotch, as it should be). And these drinks? They’re not your mom and dad’s drinks. They’re actually probably more like your great grandparents’ drinks. As Mina our magnificent bartender put it, these are drinks the way that they were intended to be drunk.
If you are at all interested in a cocktail’s ingredients, history, and how it actually tastes, then this is the place to go. You will NOT be ordering a White Claw here– and don’t even try because they might actually kick you out. They have far superior alternatives if you’re interested in expanding your taste buds beyond basic summer booze.*
Several mixed drinks were sampled throughout the night, including the purple and powerful gin-based Corpse Reviver No. 2, a chocolate martini unlike any chocolate martini you’ve ever tasted, and a scotch concoction called Penicillin that I imagine might actually cure whatever ails you. With every glass, Mina provided history, tasting notes, and entertaining commentary that elevated the already high-class libations we were sipping; she truly added that extra panache to the evening, and I appreciated her knowledge and passion for the boozy beverages she was mixing for us.
The Velvet Tango Room is not your average bar. The cocktail lounge is a neat little secret hiding near downtown, with some of its own secrets stashed inside. Fascinating combinations of herbs, bitters, fruits, and spirits will take you back in time and to far-away lands, something that can’t be said of a typical vodka cranberry or cosmopolitan. By all means, pop into this swanky establishment and relish in finely crafted cocktails sipped to live jazz. It’s an experience your taste buds won’t forget.
*I am, admittedly, a bit pretentious when it comes to what I drink. Note that I will not actually judge you for what you like to drink, though there may be some good-natured ribbing from both sides. Enjoy your White Claw, or Mike’s Hard, or Budweiser. I will continue to drink my gin & tonics and local craft brews. As long as we’re all having a good time, it’s all good.